Posted by: counselorcarmella | August 12, 2011

Understanding Narcissism Part Four

Authors of a new University of Georgia psychology study say that  taking a look at someone’s FaceBook profile may give  some pretty good clues  about how narcissistic that person  is. The UGA study was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in Oct of 08. The study foun that people who score higher on narcissism personality tests tend to have more friends, more frequent  posts, and  certain types of pictures  posted  on Facebook. They can   express the thoughts  and opinions they  think  their “friends” will be so eager to see with frequent status updates and wall  posts. Sites like FaceBook also  provide the narcissist with a place to “share”  photos of themselves in which they appear to be surrounded by attractive people, nice things, and  to be leading fun and exciting lives. The study reveals that social network websites can serve as a place to be superficially connected with  lots of “friends” so as to appear desireable and popular. They also  allow the narcissist to have control over the image presented and are a great outlet for those who  like to   feel important. 


Study Source: Buffardi, L. E., & Campell, W. K. (2008). Narcissism and social networking web sites. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1303+.


Here are some  statements from the  Narcissistic Personality  Inventory that could be statuses for those who have strong narcissistic traits.


I have a talent for influencing people. I’m good at manipulating other people to get what I want.

I like for people to notice how I look.  I like to show off my body.

I like to be the center of attention.

I see myself as a good leader. I am a born leader.

I like to have authority over other people.

I will usually show off if I get the chance.

Everybody likes to hear my stories.

I will do what I have to do to get what I deserve. I will be a success. I insist on the respect that is due me.


We really don’t have a very good  grasp of how many narcissists are  among us. Research suggests that the  disorder, or stronger traits of it, is becoming more prevalent. For example, in their book, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D and W. Keith Campbell, PhD. Discuss what they term “the relentless rise of narcissism in our culture.” In a paper published in the August 2008 Journal of Personality, the authors report on 85 samples of American college students, studied between 1979 and 2006. Compared with their peers in the 1979-85 period, college students in 2006 showed a 30 percent increase in their NPI (Narcissistic Personality Inventory)score.


Twenge and Campbell identify several social trends that have contributed to this problem, including increased emphasis on  self-esteem that began in the late 1960s. They also say that  our culture’s  focus  on individualism more than community mindedness that began in the 1970s is an important factor. In a chapter entitled “Raising Royalty,” Twenge and Campbell  talk about  new trends in how children are being parented  (fewer limits and more instant gratification) that  are likely contributing to higher rates of  narcissism.


Others say the  issues that lead to narcissism are  the exact opposite. Many  therapists believe that people with  strong narcissistic traits had flawed  and unhealthy relationships with parents or caregivers. As  Dr. Samuel Lopes DeVictoria explains, “ “It usually starts with a significant emotional wound or a series of them culminating in a major trauma of separation/attachment,” No matter how socially skilled an extreme narcissist is, he/she has a major attachment dysfunction. The extreme narcissist is frozen in childhood. He/she became emotionally stuck at the time of his/her major trauma of separation/attachment. In my work with extreme narcissist patients I have found that their emotional age and maturity corresponds to the age they experienced their major trauma.”  These traumas may be  death, divorce, abuse/neglect, foster homes and adoption, illness or injury, or living through natural disasters.  The narcissist has learned to only depend on  him/herself and the only  person  they  are interested in having a fulfilling relationship with is  self.



Given the  fact that a lot of narcissism is  rooted in trauma, someone  wanting to  address  traits of narcissism in therapy should look for a counselor experienced in treating trauma.  The client must be willing to risk trusting  the therapist, and this can be very difficult.  According to Dr. Athena Staik, research suggests, however, that  our brains  are capable of change throughout our lives. Thus, healthy relationship patterns are potentially healing in nature, literally, ones that allow the brain to rewire itself for more flexibility, permitting new associations of neural networks, the growth of new neurons, the expansion of existing ones, changes in existing connections, and so on.


The brain is wired with circuitry for caring and empathic connection.  Someone who was traumatized as a child and develops narcissistic traits  has lived in  a mode of protection that has limited the brain’s capacity for  making the best use of this wiring, limiting the brain’s ability to learn and change normally.  Safe relationships, beginning with a counselor and  eventually branching out to include spouse and family and perhaps a therapy or  twelve-step group,  allows the brain to  wire and rewire itself in  healthier ways.  The brain is more capable of doing this than we previously realized and  this  may mean there is more hope that certain types of narcissists can change and be able to have healthy  relationships with  self and others. He or she must also be willing to revisit  painful  attachment wounds and  experience the emotions associated with them.


Unfortunately, many narcissists can’t tolerate such  intensive work. In these cases, brief forms of therapy that target behavior change can help with certain aspects of functioning. The goal of such treatment is generally to improve adaptation rather than to alter character.  I think this is what we see most often when narcissists come to counseling.  While longer forms of therapy may be more psychodynamic and insight-oriented,  short term approaches include  cognitive-behavioral, solution-focussed, and  reality/choice theories.





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