Adewale has always been very charismatic and a smooth talker since his secondary school days. He was a charmer and appeared very self-confident. Thus, several classmates often flocked around him. He had an opinion about everything and believed he was a genius.
Even though his academic grades didn’t quite tally with his impression of his own brilliance, nothing could ever shake his belief in his supreme brilliance. He explained it away as the teachers being envious of his profound explanations which were deeper than their ‘stupid’ brains could fathom.
Over time, he developed a strong and cult-like following of devoted friends who waited on his every word and statement…and believed them all. They were ensnared by his constant smile, and self-assured manner and the fact that nothing appeared to shake his confidence.
Adewale basked in their adulation of him and would turn bitterly against anyone who dared to question his authority or decisions. A few of them though, saw through him and the nasty streak in his character. He became very manipulative and vindictive, whenever he lost a game or an argument and he would fly into a rage. Apologizing and saying sorry was not in his DNA. He could never be wrong so why would he apologize? What was that?
By the time he graduated from the University and started working in a big corporation, he was set in his ways, and was convinced that the world didn’t half appreciate his brilliance. He tolerated those who praised him and had no time for idiots who failed to acknowledge and bow to his superior intelligence.
He was very condescending and brutal to those below him in the pecking order at work or in any sphere of social interaction. Except of course, if they praised him regularly, in which case he could tolerate them. And intermittently he would also hand out some praise by telling them they were not bad at all. In his perception, that was high praise indeed.
His colleagues and several ex-girlfriends have found him to be very abrasive and needy of praise, failing which he would turn nasty and be very devious in his attempt to always have the last laugh.
His understanding of teamwork was where everyone else on the team recognized him as the leader and agreed with his brilliant ideas. Anything else, and they were simply envious of him.
Historical Origins of Narcissism
Greek mythology described a story involving Narcissus, a handsome young man who rejected the advances of a young lady called Echo. She was devastated by the heartbreak and suffered in isolation for the rest of her days. The goddess of revenge, Nemesis, punished Narcissus by causing him to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. He then suffered for the rest of his life until his death, while trying to get the reflection of himself to reciprocate the love.
Thus, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) describes a type of personality disorder in which there is an exaggerated and inflated sense of self-importance, and a desire to be seen as always being right, and to be admired.
But underneath this façade is usually a fragile ego and low self-esteem, and they don’t take kindly to criticisms. Thus, their interpersonal relationships are fraught with problems around social interactions such as romantic relationships/marriages, school life, work, and in the community.
They may be very manipulative in trying to have their way and may even pretend for long spells. But sustained and close interactions will almost always result in the mask falling off, and their true character being laid bare. Which then results in acrimonious separation or abusive behaviours.
Signs and Symptoms of NPD
- Grandiosity and self-importance, always right.
- Persistent fantasies of success, power, attractiveness, intellectual superiority or ideal love
- Sense of superiority and being unique
- Wish to be admired
- Strong sense of entitlement
- Manipulates and exploits others
- Lack of empathy
- Beliefs others are envious of him/her
- Arrogant and contemptuous attitudes and behaviours
Caveat: Most people will exhibit one or two of these traits at some point, but that does not mean every such person is a Narcissistic person. They need to have a cluster of most of these symptoms occurring together for a long time as an established part of their identity/personality.
In addition, the patterns of behavior must be distressing to them or to significant others in their relationships at work, home or within the community. Formal diagnosis requires a comprehensive psychological assessment by a mental health professional.
What If am Narcissistic or Know Someone Who is?
Personality cannot be changed but can be ameliorated by therapy. Long term therapy sessions work well for persons who are motivated and understand how it is negatively impacting their relationships. Unfortunately, most of them are likely to be dismissive and insist they are just fine and do not need therapy.
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 25th March 2021