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You have certainly met someone who is a little overly excited about themselves; people with narcissistic traits. But what exactly is narcissism?

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In a video from TED Ed which is written by W. Keith Campbell gives you a simple yet accurate description of narcissism. Here you can watch the video and read a summary of what points it highlights.


Think they are prettier, smarter, more important than others

Narcissus was in love with himself, and he has given name to an important psychological phenomenon: Narcissism. This can be seen as a bloated, sometimes destructive, preoccupation with oneself. 

But narcissism is also a set of personality traits that has been studied by psychologists.

A psychological definition of narcissism is an inflated, grandiose self-image.

In a sense, a narcissist believes that he or she has a better appearance, is smarter, and more important than other people - and that one is therefore entitled to special treatment.


Two forms of narcissism

Psychology describes two forms of narcissism: 1) the grandiose, and 2) the vulnerable.

The grandiose narcissism is characterized by extroversion, dominance, and the search for attention. The grandiose narcissist seeks attention and power, sometimes as politicians, artists or cultural leaders.

Of course, this does not mean that everyone in such positions has narcissistic traits; many seek such positions for good reasons such as exploiting their full potential, or helping others. However, someone with narcissism does so because of the status and attention that comes with it.

On the other hand, the vulnerable narcissist may be quiet and reserved, but he or she has a self-esteem that is very easily violated.

In both cases, narcissistic traits are evident in the long run, and the narcissist tends to choose selfishly. Narcissistic leaders will therefore find it easy to make risky and unethical decisions. Narcissistic partners can be dishonest and unfaithful. When their rosy views of themselves are challenged, they can become angry and aggressive. 


Here you can watch the video about narcissism

An extreme variant

In its extreme variant, these traits appear as a narcissistic personality disorder. Key symptoms are a bloated self-image, problems with empathy, a feeling of being entitled to special treatment, and a great need for admiration. Only 1-2% of the population has this, and the diagnosis is only given to adults.

It is only called a personality disorder if these symptoms have virtually "taken over life", and that they create significant problems in everyday life. 

Imagine that instead of being genuinely concerned about your children and your spouse, you just use them to gain attention and admiration.

Or imagine that instead of enduring constructive criticism, you always respond by convincing others that they are wrong. 


What causes narcissism?

Twin studies suggest that it is a strong genetic component, while environmental conditions are also important.

Parents who exalt their children excessively can foster grandiose narcissism, while cold and controlling parents can contribute to vulnerable narcissism.

Culture also matters. Narcissism seems to be more common in individualistic cultures with ideals associated with promoting themselves. For example, narcissistic traits have been on a gradual increase in the United States since the 1970s. 


Possible to get well?

Finally, it is asked whether it is possible to get rid of narcissistic traits?

The answer given is that yes, anything that contributes to honest reflection on one's own behavior and care for others can be helpful. Psychotherapy or practicing compassion for others can therefore be helpful.

But such self-improvement can be very difficult for a narcissist because one is forced to see oneself from a non-charming point of view.

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