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Narcissism and the ugly side of vanity

model runway sunglasses narcissism vanity beauty body weight Narcissists can feel like models on a runway all the time. That can leave friends feeling more like their audience than peers. Credit: Getty Images

I have a friend who constantly talks about herself and rarely asks any questions about my life. She is constantly preening, obsessed with her body, brags about her sexual and professional conquests, and posts seductive selfies on social media. Is it just self-confidence, or narcissism?

Lately, the media has been examining narcissism from more angles than an egomaniac gazing at herself in the mirror. Reportedly, narcissists have more sex, are nightmares to divorce, feed on self-promotional platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and are growing in numbers. One study even likened narcissism to a modern-day epidemic because they procreate at statistically higher rates.

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“Narcissist” has also become the latest slur many people use to discredit their bosses, former romatic partners, siblings and politicians — virtually anyone who makes their life miserable, as egotists often do.

Yet some of the very same traits commonly associated with narcissism — extreme confidence, concern with appearance, self-absorption, superficiality and attention-seeking — would appear to characterize a fair-sized swath of the general population, especially in big cities where such attributes are encouraged and commonly associated with success.

Superficial egotism and inflated sense of self are widely understood as an over-compensation for deep-seated shame and self-doubt. Most narcissists had either self-absorbed or authoritarian parents who didn’t properly acknowledge, accept or praise their thoughts, feelings and talents. Without this, narcissists never develop an accurate picture of themselves and remain emotionally stunted, focused on preserving their mask that hides the deeply insecure person behind it.

How, then, does one distinguish a tiresomely self-centered person from a pathological narcissist?

Motivation. People fitting either description might aspire to maintain their figures and dress fashionably, a truly confident person will be driven by self-care and personal expression, whereas a true narcissist will aspire to win other people’s love and admiration or as a means to manipulate - for example, to have sex.

Empathy. While some argue that narcissism exists along a continuum, with milder sufferers able to feel genuine compassion, those at the more extreme end suffer don’t value others' emotions and experiences. When challenged, they often respond with denial and rage, and can be especially vindictive.

Which brings me to your question. While your childhood pal may display some narcissistic traits, whether or not she has a diagnosis is beside the point — you’re her friend, not her psychiatrist or social worker. If you want to keep your connection meaningful, try sharing your feelings about the friendship while expressing your desire that she inquire about your life, lest you presume she doesn’t care.

Narcissist or not, a “friend” who doesn’t take an interest in your wellbeing is not a true friend, and not worth keeping around.

Are you a narcissist?


To diagnose someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, he or she must meet at least five of the following criteria:

  • display an exaggerated sense of self-importance or grandiosity

  • harbor fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance or beauty

  • express excessive concern about their status and sense of specialness

  • require constant admiration

  • possess a sense of entitlement

  • lack empathy and aspire to be envied (while secretly envying others)


Kim Schneiderman’s book, “Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life,”is being published in the spring. Email your questions toaskkim@metro.us and check out her website, Novel Perspective.

 
 
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