Monday, July 11, 2011

The normal-ish side of narcissism

You've heard the myth of Narcissus? There's a 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?

23 comments:

  1. I took that test and I think the score was too low. You're right about the questions being too vague. On another note, I posted about Echo and Narcissus not long ago, but in relation to poetry. Do you know the myth of Echo and Narcissus? It's absolutely fascinating :o)

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  2. Hmmm, I never really thought about this before. I guess I think I'm narcissistic enough, but I'm not gonna lie...my confidence gets shaken pretty easily so I'm betting my score on that test would be low. I have definitely seen a lot of comments on different boards like QT from writers who, at least in the writing arena, probably score pretty high on that scale though:) You know what I mean - the ones who can't fathom being rejected by any agent for any reason? LOL good post Sarah!

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  3. Oh I've seen it all right!!! heh heh.

    This is brilly, Sarah! And will probably make people feel better about their motivations!

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  4. Ooh, great post Sarah (narcissism is one word I always have trouble spelling! :P). One of my MCs in my current WIP is extremely narcissistic (did I get that right?) and I'm having so much fun writing her :D

    I have seen writers who love themselves too much, and it generally makes for uncomfortable situations for others. You're definitely right - we need to have some belief in our own writing, but take it too far...ouch! :)

    Hugs,

    Rach

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  5. I think writers can have the full spectrum of narcissim--too little or too much!

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  6. Wait. So if you're awesome and you know it, that's not narcissism? Then I take back what I said on your last post about this.

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  7. Haha, I scored kinda high, but I think part of it is the test results, and part of it is that I've been trying to coach myself to give myself more credit and be more assertive. Also, like you said, there's a certain amount of "healthy narcissism" that I think all artists need in order to persevere.

    Thanks for the fun test and the perspective. I look forward to reading more about how this can impact our writing.

    KH

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  8. Well, I'm glad to know I was not the only person who found some of the forced choices difficult! You are right about writers needing some degree of narcissism, but doesn't our particular brand come with sudden swings toward debilitating insecurity? :D

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  9. really great points (per usual:P) sarah!
    i'm really really uncomfortable around narcissistic and manipulative people. actually, i'm very wary and distrustful of those traits in individuals. i sort of have this life philosophy that all people (whilst being unique and containing their own strengths, weaknesses, trials, and victories) are all of equal value. it seems to me that narcissism and prejudice go very hand in hand. to think you are superior to others means that you think they are inferior for some reason or other. therefore, if you manipulate them or mistreat them or disrespect them or hurt them or whatever- your actions are justified because they are either deserving of your actions or less significant, less human, than you and therefore your actions in treating them such is justified... if that makes sense.
    sometimes, when i'm walking to work, i'll think about all the houses i pass and how each person in that house is a unique person with dreams and hopes and demons. how their passions are just as important as mine. how if they just knew that they were significant how much more joy they could have. it's kinda mindblowing to me. because there are just so many, many, many people out there and each one is awesome in their own way. i don't know.
    i can see how a bit of narcissism would really be helpful. because i often struggle with feeling completely dwarfed amongst the ocean of talent i see out there in others. sometimes it makes my efforts seem kinda futile... hmmm..
    anyway-
    DARN YOU SARAH!!!!
    you got me thinking again! ugh! :P

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  10. My score is anemic so I guess I fall under the Duning-Kruger effect. I'm great, but if I think I'm great, it must mean I'm not, so I'm not, but I must be because I don't think I am... Sigh. Do you have a cure for this?

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  11. Great post! But if I were critiquing the story of Narcissus I would wonder why he still thought the guy in the pool was handsome after he was wasted away for a while... :D

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  12. I have a healthy amount of narcissism. Thanks to my sister, who often says, "You're kind of a big deal" to each of her sisters, I've realized all of us, in our own ways, are a "kind of a big deal." And there's nothing wrong with thinking that from time to time.

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  13. I wonder what the opposite of narcissism is b/c many writers suffer from that too! We all need balanced confidence. :)

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  14. So, it's possible the high-narcissistic authors are the ones who badgered agents to the point some of them no longer send rejections. Who needs the abuse?

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  15. I was surprised over how low I scored. When I wavered between two answers, I chose the more humble one. But I don't think I'm meek by any means. While I like to lead sometimes in groups or when teaching, I can also reach out for help when needed. At least I know I'm not narcissistic!

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  16. Love this stuff. Thank you for Scott Barry Kaufman's article, too. Very interesting. Sooo, if three narcissists walk into a bar and the first one says "Barkeep, set 'em up, and make it your best!" and the second one says, "Only the best for the best!" and then they try their drinks and the drinks are awful, what does the third one say?? (Or is this a trick question?) I'm really looking forward to your Weds. post.

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  17. Yup, seen it...not only in writers, but in other MD's, d'oh! *says with tongue in cheek* I do have a healthy narcissism, otherwise, I wouldn't have the courage to leave the house, LOL! BUT, it gets easily deflated when I'm discouraged. Phooey.

    Nice post! :D

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  18. Off to absorb the recommended reading right now. Thanks for the link!

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  19. I'm going to take a wild guess and say that politicians (unfortunately) score very high. Off to check out out the links! Thank you for the info.

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  20. Very interesting. I'm going to take the stance that to be highly narcissistic is to also be a little insecure, why else would a person be miffed if their brilliance isnt' recognised.

    With reference to writing, it depends why you're writing and want to be published. I don't think any one reason has more weight than the other, but I'm of the opinion that if you have a story you feel can benefit others then you'll want to share it.

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  21. Thanks for tackling this topic! I don't think it's unhealthy to race ahead in life, but I've known people who try to trip "loved ones" in order to feel like they're winning. Thanks for the links!

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  22. A speaker at a mini-writing conference I was at recently pointed out how narcissistic writing is. By trying to get our story published, we're saying "I think it'd be worth the time of a lot of people to spend several hours to read this book that I wrote."

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  23. I think men can be very prone to this disorder. I know so many young men that think they are just the hottest thing around.

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