On Narcissism: Psychological Theories and Therapeutic Interventions in the Narcissistic Disorders

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Understanding the Narcissistic Phenomenon

The so called 'narcissistic personality disorder' is a complex and often misunderstood

disorder. The cardinal feature of the narcissistic personality is the grandiose sense of self

importance, but paradoxically underneath this grandiosity the narcissist suffers from a

chronically fragile low self esteem. The grandiosity of the narcissist, however, is often so

pervasive that we tend to dehumanize him or her. The narcissist conjures in us images of

the mythological character Narcissus who could only love himself, rebuffing anyone who

attempted to touch him. Nevertheless, it is the underlying sense of inferiority which is

the real problem of the narcissist, the grandiosity is just a facade used to cover the deep

feelings of inadequacy.

The Makeup of the Narcissistic Personality

The narcissist's grandiose behavior is designed to reaffirm his or her sense of

adequacy. Since the narcissist is incapable of asserting his or her own sense of adequacy,

the narcissist seeks to be admired by others.

However, the narcissist's extremely fragile

sense of self worth does not allow him or her to risk any criticism. Therefore,

meaningful emotional interactions with others are avoided. By simultaneously seeking

the admiration of others and keeping them at a distance the narcissist is usually able to

maintain the illusion of grandiosity no matter how people respond. Thus, when people

praise the narcissist his or her grandiosity will increase, but when criticized the

grandiosity will usually remain unaffected because the narcissist will devalue the

criticizing person.

Akhtar (1989) [as cited in Carson & Butcher, 1992; P. 271] discusses six areas of

pathological functioning which characterize the narcissist. In particular, four of these

narcissistic character traits best illustrate the pattern discussed above. ' (1) a narcissistic

individual has a basic sense of inferiority, which underlies a preoccupation with fantasies

of outstanding achievement;...