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Narcissism: The Next Global Pandemic?

Updated: 4 days ago




Narcissism.  It seems we hear the term everywhere these days.  From social media and popular culture to separation and divorce, assertions of ‘He’s such a narcissist’, ‘That’s so narcissistic’, and ‘Narcissism is becoming an epidemic!’ seem commonplace.  But what really is it?  And is the global population really about to self-destruct under a growing weight of selfish, self-serving behaviour, with little-to-no regard for the rights and feelings of others?  The answer?  Although estimates can vary, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a clinical disorder that is thought to affect somewhere between 1-5% of the population, and, highly unlikely.  It is characterised by a long-term pattern of abnormal behaviour including; acute attention-seeking, arrogance, self-centredness, and having a fixation on self-importance, the root cause almost always stemming from childhood.


In the advent of social media and an increasing number of platforms from which to sing one’s swan song there is no doubt that awareness of narcissistic behaviours such as these is increasing and hence narcissism itself appears to be on the rise.  Studies have looked at the relationships between numbers of selfies and narcissism for example, as well as the psychological profiles of people choosing careers such as influencers and self-styled experts.  


However, narcissism should also be recognised as existing on a spectrum, and only when a person displays an established number of behaviours from a specific list of diagnostics would they be considered to have NPD, or more commonly be referred to as a ‘narcissist’.  Its roots in childhood also lend to the probability that finding enjoyment in the limelight is unlikely to qualify a person as a narcissist unless coupled with a number of other specific behaviours, and evident over many years.  Making it unlikely to be developed as a disorder in adulthood.


So why is it helpful to make the distinction between narcissistic behaviour, narcissism and being a narcissist?


In terms of legitimate cases exhibiting the clinical disorder, and those whose lives they impact, the consequences for everyone can be devastating.  And so, the increasingly popular use of the term ‘narcissist’ might at best be considered an unhelpful label, but could at worst serve to minimise the plight of victims of abuse.  To a greater or lesser extent, we all display narcissistic behaviour at times, and not just limited to self-centredness.  However, while suffering from the narcissistic behaviours of others can range from unpleasant to emotionally exhausting, and are never acceptable, for those suffering at the hands of a certifiable narcissist it can affect every aspect of a person’s physical and mental health. And failing to identify which is which could leave long term victims of narcissistic abuse questioning their experience yet further, failing to reach out for help, or worse, not being believed due to overuse of a clinical term.


In my professional career I have helped many individuals deal with the very real physical and psychological consequences of narcissistic abuse as a result of relationships with narcissists.  As well as the mental exhaustion of coping with these individuals, physical consequences can include stress-related illnesses such as having a compromised immune system or suffering digestive disorders and weight gain, exacerbation of chronic conditions such as asthma or migraines, and negative consequences of anxiety disorders such as complex posttraumatic stress disorder.  


If you are suffering physically and mentally from an interpersonal relationship, at work, home, or in your personal life, and don’t know where to start, reach out to TALKPsychologyTM and we will guide you through finding the best help and support.


Author: Zoe Cave Hawkins, C.Psychol.


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