Mental health
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Is "my ex a typical narcissist"? Not likely

Is "my ex a typical narcissist"? Not likely

Image source: © canva
Marta Grzeszczuk,
26.05.2023 18:30

This article is a part of 'Psychobabble' (pol. Psychobełkot) or the biggest myths of pop-psychology. In this series, we will attempt to disarm the myths of pseudo-psychology, which often do more harm than good. This time, we consider whether we are facing an "epidemic of narcissism".

The words "Narcissism" and "narcissistic" have been widely spoken about for quite some time now. If the allegations concerning ex-partners on social media are to be believed, there are already more narcissists than people not affected by this affliction.

Meanwhile, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NZO) is a specific condition with specific symptoms. "DSM-5" is the current version of the diagnostic criteria for mental disorders, and is the basis for assessing the mental health of patients.

According to the 'DSM-5', Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be suspected in individuals who meet at least five of the following conditions:

  • have an exaggerated sense of self-worth,
  • are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty and perfect love,
  • they believe in their own 'specialness' and uniqueness. They are convinced that they can only be understood by exceptional people (or institutions) of high status, and that only in such an environment should they revolve,
  • they believe in their own 'specialness' and uniqueness. They are convinced that they can only be understood by exceptional people (or institutions) of high status, and that only in such an environment should they live,
  • show an excessive desire to be admired,
  • have a sense of being privileged (unreasonable expectation of particularly favourable treatment or automatic agreement with their expectations),
  • exploit others in interpersonal relationships (using others to achieve their own goals),
  • lack empathy (unwillingness to recognise and identify with the feelings and needs of others),
  • often envy others or are convinced of being the object of envy,
  • display arrogant, haughty behaviour or attitudes.

What is important in diagnosis is the constancy and intensity of these symptoms. It happens to all of us to be convinced of our own worth, to spin fantasies of success and high status or to envy others. This is why it is important to leave the diagnosis of narcissism to specialists - psychologists and psychiatrists. The anonymous experts at TikTok do not have the knowledge, tools and experience to do so.

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Are we facing an "epidemic of narcissism"?

We have been hearing about "The Narcissism Epidemic" since the 1990s, when a book by psychologists Jean Twenge and Keith Cambell was published under this title. The researchers argued in the book that the prevalence of narcissistic traits had increased dramatically over a period of 30 years. They argued that this was the result of children being brought up convinced about their "exceptionalism" and that they "can do anything".

The latest research on motivation actually confirms that it is not so much high as stable and adequate self-esteem that is beneficial to our functioning. Children who from an early age are told that they are the best may find it difficult to cope with failure, which, after all, also happens to the most outstanding individuals.

For adequate self-esteem, it is important not only to have an unwavering belief in one's own strengths, but also to be aware of one's weaker sides. Accepting those that are beyond our control and working on those that we want and can change. In contrast, the instability of self-esteem in people with an IBD diagnosis results in the need to constantly reaffirm it, also at the expense of others.

There were objections to Twenge and Cambell's study. They conducted them on students in the United States, who are not a representative group for the general population. A 2017 study by Eunike Wentzel and her coworkers found that the prevalence of narcissistic traits had de facto declined between 1990 and 2020.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not common

Even the authors of ' The Narcissism Epidemic' did not claim that there is an increase in the number of people in society who can be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This percentage is stable and, according to the highest estimates available, is no more than 6.2%.

Actually encountering a narcissist is therefore far less likely than the 'diagnoses' shared on social media after ending failed relationships would indicate.

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