Friday, December 10, 2010

Narcissism is not about me

Apparently in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the manual for psychological diagnoses, will be dropping "narcissistic personality disorder" (in 2013). In a podcast discussion about this, ultimately it came down to the question of what's the difference between a narcissist and an asshole—and might the dismissal of the latter as a diagnosable condition render the distinction moot. (A suggested answer was that if the patient annoys a therapist, he's just an asshole.)

A side subtopic was the perception that ours is a narcissistic society, based on the proliferation of social media. That strikes me as inherently contradictory merely from a rhetorical standpoint. Narcissus, as I recall, was so taken with gazing at his reflection and being in love with himself that he didn't have interest in anyone else; he was, by that aspect of self-love, anti-social.

To be "social" is to be around others, to acknowledge their lives in at least some modest way; in short, it is to be part of a "society" (and that can be defined as a group of more than one in the most basic sense). Certainly the urge to blather on about mundane aspects of oneself may share elements with narcissism, but if one is doing it in the context of "social" media, with it being read and responded to by others it is inherently social. A narcissist, in the classical sense, would have no need for Facebook or Twitter because he'd be fully satisfied with his audience of himself alone.

Please note that I'm talking about "narcissism" not from the definition of the soon-to-be-outdated diagnosis or the connotation it took in pop psychology—the latter, I would say, tended to used it as a pejorative to describe a person who thought too highly of himself, or who wanted others to pay attention to him while lacking any inclination to reciprocate. In short, it's a way of calling someone an asshole without resorting to petty insults. However, a true narcissist would not be labeled an asshole, as he'd be too busy marveling at himself while alone and not being in a position to annoy others and be labeled a narcissist.

Allow me to make clear one thing: When I ramble on about these deconstructionist ruminations on an expression, I am very much revealing a flaw—a disorder that almost certainly will remain in that manual—but it's not narcissism. It may indicate I'm an asshole, but I'm not a narcissist.

So good riddance to this as a diagnosis, and as a term for hackneyed condescension.


Thanks for paying attention, to the extent you were able to pull yourself away to do. Now you can go back to thinking about yourself. Apparently that's all we do.

1 comment:

  1. It's okay to admit that it's really all about you. ;-)

    I think that's why I avoid Twitter, though. It's either a one-way advertising medium for celebutards to address their fans, or it's an flame war with a big audience. Either way, not that interesting.

    I like blogging because I like to tell stories, which may either entertain, annoy, or teach people. I only read blogs that feature similar stories, people talking about themselves. I tend not to read blogs that are issue-oriented, because I don't really care. But I like the people-oriented ones.


So, what do you think?