A few weeks ago I was asked about resources on the topic of narcissism, things a person struggling with some of the features might read to better understand their inner world. I didn’t have any really great “lay” materials on the topic so I’m going to poll the audience. A perfect entry for Valentine’s Day when we celebrate those people who make us feel special!
Narcissism is an ugly word if it is used about you, as in, “you’re so narcissistic!” This usually means someone sees us as being self-centered.
The truth is…most of us have a touch of it at times. We desire affirmation, we fantasize about being recognized for our achievements, we want to be special (or at least seen that way), we have times of feeling entitled and may even manipulate the feelings of others to get what we want. Our focus on self may limit our empathy towards others. We may be haughty. All of have some of these features some of the time. Some of us have these features most of the time.
Having these feelings doesn’t mean we are personality disordered. But, our willingness to acknowledge and work on being more other centered MAY reveal whether we meet diagnostic criteria. Meaning, if you can admit to the problem and improve your capacity for empathy then you probably aren’t meeting criteria for a personality disorder.
What causes narcissism?
The simple Christian answer is sinful self-focus. But since ALL of us are sinners and flawed…can we be more specific why some people seem to struggle more with the problem, why some have an enduring bent or a fixed pattern of relating to the world? One theory suggests that narcissistic features arise out of a lack of mirroring which results in a deep fear that we aren’t special…or worse, are worthless. There is likely some truth to this. However, it seems that some narcissism is encouraged in a me-first culture.
So, what resources do you know that get at some of these experiences, desires, feelings of narcissism that could help a person be more aware of their impact on others.
Here’s a few reads I know about:
1. Drama of the Gifted Child, by Alice Miller. A classic psychodynamic read about our emotions. She does a nice job illustrating the fears/cravings of narcissism and borderline features and how we all have a touch of these. Not necessarily helpful in what to do about the experience but good to delve into the experiences of depression, grandiosity, denial, and self-contempt and what these do for us.
2. Re-inventing Your Life, by Jeffrey Young. In particular, look at chapter 16. In fact, if you follow the link, you can search “entitlement” in the “search inside” box on the left and once you get results, scroll down to the one on p. 314. You can read a bit of the chapter to see how the authors do a good job describing the common symptoms of narcissism.
3. Anatomy of Secret Sins, by Obadiah Sedgwick. Well, not exactly about narcissism but definitely about uncovering our true self-centeredness. Sedgwick lived between 1600 and 1658! Excellent read on the problem of self-deception.
If you try to search for books on this topic, you will discover (not surprisingly) most are written to those who either have to live with the person or are trying to get free of them. Few are written to the person with the problem.
Any resources you might add to the list?