The psychology of narcissism explained

According to a licensed clinical psychologist, we need to change the way we define narcissism in order to recognize it more clearly for what it really is.

people in costume in front of woman taking selfie
  • Narcissistic personality disorder is one of several types of personality disorders. It is characterized as a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of self.
  • According to the most recent data, narcissistic personality disorder isn't as common as we think, impacting an estimated 1 percent of our population. The confusion lies in how we define the disorder compared to other narcissistic personality traits.
  • Dr. Ramani Durvasula explains that we need a clearer definition of what this disorder is in order to recognize it in our society.

    What is narcissism?

    concept of ego self praise narcissism narcissistic personality disorder

    How do we really recognize narcissism?

    Image by SvetaZi on Shutterstock

    Narcissistic personality disorder is one of several types of personality disorders and is characterized as a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of self. They have a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, which often leads to troubled relationships. There is an inherent lack of empathy for others and narcissism, despite its outward appearance, is often masking extremely fragile self-esteem constructs.

    Symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder:

    • An exaggerated sense of self-importance
    • A sense of entitlement
    • Craving constant admiration or affection
    • Expecting to be recognized as a superior
    • An ability to monopolize conversations and belittle other people's input
    • Can easily become envious of others and believe others envy them
    • They may behave arrogantly and appear to be conceited, boastful or pretentious
    • Often insists on having "the best" of everything, which will be reflected in their possessions, even if they are things they cannot afford (a new car, etc)

    Narcissism itself is defined as an excessive interest in or admiration of oneself. It's entirely possible to be narcissistic without having the personality disorder...but what is the difference?

    With narcissistic personality disorder, the traits and symptoms will be so intense that the person's life, relationships, and jobs may be compromised. A personality disorder is typically diagnosed with the issues extend to negatively impact your daily life.

    The psychology of narcissistic personality disorder

    As Psychology Today author Preston Ni points out, there is a difference between someone with narcissistic personality disorder and someone who is exhibiting narcissistic behaviors - with the biggest difference lying in the intent.

    A pathological narcissist will often purposefully induce toxic environments and harmful relationships for the purpose of exploiting other people to serve their own agendas. Someone who is considered to have the personality disorder may be caught in frequent lies or exaggerations that make them look good and others look bad, they may manipulate situations for their own gratification, they may also spread negative emotions in order to make themselves feel better.

    While you may think narcissism is common, narcissistic personality disorder only affects an estimated 1 percent of the population.

    Narcissism is properly viewed on a spectrum, as with most other mental health conditions. To be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, a person is evaluated with the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI-40). The test consists of 40 pairs of statements to which the person will need to select whichever answer best suits their personality.

    Do narcissists know they are narcissists?

    Using something called a Single-Item Narcissism Scale, people who answered affirmatively to the question "are you a narcissist?" were far more likely than others to score highly on the NPI-40.

    Narcissism in relationships

    While you may think someone in your life (perhaps maybe even someone close to you) is a narcissist, it is actually quite difficult for people with narcissistic personality disorder to truly fall in love, because there is an inherent deficit of empathy makes it difficult for them to establish long-term, healthy relationships.

    Psychology Today explains: "For most narcissists, relationships are transactional. They provide positive attention and sexual satisfaction to bolster their ego and self-esteem. The objective [of the relationship] is to enjoy uncommitted pleasure and most individuals struggling with this disorder will begin to lose interest in the relationship as the expectation for commitment and intimacy grows."

    Changing our view on what narcissism really is.

    According to Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist in Santa Monica, California, narcissism is not just posting selfies on social media or checking your reflection in every surface. While those things can be viewed as narcissistic tendencies, they do not mean the person is a narcissist.

    According to Durvasula, narcissism is woefully misunderstood, which is maybe why we have such a hard time spotting it in people around us. She considers it a "buzz word" of our time, explaining that it's viewed as a disorder of some kind of inflated self-esteem and grandiosity, and while it is those things, it's most importantly a disorder of self-esteem.

    "I often say there are four pillars to narcissism: lack of empathy, grandiosity, a chronic sense of entitlement, and a chronic need to seek out admiration and validation. Those really create the core of the disorder."

    This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

    A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

    Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
    Surprising Science
    • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
    • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
    • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

    First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

    Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

    All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

    BepiColombo

    Image source: European Space Agency

    The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

    Into and out of Earth's shadow

    In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

    The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

    In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

    When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

    Magentosphere melody

    The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

    BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

    MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

    Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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