ARL Archive · Know Your Words

What is Narcissism?

477px-le_beau_narcisse_lacma_54-71-78
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The word narcissist is getting a lot of play lately, largely because more than a few folks have said the word applies to our commander-in-chief. Is D.J.T. a narcissist? I dunno. To be honest, I don’t even know what the word means. I think it has something do with being rather self-centered and in love with one’s self, but I’m not sure.

Let’s change that….

The Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language defines a narcissist as “one who displays the traits of narcissism,” so I guess we’ll look up that word.

Narcissism, then, is defined as 1) self-love; excessive interest in one’s own appearance, comfort, importance, abilities, etc.

Okay, already this is getting interesting because, as you can see, this definition gets into things beyond self-love; namely, an intense focus on one’s appearance, comfort, importance, and abilities, which don’t really rear their heads in the myth that’s oh so related to this word.

According to the Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology, the (Greek) myth of Narcissus goes like this:

Narcissus was a handsome young man who despised love. When he was his a boy, the seer Tiresias told his parents that he would live to an old age if he did not look at himself. Nevertheless, as he grew up, Narcissus became the object of the passions of many girls and Nymphs, but was indifferent to all of it. The nymph Echo fell in love with him, but she could get no more from him than the others. In despair, she withdrew into a lonely spot where she faded away until all that was left of her was a plaintive voice. The girls rejected by Narcissus asked the heavens for vengeance. Nemisis heard them and arranged that one very hot day Narcissus bend over a stream to take a drink and saw his own face, which was so handsome that he immediately fell in love with himself. Thenceforward he stayed watching his own reflection and let himself die…. On the spot where he died there later grew a flower which was given his name.

Yet, while rooted in this myth, the words narcissist and narcissism don’t come directly from it. As is so happens, the name Narcissus comes from Latin and Greek narkissos < narke, meaning stupor, in reference to the sedative effect caused by several bulb plants with smooth leaves and clusters of white or orange petals.

You mean the plant that grew in the spot where Narcissus died? That’s the one. (Don’t you just love it when this shit comes full-circle?)

But wait! As that first definition from the Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language implies, there’s more to it than just the guy in the myth and the plant that puts people into stupors. Hence the second part of the Webster’s definition that I’m keeping unrevealed into right now:

2) in psychoanalysis, arrest at or regression to the first stage of sexual development, in which the self is an object of sexual pleasure.

Right, there’s a psychological angle here (which as you may recall is what started all of this), but it goes beyond psychoanalysis.

The Oxford Dictionary of Psychology defines narcissism as, “self-love, or sexual gratification obtained by contemplating oneself.” The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychology goes a little deeper, offering up a definition that includes:

1) a sexual perversion in which a person treats his or her own body as the prefered sex-object, and 2) In Freudian theory, any investment of libido in aspects of the self as opposed to external objects.

The Psychiatric Dictionary (PD) offers much of the same, but it seems that entry in the PD that best applies to what we’re talking about here is something called narcissistic personality disorder, which the PD defines as:

An exaggerated sense of self-importance, belief that one’s problems are unique and comprehensible only by “special” people, exhibitionistic need for attention and admiration, fantasies of unlimited power or brilliance, feelings of entitlement to special favors with no reciprocal responsibilities, lack of empathy and inability to recognize how others feel, exploitation of others while disregarding their rights and feelings, preoccupation with feelings of envy.

Clearly then, narcissistic personality disorder is what those who say the President is a narcissist are referring to. This is also what the first part of the Webster’s definition is referring to. Thus, it seems narcissism has become shorthand not for “self-love” or even the root of narcissism, “stupor,” but for wildly self-centered.

So I guess my initial, haphazard definition was somewhat correct after all.

I am soooooo AWESOME! (heh, heh, heh ….)

ARL Archive · Know Your Words

Can Trump’s Appeal Be Explained By Our Culture’s Preference for Extroverts?

Note: I wrote this for another (now defunct) blog of mine before the election. I thought I’d resurrect it here as I contemplate the meaning of our would-be emperor’s recently issued ban on Muslims … and why anyone would vote for such an individual.

_______________________________________________

“Western society is based on Greco-Roman ideals of the person that can speak well, a rhetorical ideal. We have always been to some extent a society that favors action over contemplation. But this really reached a pitch when we moved from an agricultural society into the world of big business. And that’s when it really became the case that to stand out and succeed in a company, with people that you had never met before, the quality of being very magnetic, very charismatic in a job interview suddenly became very important. This happened at the turn of the 20th century.”

These words of introvert spokeswoman Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, appeared in the Guardian in 2012, in an interview paired with the headline, “Society Has a Cultural Bias Toward Extroverts.”

But is that true?

extro2
Source: Thesaurus.com

I believe it is and in support of my assertion, I point to Exhibit A: Mr. Donald J. Trump.

Think about it: Ever since he appeared on the political stage, political pundits have been trying (hard) to explain why this man, who has no political experience and not bothered to formulate any detailed policy initiatives, is so friggin’ popular. Oh, there are theories: he’s telling people (aka: the “silent majority”) what they want to hear; he’s capitalizing on white middle-class resentment and anger; he’s the epitome of a political outsider … so on and so forth.

But I think it just might have something to do with introversion and extroversion. Whereas Obama, the introvert, comes off as thoughtful, measured, and cool. Trump, the extrovert, is always at the ready to shoot his mouth off, fly off the handle, and get hot under the collar. And while such traits might be something the average person would be asked to “work on,” they seem to play to Trump’s advantage.

How can this be?

Well, as Cain notes in the Guardian interview, America no longer has much need for the “strong silent type.” I know, the interview took place in 2012, and no one thought about Trump back then. Nevertheless, given his shocking success in the primary [ and even more shocking success on election night] and his near omnipresence in the media, you’ve got to admit that Cain’s assessment is right on.

“There are these cultural demands for men to be very dominant. But there are roles for introverted men: the strong reserved man, the strong silent type. I think especially in the UK, there is more of a place for dignified reserve. The U.S. used to have a place for that, but we lost it!”

This brings us to President Obama, a politician famous for his dignified reserve he spawned a character: Key and Peele’s “Luther: Obama’s Anger Translator.”  In addition, this past week, US News ran an op-ed by reporter Jamie Stiehm that asked, would Obama’s presidency have been different if he were extroverted?”

weird-french-guys“What [Myers Briggs personality] type would Obama be? I think he’s an INTP [an acronym for I (introvert) N (intuition) T (thinking) P (perception)] …. I’ve often thought about how how Obama’s presidency would have turned out if his temperament was more outgoing and gregarious, like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson or the aforementioned [Bill] Clinton. All were Democratic presidents who knew how to wheedle, bargain, glad-hand, joke, rib and horse-trade.”

Trump’s personality has been documented in in the pages of our nation’s periodicals as well and, as you might expect, he’s portrayed much differently than our current Commander-in-Chief.  As psychologist Dan McAdams wrote in The Atlantic:

“Across his lifetime, Donald Trump has exhibited a trait profile that you would not expect of a U.S. president: sky-high extroversion combined with off-the-chart low agreeableness.

“Like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton (and Teddy Roosevelt, who tops the presidential extroversion list), Trump plays his role in an outgoing, exuberant, and socially dominant manner. He is a dynamo—driven, restless, unable to keep still.”

Did you catch the words McAdams used to describe the Donald in all his Trumpiness? “Outgoing,” “exuberant,” “dynamo,” “driven” … these words describe qualities to which most Americans aspire, particularly in the business world. In fact, this article from Inc.com on the “13 Traits of an Outstanding Salesman,” features many of the same or similar terms. Coincidence?

I know, the people who support Trump can probably cite countless reasons they prefer him to Hillary — and I’m willing to bet that his being an over-the-top extrovert wouldn’t be in the top 100. Nevertheless, there is no denying, as the website Greatest.com wrote (echoing Ms. Cain in the process) :

“The Western world places a premium on extroverted behaviors such as gregariousness, dominance, being comfortable in the spotlight, preferring action to contemplation, valuing certainty over doubt, and favoring quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong.”

Does this sound like anyone you know?

Postscript:

Just recently, I came across this article that analyzed Trump’s mental state. The results, it seems, are not good (to no one’s surprise).