From Normality to Abnormality

Although it has appeared across the globe and throughout history among the royal and the wealthy, the narcissistic personality seems to have gained prominence only in the late twentieth century. Narcissism may manifest differently in other cultures (Warren & Capponi, 1995); our experience derives mainly from the more advantaged American middle and upper classes. The International Classification of Diseases, the international equivalent of our DSM-IV, does not include this personality disorder, indicating that its more American expression does not occur with frequency in other nations.

Instead, narcissism may be associated with higher levels of Abraham Maslow's (1968) hierarchy of needs. Individuals in disadvantaged nations must navigate the slings and arrows of disease and famine; they are too preoccupied with basic safety and survival needs and cannot afford the luxury of a passive existence where the riches of the world are, in their eyes, owed to them. However, as basic survival needs become satisfied, the quest for self-actualization moves into the foreground, at times along with pathologies related to more extreme forms of that quest, including the narcissistic personality disorder. Indeed, the risk is likely to be much lower in a collec-tivist society. Many Western societies, such as the United States, stress individualism and self-gratification at the expense of community. Moreover, the disorder seems more prevalent in professions that are unusually respected, including law, medicine,

Focus on Culture

Culture and Narcissism How Does Narcissism Differ in Collectivist Cultures?

Because individualistic cultures value self-identity over group identity, pathological narcissism fits well in that cultural climate. But how might it arise and be expressed in a collectivist society? In an individualistic culture, the narcissist is "God's gift to the world." In a collectivist society, however, the narcissist is "God's gift to the collective." Because of this special status, the collectivist narcissist is granted privileges within the group not generally available to others. For example, in fifteenth-century Spain, a collectivist culture, first-born males were regarded as hidalgos (literally, sons of something) and stood to inherit the family's wealth. Sons born subsequently were known as segundones (literally, second ones) and, because of their lower status in the family, had to make their own fortune. Not surprisingly, many Spanish conquistadors who came to the New World in search of their fortune were segundones.

Because the self develops in accordance with cultural patterns, you would expect different forms of the self to develop in different societies. Roland (1992) discusses the familial or we-self, more characteristic of collectivist cultures, and the individualized or I-self, more characteristic of individualistic cultures. In the United States, an individualistic society, the inner representation of the self emphasizes individuality and a self with outer boundaries that are rather impermeable. Accordingly, "individualistic narcissistic structures of self-regard ... are relatively self-contained and independent" (Warren & Capponi, 1995, p. 79). In collectivist cultures, such as Japan, the development of the inner self "involves intensely emotional intimacy relationships" (p. 80), symbiotic reciprocity, and ego boundaries that are permeable and accessible to those in the collective. Accordingly, "narcissistic configurations of the we-self. . . denote self-esteem derived from strong identification with the reputation and honor of the family, groups, and others in hierarchical relationships" (p. 80).

and science, or those that boast celebrity status, such as entertainment, sports, and politics. For most of us, our immediate impression is that narcissists are more likely to be male than female (Rienzi et al., 1995), perhaps because males are widely considered more exploiting and entitled (Tschanz, Morf, & Turner, 1998).

This personality style is unusual, as the relationship between disordered narcissism and adaptiveness is less clear and direct than with other personality disorders. As with most personality styles, only a fine line separates normality from pathology—in this case, normal self-confidence and an artificially inflated sense of self-worth. On the other hand, because narcissism is intimately connected with self-regard, too little can be just as pathological as too much. Deficient self-regard typically implies feelings of incompetence, ineffectiveness, unworthiness, and inferiority, whereas excessive self-regard implies feelings of superiority, arrogance, grandiosity, and lack of empathy for others. Low self-regard can be paralyzing, if only because the individual hesitates to risk what little self-regard remains. The smallest possibility of failure is interpreted as another chance to lose. In contrast, individuals with an inflated self-regard may falsely believe that they can accomplish anything or that their accomplishments or contributions far exceed their true worth. Overconfidence causes them to dismiss realistic risks as somehow inapplicable to them.

The relationship between self-regard and pathology thus resembles the letter U. Being somewhat self-confident helps make you seem sociable and confident, but being too self-confident makes you seem arrogant and exploiting. Those in the middle—the so-called "healthy narcissists"—should demonstrate social concern and interpersonal empathy, a genuine interest in the ideas and feelings of others, and a willingness to acknowledge their personal role when problems occur (see Figure 10.1).

Several normal-range variants of the narcissistic style have been proposed, each built around some slightly different aspect of the total pattern. Because our society often values narcissistic traits (Lasch, 1978), you are likely to even find aspects of yourself in these brief portraits. Individuals with a self-confident style (Oldham & Morris, 1995) have a strong faith in themselves, believing they are special, exceptional, or even destined to do great things. Many have a powerful vision of themselves as hero, conqueror, or expert. Most often, they are frank about their ambition to realize their goals. Often, their enthusiasm and natural leadership create an aura that makes it easy to recruit others to their purpose. Most aim high and enjoy the battle to succeed. They enjoy the vision of being on top of their game, at the top of their field or profession, though they are not above envying others who may be more accomplished. Ever aware of their strengths, their equanimity is untouched by self-doubt. They expect others to acknowledge their specialness and treat them with respect, if not admiration. Sometimes, they may show their temper when crossed or slighted.

\ Feelings of \ inferiority, \ inconfidence, \ impotence

Feelings of superiority, / arrogance, omnipotence


capacity for

relatedness ^^^^

Very low

Very high




FIGURE 10.1 Narcissism, Self-Regard, Normality, and Pathology.

FIGURE 10.1 Narcissism, Self-Regard, Normality, and Pathology.

Millon et al. (1994) describe a similar, asserting pattern, though this style is more strongly competitive and self-assured. Such individuals exhibit a sense of boldness that stems from an unwavering belief in their own talent or intelligence. Ever ambitious, they naturally assume the role of leader, act decisively, and expect others to recognize and defer to their superior abilities. Beyond mere self-confidence, they are audacious, clever, and persuasive, charming others to their cause. At times, however, their self-regard may create a sense of entitlement—the feeling that they are special and, therefore, entitled to special treatment beyond what is merited by their role or by the conventional social courtesies.

The normal-range narcissistic style can also be portrayed by examining normal variants of the pathological traits found in the DSM-IV (see Sperry, 1995). The narcissistic personality exhibits a grandiose sense of self-regard, expecting their superior talent, ability, and intelligence to be recognized even in the absence of commensurate performance (see criterion 1). In contrast, the narcissistic style has a healthy sense of self-esteem based on genuine achievements but one that may overestimate inherent talents and endowments. Whereas the disordered individual is preoccupied with fantasies of almost infinite success, power, brilliance, beauty, or accomplishment (see criterion 2), those with the style project confidence rather than omnipotence and have more well-formed plans concerning how their goals can be achieved. Whereas the disordered feels a sense of specialness and affiliates only with others who are likewise special (see criterion 3), the style simply prefers the company of talented others, without feeling a strong contempt for individuals not similarly gifted. Whereas the disordered actively requires admiration and seeks to evoke displays of admiration from others (see criterion 4), the style gracefully accepts compliments and praise without excessive ego inflation.

For each of the preceding contrasts, Gerald falls more toward the pathological end of the continuum. Rather than value his ability at the extreme upper end of what realism might afford, Gerald compares himself with Einstein and Salk. In fact, his history argues that he has few actual accomplishments, as he has repeatedly been fired from one company after another. Instead of projecting confidence, Gerald needs to be fantastically successful. In fact, he sees this as his destiny. Far from enjoying the company of talented others, Gerald requires that those he associate with be "at the same level" as he. Anyone who runs afoul of his sense of greatness is automatically demeaned as an inferior, someone who lacks in the necessary ability to appraise Gerald appropriately.

Other diagnostic criteria can also be put on a continuum with normality. Whereas the disordered feels entitled to special treatment (see criterion 5), those with the style feel a sense of self-confidence and poise that often enables, rather than eliminates, humility. Whereas the disordered exploit others as a means to their own goals (see criterion 6), those with the style play the strengths of those around them, without making excessive demands of time or effort. Whereas the disordered is unable to empathize with the feelings of others (see criterion 7), those with the style can take distance from their own preoccupations and show sensitivity for others. Whereas the disordered is often envious of those who are more accomplished or successful (see criterion 8), the style is capable of admiring others as role models. Finally, whereas the disordered acts in an arrogant or haughty manner (see criterion 9), the style is simply self-confident and not incapable of generosity or altruism.

Again, Gerald falls more toward the pathological side. In putting his new ideas into play, Gerald automatically expects that others will see their merit and give him special treatment by making the necessary accommodations. Whereas the narcissistic style might draw the workers together, confidently present new ideas, and then actively solicit advice, thus helping others feel like part of a larger mission, Gerald exploits his subordinates' time and effort, while giving only lip service to their role in contributing to ideas that actually succeed. Rather than put himself in the shoes of those he affects, Gerald shamelessly shoves his new practices down their throats. Rather than take credit for both success and failure, Gerald attributes success to himself and failure to the envy of others working to undermine him behind the scenes. Finally, whereas the narcissistic style finds companionship or friendship in others regardless of their social or intellectual status, Gerald insists on associating only with those he perceives to be as gifted or credentialed as he.

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