Over the last few years I’ve noticed a lot of stories, posts and tweets about narcissism. Some informative and others written by those who stated they had been hurt by their involvement with a narcissist. In this post, I am not going to delve into stories about those who have genuinely been damaged by their involvement with narcissists. Instead, I am going to see if there is actually a positive side to behaving in this manner.
Narcissistic personality disorder
Apparently, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance. Plus, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, a tendency towards troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.
I’ve read around the topic and thought deeply about it too. There were few positives to take away. Being a narcissist is viewed negatively. Anyhow, here is my personal take on NPD and it’s symptoms.
- Grandiose sense of self.
- Self absorbed.
- Excessive need for admiration.
- Superficial relationships.
- Exploits others.
- Need for control/power.
- Lack of empathy.
- Identity instability.
- Difficulty with attachment and dependency.
- Chronic feelings of emptiness and boredom.
It seems to me there must be a difference between those who have the diagnosis of NPD and those who merely exhibit a few narcissistic traits.
Nowadays we live in a world of self-absorption. Consequently, quite a number of people would probably find themselves somewhere on the NPD spectrum by displaying a few of the traits above. I suppose you could say they were exhibiting narcissistic tendencies. Which makes me think that perhaps the NPD label is being used far too often.
What if behaving a bit like a narcissist is really just down to something as simple as ambition? Wanting more for yourself and a better life? Perhaps this interpretation sounds tentative but bear with me while I ponder the younger May More.
Completing my A-levels and then eventually attending University was down to my desire to be free and explore life. I’d had a tricky childhood so these two objectives pushed me in a direction away from ambitious plans to get that high profile job or win a promotion. I wanted adventure and the liberty to take chances here and there.
Recently, a friend told me that she had always thought because I was clever and liked to expand my mind I would be ambitious too. She found it quite a conundrum that I wasn’t. Although, naturally self-possessed, I have never had a large ego. Nor a need for my identity to be boosted by a stressful job title and all that would entail. Don’t get me wrong, I was not lazy. I worked hard at what I chose to. But I didn’t particularly feel the urge to be a boss who had the control of a workforce. Or for people to look up to me and admire my qualities. None of this seemed important.
So, it is probable that not many of the labels from the narcissistic traits list could be hung around my neck. If I had been the type who wanted to be noticed and seen as important or had a yearning for power I may well have pushed myself harder to nail that city job.
Suddenly, the link between ambition and narcissism appears less tenuous to me.
But then again, perhaps I am so detached that I don’t recognise that in reality I am a little bit of a narcissist. Just not an ambitious one 😉
Seriously, that may also be a consideration; narcissists will hesitate to view themselves as such because of the negative connotations attached.
Let’s take a look at the word ambition.
Its roots lie in Roman politics. Candidates had to spend most of their time touring the city urging the citizens to vote for them. The Latin word for this effort was ambition. Since this activity was caused by a desire for success, honour or power, ambition eventually came to mean “the desire for honour or power.”
With this definition it is easy to see ambition and narcissism may go hand in hand. The urge to control as well as having a high regard for oneself can certainly be viewed as symptoms of NPD, and are similar to honour and power.
What about the real high flyers in business – those who work hard and quickly do well? What kind of personalty is behind some of these ‘natural’ high achievers?
The Harvard Business Review states that many high achievers possess blind ambition and, therefore, do appear to portray a costly level of narcissism. Their personality traits actually help them to succeed, but only up to a point, as it is important not to move these guys any higher in the company. Of greater concern is to recognise and halt the advance of those that are unlikely to make a good leader. After all, if a person with NPD was consistently promoted, colleagues could end up feeling as if their collective efforts were being harnessed to a single leader’s ego, rather than focussed upon the team’s shared goals. However, the Harvard Review also states some narcissists may be transformed into quality leaders via mentoring. So if you scored high on this test all is not lost.
I found it interesting that the Harvard article talks about being able to create a turnaround with some employees who show narcissistic traits. Once again this leads me to think the actual disorder is in a different league to someone who simply displays a few of the symptoms. Perhaps we need to take more care when labelling others.
Indeed, labels are such a popular commodity these days it does seem that everyone wants to fit beneath one. However, when any label is actually negative or derogatory, we should all be mindful of whether to use it when describing others. It stands to reason that while climbing the corporate ladder, an ambitious person may well fare better by being self-absorbed and overconfident. But I don’t necessarily think that means they are suffering from NPD. Maybe we should have a different umbrella term such as Narky for the great majority who enjoy rather than suffer from a couple of the NPD traits.
Finally, I think we should all look at ourselves before criticising actions of others and not be so quick to label someone a power-hungry narcissist, when really they are simply an ambitious go getter.
If you’d like to grapple with some more opinions of mine then you may find this about respect interesting.
OR something sexy?
Linked to these meme’s.