There was once a young man named Narcissus who was so vain that he fell in love with his own reflection in the water and died. In some versions of the mythological tale from Ancient Greece, Narcissus was transformed into a flower that today carries the name narcissus, or daffodil.
Like the flower, narcissism has continued to flourish in modern culture. “Selfie” was awarded word of the year in 2013 by the Oxford Dictionary. Capturing an image of oneself – once the purview of despondent artists – has become an international pastime.
Even politicians rode the trend taking selfies at memorial services. Celebrities continued to be, well, celebrated as well. Miley Cyrus ended 2013 as the most searched person on Google, with Drake and Kim Kardashian coming in at the number two and three spots. Between them they have more “followers” than the population of an average country. And, as both Miley Cyrus’s career trajectory and research findings suggest, the importance of fame is more prominent than ever before.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen the Ice Bucket challenge thrive, but it has been revealed that less than half of people doing the challenge are actually donating. So, for some, is it really about awareness for ALS or self-promotion?
When we wrote The Narcissism Epidemic a few years ago we didn’t predict the extent of these changes. Narcissism has become such a part of culture that a new study found people could report their own narcissism simply by answering a question:
To what extent do you agree with this statement: “I am a narcissist.” (Note: The word “narcissist” means egotistical, self-focused, and vain.)
But narcissism is more complicated – and confusing – than a single question can capture. There are really three types of narcissism. Problems arise when people discuss narcissism without identifying the form.
Grandiose narcissism is the outgoing, extraverted form. When you look at charismatic but corrupt leaders, unfaithful ex-partners or media hungry celebrities you are often seeing grandiose narcissism in action. Grandiose narcissism starts with is an inflated image of oneself. The narcissistic individual believes he or she is smarter, better looking and more important than others. And, of course, deserves special treatment for this fact. This does not mean that grandiose narcissists are all pompous bores. They can be very charming, likable (especially on first dates or job interviews) and enjoy people. On the flip side, narcissistic relationships are often not very emotionally warm or caring.
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