The term “narcissist” is commonly misapplied. Too often, the label is used to describe persons that trigger upsetting emotions in us at home or work, for example, those we judge as intense or demanding, easily frustrated or angered, and so on, or persons we judge as over-focused on looks or success, seeking attention or the spotlight.
These and other traits add confusion to identifying narcissism, as does the use of terminology such as “healthy narcissism” by several well meaning authors and researchers.
(The notion of “healthy narcissism” is an oxymoron at best! We do not need a new term to describe the best of what it means to be human — among other things, empathic, caring, nurturing, kind, honest, compassionate, and so on!)
Notably, narcissists have everything to gain when confusion rules. They are not only experts at orchestrating confusion by obfuscating truth with lies and half-truths and so on, the specific methods they use are scientifically proven by decades of research to neutralize the otherwise amazing critical thinking ability of the human brain’s frontal cortex.
By definition narcissism is an addiction, a compulsive craving to prove superiority and dominance by destroying another human being’s sense of self and worth, hope and belief in themselves and own innate human strengths, for the purpose of exploiting them for own gain, pleasure and interests.
Inflicting pain, in the mind of narcissists and psychopaths, is how they prove they’re not what they detest — that is, human. And thus, they feel no empathy or remorse for the harm they inflict on a victim’s sense of self and agency, or the chaos and disconnect and isolation they orchestrate on a victim’s network of family and friends to block them from any nourishment from critical persons who’ve been sources of love and support, more often a parent, but also certain activities such as a job, career, education, etc.
The ultimate goal? To get their prey to “willingly” participate in their own abuse and exploitation, and serve at the narcissist’s pleasure in a slavish and subservient manner.
The label of narcissist is best reserved for those that meet the diagnostic criteria. It refers to a serious thought disturbance, a character disorder that consists of a set of behaviors that meet the DSM criteria for either narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) — or its more extreme expression, antisocial personality disorder (APD), also known as psychopathology or sociopathology.
Notably, what makes these two disorders distinct from others listed in the DSM is that:
NPDs and APDs pose risks of (intentional) harm to others’ physical, mental and, or emotional well being, ranging on a scale from low to high, respectively.
Like addicts, inflicting pain to prove their dominance and superiority over victims is an NPDs or APDs drug of choice. They are hooked on this type of power. It’s what forms, and makes their false-self egos so fragile; and what makes them dangerous to others.
There are other overarching reasons to consider before using the label. Namely that, whereas most NPDs and nearly all APDs are male, the most frequent misapplication of the label of narcissist is to women. Coincidence? Likely not.
In any case, this should give us pause before using the label on women in particular to thoughtfully consider the reasons women are often vulnerable to being mislabeled narcissists. To be continued in Part 2.
**Note to readers:
This blog is not saying female narcissists do not exist. They do. They are however far fewer in number. The reason for this is obvious in the opinion of this author, examining the last five decades of research on socialized constructs and traditional gender roles. In other words, narcissism has little to do with biological gender differences — and more to do with how oligarchic societies idealize, and intensely socialize men to adopt narcissism as a masculine ideal, and women codependency (or empath) as a feminine ideal.
This socialization varies mostly in degree of pressure to conform. In cults and families organized to rigidly adhere to authoritarian relations, conformity to toxic ideals masculinity is greater. The evidence for this is well documented in scholarly literature since the 1970s, as is the enduring, traumatic effects of childhood experiencing and, or witnessing misogynist mistreatment of women and children, domestic violence and overall subjugation of those members identified as “weak” by those identified as “superior.”
With regard to female narcissists, more studies are needed. Like their male counterparts, female narcissists, in this therapist’s experience, appear to identify and adopt the ideals for toxic masculinity. This therapist has also noted overall differences however, mostly with regard to emphasis and value placed on relationships. In any case, more research is necessary in this area.