December 29, 2006

If This Is One of The Sexiest Things You've Ever Seen, You May Be a Narcissist

white heels


A quick primer on the new Narcissism.

I don't mean the traditional Kernberg, Kohut, or even Freudian descriptions.  In the modern times, I think narcissism has evolved.

A narcissist isn't necessarily an egotist, someone who thinks they are the best.  A quick screen is an inability to appreciate that other people exist, and have thoughts, feelings, and actions unrelated to the narcissist.  These thoughts don't have to be good ones, but they have to be linked to the narcissist. ("I'm going to get some gas-- because that jerk never fills the car.")

The narcissist believes he is the main character in his own movie.  Everyone else has a supporting role-- everyone around him becomes a "type."  You know how in every romantic comedy, there's always the funny friend who helpes the main character figure out her relationship?  In the movie, her whole existence is to be there fore the main character.  But in real life, that funny friend has her own life; she might even be the main character in her own movie, right?  Well the narcissist wouldn't be able to grasp that.  Her friends are always supporting characters, that can be called at any hour of the night, that will always be interested in what she is wearing, or what she did.  That funny friend isn't just being kind, she doesn't just want to help-- she's personally interested in the narcissist's life.  Of course she is.

A comedian I can't remember made a joke about actors in LA, but it's applicable to narcissists: when two narcissists go out, they just wait for the other person's mouth to stop moving so they can talk about themselves.

So on the one hand, the narcissist reduces everyone else to a type, as it relates to himself; on the other hand, the narcissist, as the main character in his movie, has an identity that he wants (i.e. he made it up) and requires all others to supplement that identity.

A narcissist looks the same every day; he has a "look" with a defining characteristic: a certain haircut; a mustache; a type of clothing, a tatoo.  He used these to create an identity in his mind that he will spend a lot of energy keeping up.

Consider the narcissist who wants his wife to wear only white, high heeled pumps.  The narcissist wants this not because he himself likes white high heel pumps-- which he might-- but because the type of person he thinks he is would only be with the type of woman who wears white high heeled pumps.  Or, in other terms, other people would expect someone like himself to be with a woman who wears those shoes.  What he likes isn't the relevant factor, and certainly what she likes is irrelevant.  What matters is that she (and her shoes) are accessories to him.

Never mind that the woman is obese, or 65, or the shoes out of style, or impractical-- the shoes represent something to him, and he is trying to reinforce his identity through that object.

Narcissists typically focus on specific things as proxies for their identity.  As in the example above, that the woman might be obese or a paraplegic could be ignored if the footwear was the proxy for identity.  These proxies are also easy to describe but loaded with implication: "I'm married to a blonde."  Saying "blonde" implies something-- e.g.  she's hot-- that might not be true.  But the narcissist has so fetishized "blondeness" that it is disconnected from reality.  The connotations, not the reality, are what matters (especially if other people can't check.)

This explains why narcissists feel personally sleighted when the fetishized object disappears.  "My wife stopped dying her hair blonde; but when she used to date her other boyfriends, she was in the salon every month.  Bitch."  He doesn't see the obvious passage of time, what he sees is part of his identity being taken from him, on purpose.  Here's the final insult: "she obviously doesn't care about me as much as her old boyfriends."

As a paradigm, the narcissist is the first born (or only) child, aged 2-3.  Everything is about him, and everything is binary.  His, or not his.  Satisfied, or not satisfied.  Hungry, or not hungry.  Mom and Dad are talking to each other and not me?  "Hello!  Focus on me!"  Youngest children don't typicaly become narcissists because from the moment of their birth, they know there are other characters in the movie.  (Youngest more easily becomes borderline.) Control, of course, is important to a narcissist. If you can imagine a 40 year old man with the ego of a 2 year old, you've got a narcissist.

Obviously, not all first borns go on to be narcissists.  Part of their development comes from not learning that there is a right and wrong that exists outside them.  This may come from inconsistent parenting:


Dad says, "you stupid kid, don't watch TV, TV is bad, it'll make you stupid!"  Ok.  Lesson learned.  But then one day Dad has to do some work: "stop making so much noise!  Here, sit down and watch TV."  What's the learned message?  It isn't that TV is sometimes good and sometimes bad.  It's that good and bad are decided by the person with the most power. 


So the goal in development is to become the one with the most power.  Hence, narcissists can be dogmatic ("adultery is immoral!") and hypocrites ("well, she came on to me, and you were ignoring me at home")  at the same time.  There is no right and wrong-- only right and wrong for them.  He's an exaggerated example: if they have to kill someone to get what they want, then so be it.  But when they murder, they don't actually think what they're doing is wrong--they're saying, "I know it's illegal, but if you understood the whole situation, you'd understand..."

Narcissists never feel guilt.  Only shame.


The husband obviously has a... (Below threshold)

December 30, 2006 7:24 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

The husband obviously has a problem if he thinks white pumps are cool.

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Do you see blogging itself ... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2006 7:15 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Do you see blogging itself as a manifestation of narcissistic propensity ?

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I've been enjoying reading ... (Below threshold)

January 2, 2007 12:25 PM | Posted by psychoa: | Reply

I've been enjoying reading your blog, especially your recent posts on Narcissism. I'd be interested to know more about how you understand the differences between this new narcissist and that described by others. You describe what I might call a malignant narcissist, one at the sociopathic end of the spectrum. Do you think less virulent, violence-prone forms of narcissism have ceased to exist or ought they go by some other name?

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You might be interested in ... (Below threshold)

January 4, 2007 4:14 PM | Posted by badabada: | Reply

You might be interested in the book "Life, the Movie, "by Neal Gabler. See

It deals with many of these same issues from the point of view that we live our lives as though we were in a movie.

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I think malignant narcissis... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2007 11:37 PM | Posted by JGreenberg: | Reply

I think malignant narcissism is something different-- what's being described here is one with psychopathy. But maybe that's his point, that our narcissism has transcended "personality disorder" and gone into dangerous psychopathy.

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Thank you for making these ... (Below threshold)

May 11, 2007 6:06 AM | Posted by Thank you: | Reply

Thank you for making these points. it was interesting to read about the family constelation aspect: oldest or only child vs. youngest child. your writing has been very helpful.


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Whatever! Those white pumps... (Below threshold)

July 12, 2008 6:59 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Whatever! Those white pumps are damn sexy!!!

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Heh. If the woman in the n... (Below threshold)

December 2, 2008 1:25 PM | Posted by La BellaDonna: | Reply

Heh. If the woman in the narcissist's life is Southern and/or adheres to certain fashion rules, good luck to him after Labor Day and before Memorial Day getting her to wear those things!

However, I have observed the "thing-by-proxy" myself, and had others report their observations to me, trying to work out why a man would go out with an average-looking blonde, rather than a very pretty brunette or redhead; the "thing-by-proxy" is that "blondes are beautiful/sexy" - without the blonde actually having to be so, herself. Darryl Hannah's success in Hollywood would be one example of that phenomenon at work.

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What would you say of the p... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2008 11:14 AM | Posted by Matthew: | Reply

What would you say of the person who reads this article, and admits to relating to the content? Like, for example, I read any of that part about white heels, and then realize, “Wow, sounds kind of how I am when it comes to short skirts,” whatever. I guess my ultimate question is: Is the verdict the same, in instances where narcissistic traits are exhibited, but the “narcissist” is fully aware (and maybe embraces, maybe not) these traits? That is to say, can a narcissist of the kind you describe be aware of their narcissism?

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Good post. How you think t... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2008 1:44 PM | Posted by Dr X: | Reply

Good post. How you think this is different from Kernberg (pathological early structures) or Kohut (normal arrested early structures)? I'm not seeing how this necessarily falls outside one of those two broad formulations.

The question of psychopathy is also being raised by the commenters. This is not a description of a psychopath. A psychopath doesn't experience humiliation (shame). Narcissists are highly vulnerable to shame. It is the trigger for their rage reactions. In contrast, psychopathic aggression is of the cool predatory variety.

For those interested in everyday interpersonal manifestations of narcissism, here is a link to an excellent article by Nancy McWilliams and Stanley Leppendorf.

It's an easy read if you've got an analytic background, but the thoughtful lay reader will understand enough of it to find it very interesting and thought provoking, as well. If you have difficulty with the more theoretical introductory material, the everyday examples of narcissistic defenses will make things more clear as the article proceeds.

Alone's response: thanks, that is an excellent article. I would draw people's attention to the paragraph about "dropping" hints vs. bragging and manipulating the other to avoid taking responsibility for a difficult decision/action. Both of these maneuvers are designed to reinforce an existing identity-- that is entirely made up-- while simultaneously convincing other people that this identity is real. "No, my husband isn;t controlling, he let's me make most of the decisions, and he only rarely talks about himself.."

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where can i but this shoes!... (Below threshold)

June 11, 2009 12:47 AM | Posted by ME: | Reply

where can i but this shoes!!

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So how do we tell if it's "... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2009 7:25 AM | Posted by staghounds: | Reply

So how do we tell if it's "I like the shoes on you" or "I'm a Narcissist"?

And it's slighted, not sleighted.

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Hate you, Alone :-\ You jus... (Below threshold)

May 16, 2010 4:55 PM | Posted by Alex-5: | Reply

Hate you, Alone :-\ You just made me 80% narcissist...

PS And I just notised that you wrote this article on 29th December! Me freaking birthday! I've been follwing this blog for less than a month, and how long have you been following me?! (just kiddin')

Do you remember a good (?) movie 'The Truman Show'? A true narcissist feels he's always in the center of this show! :)

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It's so lucky for me to fin... (Below threshold)

October 25, 2010 10:15 PM | Posted by wholesale jerseys: | Reply

It's so lucky for me to find your blog! So shocking and great!
by wholesale jerseys

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蜡笔小新最最崇拜动感超人,我也非常喜欢动感超人。<br... (Below threshold)

October 26, 2010 3:56 AM | Posted by 搜索引擎营销: | Reply

By 动感超人">">动感超人

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Wow. First child. I'm with ... (Below threshold)

December 9, 2010 5:05 PM | Posted by Guilty: | Reply

Wow. First child. I'm with my girlfriend, because she has nice ass and is soft and kind. I'm not very interested in other people. I've always rather been alone. I'm not sure if the things I've done make me feel shame or guilty.

I'm propably a Narcissist. But people around me aren't miserable. I mean I went and asked my wife the other day if I make her miserable, if she's a human wreck. She said no. I hope I haven't manipulated her to do so. I feel good about how our life has turned out. I have always tried to do more than just speak - more than one time to a point of self destruction.

I don't like to abuse people, but I will if they hurt me badly. Afterwads I don't carry grudge. I don't talk behind peoples back.

I've tried to understand this emptiness I feel. I'm not very driven person, lowly motivated, that considered, I've done well in with my mediocre life. Most of the time I don't really feel anything. Only after I lose something, I become first angry, then depressed, only then I understand it had a value.

I've only recently started feeling sorrow. I cried my first time since my teens a few years ago, at the age of 29, when my father died. Last time I cried was when I was washing his blood of me after he tried to pull a shotgun at me. Everything has always been about anger to me.

I have a son now, and believe it or not, I don't want to pass this to him.

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Guilty,Could be an... (Below threshold)

February 6, 2011 2:04 AM | Posted, in reply to Guilty's comment, by Rookie: | Reply


Could be any number of things, narcissism being one of them, but your description could be consistent with passive-aggressive personality styles, depressive, or even something clinical like aspergers or depression. Either way, it's obvious that it troubles you and that's really the only thing that matters.

Find a good psychologist or psychiatrist and get an appointment to talk about it. Figure out exactly what it is in collaboration with a good therapist, not based on one (admittedly awesome) blog.

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A narcissist is like a chil... (Below threshold)

June 1, 2011 7:42 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

A narcissist is like a child who is constantly jumping up and down, waving their hands, screaming over and over and over Look at me,look at me!

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Interesting take on this is... (Below threshold)

August 6, 2011 10:09 AM | Posted by Florida Internet Marketing: | Reply

Interesting take on this issue. I for 1 have seen several twists on this and can often spot the holes in the argument however, on this occasion I believe your writing is such that every person should be in agreement with this. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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My father has narcissistic ... (Below threshold)

February 7, 2012 12:33 PM | Posted by johnnyc: | Reply

My father has narcissistic personality disorder, and as a result my mother and sister (eldest child) have narcissistic qualities. I.E. very self absorbed and needy when it comes to feelings, without considering other peoples point of view. Unfortunately being the youngest child I went the other way and turned into a 'people pleaser', constantly trying to appease peoples anguish as if it were my responsibility somehow. Anyway extensive self work has made me absolve all of that now, however the sad thing is growing up and living that way for years I seemed to have surrounded myself with people who have narcissistic qualities.
So this is what I want to comment on, a Narcissistic personality disorder is very different to someone who is a narcissist. People with NPD are literally like monsters who are incapable of interacting/living in a healthy way, or cultivating healthy relationships, they are almost robotic in their qualities as they have no empathy for other sentient beings whatsoever. This makes them highly toxic and damaging to be around. Where as people who are narcissistic are just basically very self centred and selfish in their thoughts and deeds, they still understand others but they just put themselves and their own needs first in every situation. People with NPD are incapable of even understanding that others have needs, which is quite frightening really.
A good friend of mine is highly narcissistic and is frankly becoming a bore to be around, because any slight against his perceived self results in him reacting like a child, he expects every one to treat him with respect although he is very disrespectful to others. He is the eldest child from a very dysfunctional family. A girl I work with is an only child and also narcissistic, although I didn't realise at first. She seems down to earth and understanding, but is not caring towards others in her actions, she is very good at getting people to do stuff for her, but because she's beautiful and charming she does it in a way that makes people want to do stuff for her, as she seems like a nice girl, as oppose to manipulating them. I guess she's just used to being pandered to so that's the reality she creates for herself, and her stunning looks mean there will always be someone to do that for her. She is not extrovert or in need to be the centre of attention, but she is a flirt and will lead guys on she has no interest in committing to, I believe because of her narcissistic need for attention.

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And just to add one more th... (Below threshold)

February 7, 2012 12:42 PM | Posted by johnnyc: | Reply

And just to add one more thing on what the article refers to as 'the new narcissism'. I think the article is correct in separating it from the traditional personality disorder definition, because in my opinion it is as a result of cultural changes in the Anglo-American societies, which stem from a media culture centred around shallow narcissistic self promotion. So people are becoming more engaged with this media definition of reality, and are sold on the Hollywood 'look how great I am, how great I've got it' lifestyle and way of thinking. Unfortunately for the majority of working class/middle class citizens this is not a reality, people aren't that great or charismatic or wealthy or attractive, but have adopted the mindset which makes them believe they are and deserve great things for themselves.

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I mostly prefer to be invis... (Below threshold)

February 29, 2012 12:00 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I mostly prefer to be invisible. I change my dressing frequently: some days heels, some days snickers, most days something in between. I have no facebook. I sometimes think I would like to have a blog to write about my opinions on matters (I think I am clever and have interesting opinions), but I won't because I don't think I would be able to handle the haters (if I happen to have any readers). I suffer from a now mild social anxiety, I think. So I was thinking: am I some kind of reverse narcissist?

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I feel sad for you. I hope ... (Below threshold)

February 29, 2012 2:25 PM | Posted, in reply to Guilty's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I feel sad for you. I hope you get better. Places to look for counseling would be, the county health department, churches and other religious organizations, hotlines will help in a pinch---you can do a search on the computer, often they have toll-free numbers---12-step programs such as Alcoholic Anonymous have other 12-step programs including one called Adult Children of Alcoholics that works not just for children of alcoholics but for anyone who has been abused. Many hospitals in cities have their own programs that are often free or low cost. If you live in Los Angeles or Chicago, their county hospitals are only going to charge you very minimal amounts of money (sometimes they are free) so you can get emergency care if needed or psychiatric care, although I don't know if also have counseling. I'm selecting the button on this post that says 'receive email notification of further comments' so if you can't find help for yourself, you have the option of emailing what county or city and state you live in, and I can try to see if I can find help for you. I'm pretty good at finding resources if there are any. Oh, you can also try anyplace that has a social worker, such as a homeless shelter, some food banks, programs that work with former offenders if applicable, some Emergency rooms, especially those with a crisis center that works with ER. OK, got to go, I have an appointment. I've also never met a counselor who did not offer reduced fees to those who need that. *Always ask about charity care if dealing with a hospital or any healthcare services provider---they don't always offer it if you don't ask.*

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Dear Guilty, I live in Braz... (Below threshold)

March 2, 2012 8:57 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Dear Guilty, I live in Brazil. I have access to counseling and medical attention. I am very grateful for your help offer, but this is a misunderstanding: I am not depressed. My social anxiety is under control: even though I tend to avoid interaction with people I have no intimacy with, to my surprise nowadays most people don't even think I am shy. It hasn’t always been like this. It was tough in school, I was a miserable teenager, but now I think growing old is the best thing that can happen to you as you stop hating yourself and envying everybody else.
Thanks again for caring. Wish you all the best!

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I have my diagnostics: I AM... (Below threshold)

March 2, 2012 9:05 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I have my diagnostics: I AM a narcissist! I thought the anonymous comment to Guilty was a comment from Guilty to me. I have voted my own comment down for the blunder.

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I'm glad you're OK. I feel ... (Below threshold)

March 2, 2012 9:45 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I'm glad you're OK. I feel much better now that I'm older too, not all the problems simply fell by the wayside but a decent number of them did---all I had to do was outlive them. :-)

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Theres a word for that, sch... (Below threshold)

September 6, 2012 3:04 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Theres a word for that, schizoid.

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