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Health & Fit 5 important myths (and facts) about narcissism

17:57  31 august  2017
17:57  31 august  2017 Source:   usnews.com

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Young businessman taking photo with phone on gray background: “Narcissists have an empathy deficit disorder – they’re not capable of empathy as we know it.” © (Getty Images) “Narcissists have an empathy deficit disorder – they’re not capable of empathy as we know it.”

Famous for his acerbic wit, celebrated writer Gore Vidal once said, “A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.” While he was undoubtedly speaking in jest, plenty of other people really do harbor erroneous ideas about narcissists and narcissism. For starters, “narcissism is a trait like introversion or extraversion, not a diagnosis,” says Dr. Craig Malkin, a psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of "Rethinking Narcissism."

And while millennials have been dubbed the narcissistic generation – a label they don’t appreciate, according to a 2016 study from Case Western Reserve University – narcissism is hardly generation-specific. (After all, there was the "Me" generation in the 1970s.) The reality is: Narcissism affects people from all ages and stages of life and all genders. Here’s a look at five myths you may be subscribing to, with the truth behind them.

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Myth: Narcissism Is Inherently Unhealthy and Problematic.

Fact: Like many things in life, narcissism occurs on a continuum from healthy to unhealthy (or pathological). On the positive side, people who have narcissistic tendencies are often charming, intelligent and intuitive, experts say. Healthy narcissism involves “seeing yourself through slightly rose-colored glasses,” Malkin says. “It lets you dream big but not at the expense of relationships, and it helps you persist in the face of failure.” A study in a 2014 issue of the journal Personality and Mental Health found that people with the “bold” brand of narcissism tend to score higher on measures of assertiveness, competence and striving for achievement – traits that often help a person succeed in life.

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Narcissism becomes a problem when the person becomes completely preoccupied with himself or herself, needs excessive admiration or approval from others, and shows disregard or disrespect toward other people’s feelings and vulnerabilities. “They often feel like their pain is deeper than other people’s pain, their feelings are more important and nobody has suffered the way they have,” Malkin says.

On the unhealthy (pathological) end of the continuum is narcissistic personality disorder – which is characterized by a pervasive pattern of a grandiose sense of self-importance; a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love; a belief that he or she is special and unique; a need for excessive admiration; a sense of entitlement; taking advantage of others to achieve his or herown needs; a lack of empathy; or arrogant or haughty behaviors or attitudes. “Narcissistic personality disorder typically bleeds into every aspect of a person’s life – it becomes well- ingrained and entrenched in their lives and their behaviors,” says Tony Ferretti, a licensed psychologist in Melbourne, Florida.

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Myth: Narcissists Feel the Same Range of Emotions That People Who Aren’t Narcissistic Do.

Fact: “Narcissists have an empathy deficit disorder – they’re not capable of empathy as we know it,” says Dr. Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist at UCLA and author of "The Empath’s Survival Guide." “Lack of empathy is the distinguishing feature – full-blown narcissists don’t care about other people’s feelings. They seem to be wired differently.” Indeed, research published in a 2013 issue of Medical Science Monitor suggests that narcissists have dysfunction in their brain’s anterior insula, which mediates the components of empathy, and constant activation in their brain’s default mode network, which is involved with self-reflective processes; the theory is that this may cause narcissists to be unable to relate to or understand other people’s emotions.

Myth: True Narcissists Are Born, Not Made, That Way.

Fact: While there is a genetic component to narcissism, it’s a moderate one. In a study in a 2014 issue of PLoS One, researchers measured two dimensions of narcissism – a grandiose sense of self-importance and a sense of entitlement when interacting with others – and found them to be 23 and 35 percent heritable, respectively. The reality is, environmental factors have a strong influence, too. “It’s about a 50-50 mix of personality and environment,” Malkin says.

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Children who don’t experience warm parenting with clear limits or a sense of secure attachment are at particular risk of developing the problematic type of narcissism. In addition, when parents go to great lengths to build their kids’ self-esteem by constantly telling them they’re amazing, talented or brilliant, this can backfire and create an overinflated sense of self-worth. In a study in a 2015 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, researchers examined the origins of narcissism in 565 children, between the ages of 7 and 12, and found that while self-esteem was predicted by parental warmth, narcissism was associated with parental overvaluation of their children. As the researchers wrote: “children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them.”

Myth: People With Narcissistic Personality Disorder Believe They’re Better Than Others.

Fact: They may behave that way but this can be a smokescreen. “Underneath it all, they have tremendous insecurities and a fear of being rejected or abandoned,” Ferretti says. “They have a very difficult time attaching to people.” In some cases, this may be partly a survival instinct because they were verbally or emotionally abused as children, he adds. A study in a 2014 issue of the Journal of Personality Assessment found that among teenagers, pathological narcissism was associated with low self-esteem, a tendency to internalize problems, poor perceived interpersonal relationships and other forms of maladjustment; by contrast, nonpathological narcissism was positively associated with self-esteem.

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Myth: Pathological Narcissism Can’t Be Overcome.

Fact: It can. But the narcissistic person can’t be in denial, needs to want to change and must be willing to do the hard work that’s required to change, Malkin says. “They need to learn to let people close and to be close to others and develop a secure attachment style. It’s a process of taking off the armor.” It also requires learning to ask for help, becoming a better listener and modifying their expectations, behaviors and thoughts.

“Twelve step programs can be helpful for narcissists because they’re put in situations where they have to help or serve other people,” Orloff says. Similarly, encouraging narcissists to volunteer in some way can help because then life doesn’t become all about them, Ferretti adds. Indeed, a series of five studies in a 2014 issue of the Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin found that getting narcissists to increase their communal focus toward others led to a decrease in their narcissistic tendencies in a given situation.

Meanwhile, with narcissists, “the process of therapy is very slow, and change is minimal initially,” Ferretti says. “Narcissists often have little insight or awareness [into their attitudes and behaviors], and most don’t want to change. Often they have to hit rock bottom or their partner insists on counseling, in order for them to want to do therapy. They need to be motivated to change.” But it’s worth the therapeutic effort, Ferretti says, because “even small changes can make a big difference and save a relationship or a job.”

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