tragic unrequited love story involved, but the end of the story goes like this: Narcissus was a young, handsome dude living in an extreme state of ignorance with regard to the concept of a reflection. He saw his for the first time in a pond one day and was struck by how lovely the guy in the water was. He fell in love and pined away by that pond, eventually starving to death, until all that remained of him was the flower that bears his name.
Narcissism is basically excessive self-love, often associated with a grandiose view of oneself and the need for admiration from others. Like introversion-extraversion, narcissism is a continuous personality trait. In other words, we all fall somewhere along the continuum.
On Friday, I linked to one version of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) over at the PsychCentral blog and invited each of you to take it and see where you stand with respect to this personality trait (here's the link if you want to go take it now). The NPI is not the only measure of narcissism, and it's not perfect, either. Many of you noted the limitations of the forced-choice format (having to choose between two things, neither of which fit perfectly--and in some cases, both of which fit to some extent). Nevertheless, high scores on the NPI have been linked to obsession with appearance, being more likely to cheat in games and in romantic relationships, and general selfishness (taking more for yourself while leaving less for others). It might relieve any high scorers out there to know that the NPI is said to measure "subclinical" narcissism in the general population. Even if you got a really high score, it doesn't necessarily mean you have narcissistic personality disorder.
[For those of you who are wondering, my score on the NPI was 10, which is on the low end of average. Like many of the commenters, much of my score was due to my higher self-ratings on the authority dimension.]
You can see how it's necessary to have a certain amount of narcissism to operate confidently in the world. If you believe you're good, that you can keep up, it empowers you to go after things you want. There's actually a concept acknowledged by some theorists called "healthy narcissism." Now, if you're a writer, you can see how this quality might come into play. Why are we writing? Many of us write for the sheer pleasure of it. I certainly do--but obviously, that's not all of it. If it was, I would never have sought publication. I will willingly admit that one of my reasons for writing is the desire for recognition from others, as well as the enduring belief that I'm pretty good at it. I'm sure many of you feel the same--and I think you need to if you're going to play this particular game.
The key to the less healthy form of narcissism is this: inflated self-view. Unjustified expectation for admiration. And a very high sense of entitlement. It's easy to imagine how these things could get you in trouble with other people and make relationships pretty rocky. If you're too far along that continuum as a writer, you're probably in for some frustration. There's a difference between thinking you're pretty good and thinking you're the best. There's a difference between wanting some recognition from others and needing or expecting others to tell you how fabulous you are.
If you're a high narcissistic writer, when people don't recognize your brilliance, you're gonna be ticked. When an agent doesn't respond quickly to your oh-so-amazing work, you're more likely to be offended. When a beta-reader gives you some negative feedback, you're likely to give him/her the finger. Narcissistic writers believe they are beyond criticism and deserving of special treatment. And when they don't get it, they are likely to tantrum. Ever witnessed something like that in one of the writing forums? I have.
Now, if you're worrying about whether or not you're a narcissist ... don't. Instead, go read this fabulous article about how narcissists often KNOW they're narcissists. Seriously, it's a great read.
On Wednesday, I'll talk about narcissistic personality disorder, a condition defined by extreme and unhealthy narcissism, and on Friday, I'll discuss how understanding this concept can help us thing about characters, particularly in young adult literature.
Because it's Monday, check out Lydia's Medical Monday post and Laura's Mental Health Monday post--those ladies are smart and always have interesting tidbits to share!
Now--do you think you have a healthy amount of narcissism? Do you know anyone who you think might be high on this dimension? What tells you that? Ever had an encounter with a narcissistic writer? How did you handle it?