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Psychological Theories on Narcissism

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

Introduction

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; (2) a narcissistic individual is unable to trust and rely on others and thus develops numerous, shallow relationships to extract tributes from others;(3) a narcissistic individual has a shifting morality-always ready to shift values to gain favor; and (4) a narcissistic person is unable to remain in love, showing an impaired capacity for a committed relationship".

The Therapeutic Essence of Treating Narcissism

The narcissist who enters therapy does not think that there is something wrong with him or her. Typically, the narcissist seeks therapy because he or she is unable to maintain the grandiosity which protects him...

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