Everybody knows someone who seems to be totally absorbed with themselves to the exclusion of anyone else. And perhaps some of us who are less mature and evolved take comfort in the notion that that sort of narcissism is an actual, diagnosable, personality disorder treatable by psychotherapy ... in other words, its not you, it's them.
So you can understand why there's something of a controversy in the shrink world over the fact narcissism, along with some other personality disorders, is being removed from the next edition of the manual used by therapists to diagnose their patients. They're being replaced by an a la carte menu of symptoms and behaviors.
Here's what I think ... things like reality TV and the Internet have rendered narcissism pretty much normal.
Here's the criteria: a grandiose sense of self and greatly inflated ideas of their abilities and potential; a constant need to have others reaffirm their greatness, and both great sensitivity to being overlooked or slighted and an equal lack of ability to understand when they do it to someone else.
I'm sorry, but does this not sound like every heavy Facebooker or Twitterer, the entire cast of Jersey Shore and a significant percentage of mommy bloggers?
In normal life, narcissists find that they have trouble maintaining relationships or keeping jobs, and perhaps eventually seek help. In pop culture, they develop a bajillion Twitter followers, or commenters who only say "OMG you are so right and that puppy totally had it coming for being in your way," or get their insanely ridiculous reality show renewed for another season. And if people dare to disagree or criticize? It goes nuclear really, really fast.
When you get rewarded for a behavior, you keep it up. And popular culture, which makes celebrities out of people like Snooki or the Kardashians for no apparent reason, rewards narcissistic behavior with book deals and slots on Oprah. Why we'd watch TV depicting people we'd never, ever want to hang out with in real life, or follow them on Twitter, or respond to their 10th Facebook status update of the day with "OMG you had ham and potatoes for dinner? ME too!" escapes me.
It's no wonder narcissism is being declassified as a disorder ... these days, it's become something to aspire to.
Image via Chicago Photo Shop/Flickr