I just read that today’s college students are more narcissistic than their earlier counterparts (Study: College Students More Narcissistic ). It reminds me of a talk that Dr. Robert Frager, a noted pyschologist and Sufi, gave last year about the diseases of the heart. During that lecture, I remember a deep fear sinking into the pit of my stomach. It was not for me, even though I have a whole bunch of personal work, but for a friend that I no longer speak to. Frager mentioned that a person with a diseased heart hates criticism even when the criticism is to help them actualize the person they are truly meant to be. Frager also stated that this type of person is afraid of intimacy and therefore cannot get close anyone. After hearing this talk, I really wanted to be there for my friend. I really wanted to have a real conversation about what I learned. But it never happened. Which is best because I probably would have been attacked regardless of my intentions. It makes me sad, because I truly believe in that person and believe that they can make a world of difference if they stopped surrounding themselves by people who only gave them adulation and ignored their shortcomings. We are often able to see the flaws in others, but rarely in ourselves. Yet I am one of those hyper self-critical people; I am aware of my flaws, but find it difficult to overcome them. I know narcissism when I see it, because I’ve developed antibodies for it. And one only has such antibodies if they have been afflicted with this pathology at one point or another. I state this humbly. There is no benefit in me being self-righteous.
use their looks to get what they want, is able to plan and work towards goals successfully, loves themself, optimistic, sparkling, achiever, self promoting, self assured, success driven, thinks they can charm anyone, ambitious, elegant, thinks they are better looking than most people (which they may or may not be), believes that they are special, more a leader than a follower, believes that other people are envious of them, loves to win awards, fits in most places, seductive, purposeful, believes in success through appearances, assertive, goal oriented, would love to have buildings and monuments named after them, believes they deserve all the good things they have, likes to be popular
NARCISSISM (n. sing.)
A pattern of traits and behaviours which signify infatuation and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification, dominance and ambition.
Narcissism is named after the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus who was a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. In punishment of his cruelty, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, he pined away and changed into the flower that bears his name to this very day.
WHAT IS NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder)?
The Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has been recognized as a seperate mental health disorder in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM) in 1980. Its diagnostic criteria and their interpretation have undergone a major revision in the DSM III-R (1987) and were substantially revamped in the DSM IV in 1994. The European ICD-10 basically contains identical language.
An all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts. Five (or more) of the following criteria must be met:
Feels grandiose and self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion
Firmaly convinced that he or she is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions)
Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation -or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (narcissistic supply).
Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special and favourable priority treatment. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her expectations
Is “interpersonally exploitative”, i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends
Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of others
Constantly envious of others or believes that they feel the same about him or her
Arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.
The language in the criteria above is based on or summarized from:
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition (DSM IV). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Sam Vaknin. (1999). Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited, first edition. Prague and Skopje: Narcissus Publication. (“Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited” http://www.geocities.com/vaksam/faq1.html )
More Data About Pathological Narcissists
Most narcissists (75%) are men.
NPD (=the Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is one of a “family” of personality disorders (formerly known as “Cluster B”). Other members: Borderline PD, Antisocial PD and Histrionic PD.
NPD is often diagnosed with other mental health disorders (“co-morbidity”) – or with substance abuse, or impulsive and reckless behaviours (“dual diagnosis”).
NPD is new (1980) mental health category in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM).
There is only scant research regarding narcissism. But what there is has not demonstrated any ethnic, social, cultural, economic, genetic, or professional predilection to NPD.
It is estimated that 0.7-1% of the general population suffer from NPD.
Pathological narcissism was first described in detail by Freud. Other major contributors are: Klein, Horney, Kohut, Kernberg, Millon, Roningstam, Gunderson, Hare.
The onset of narcissism is in infancy, childhood and early adolescence. It is commonly attributed to childhood abuse and trauma inflicted by parents, authority figures, or even peers.
There is a whole range of narcissistic reactions – from the mild, reactive and transient to the permanent personality disorder.
Narcissists are either “Cerebral” (derive their narcissistic supply from their intelligence or academic achievements) – or “Somatic” (derive their narcissistic supply from their physique, exercise, physical or sexual prowess and “conquests”).
Narcissists are either “Classic” – see definition below – or they are “Compensatory”, or “Inverted” – see definitions here: “The Inverted Narcissist” – http://www.geocities.com/vaksam/faq66.html
NPD is treated in talk therapy (psychodynamic or cognitive-behavioural). The prognosis for an adult narcissist is poor, though his adaptation to life and to others can improve with treatment. Medication is applied to side-effects and behaviours (such as mood or affect disorders and obsession-compulsion) – usually with some success.
The narcissistic individuals that I know usually have a hubris whirling around them. There are many narcissists who are attractive, and use their looks and charm to manipulate others. Then there many narcissists that are highly attractive individuals, not in the physical sense, but have alluring qualities that appeal to others in a non-sexual way. They draw people to them because they are purpose driven and charismatic. They wouldn’t want to live their lives any other way. They like to be in the center of action–making things happen. Some of us get sucked in because we want to help, but they are selling a pipe dream that is corrupted by their own misguidance. Sometimes we can navigate their social pathologies and get something done, but often their larger than life egos get in the way. Mental illness and diseases of the heart are unlike other diseases. You can’t contract them. But I have never seen a narcissist cured. It is especially tragic to see Muslim narcissists because our traditions have diagnosed this disease and have a treatment to help treat those who are afflicted.
Some narcissists are humbled, but it is usually in old age, maybe after a stroke or something, but that is after leaving a whole path of destruction in their wake. They cause a world of hurt and have little empathy for those they leave damaged. They don’t recognize that they are sick, nor do the people who are loyal to them and condone their behavior. Those who are hurt by narcissists need to recognize that the perpetrators are truly sick individuals. Instead of being angry, we should feel sorry for them and their self delusions.
It is important for all of us to understand this disorder because narcissists are usually quick to place themselves in positions of leadership or power in our communities.
Al-Bukhari and Muslim have reported on the authority ofAbdullah ibn Umar that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “Truly, Allah will not take away knowledge by snatching it away from people, but by taking away the lives of the people of knowledge one by one until none of them survive. Then the people will adopt ignorant ones as their leaders. They will be asked to deliver judgements and they will give them without knowledge, with the result that they will go astray and lead others astray.”
When ‘Ubadah ibn as-Samit was asked about this hadith he said: If you want, I will tell you what the highest knowledge is, which raises people in rank: it is humility.”
He said this because there are two types of knowledge. The first produces its fruit in the heart. It is knowledge of Allah, the Exalted – His Names, His Attributes, and
His Acts – which commands fear, respect, exaltation, love, supplication and reliance on Him. this is the beneficial type of knowledge. As ibn Mas’ud said: “they will recite the Qur’an, but it will not go beyond their throats. The Qur’an is only
beneficial when it reaches the heart and is firmly planted in it.”
Some communities are able to isolate the narcissists. And other narcissists display behavior that is so transgressive and destructive that everyone has enough sense not to place them in positions of power. Still narcissists often have a circle of followers. They may be the dissenters in a community, raising a ruckus for whatever reason. Sometimes, they are productive and can be useful vehicles for doing good works. Though if not reigned in, they can reverse all those positive gains. Often, those that are under direct influence of these sick individuals are left hurt and feel manipulated. Sometimes the machinations of a narcissist can have ruinous effects and be detrimental to the mental stability of those who try to help them and their causes. In their pain, the victims develop other diseases of the heart:depression and despair or jealousy and envy.
Umar bin Al-Khattab, Radi-Allahu unhu, narrates: I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions. And every person will get the reward according to what he has intended.”
It is important that we recognize the diseases of the heart, such as narcissism, as they manifest themselves in our communities. Narcissists often warp shari’ah to suit their own purposes by bending the rules and apply them according to their whims. They participate in events or do certain things (frequenting the masjid, giving talks, hosting events, leading ‘movements’) to win adulation and respect from members of the community as opposed to doing it from the goodness of their own hearts.
They do shocking things just to be in the center of attention. And because they are our brothers and sisters, we often have a high toleration for them. It is important to recognize narcissism as a disease and not try to make sense of the absurdities and inconsistencies that exist in their lives. We can’t rationalize the irrational. We’ll drive ourselves crazy trying to make sense of their madness. Instead, we just have to chalk it up to the disease and then move on.
I am writing this because I believe each one of us has been affected by someone who is narcissitic. We may have loved ones, a father, brother, son, mother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, husband, or wife, who is one. If you don’t know of one, then you should really assess your own behavior and see if you have narcissistic traits. Here’s the Online NPA test . If you find yourself rating high on the test, perhaps you should do some serious work on purifying your heart and curing yourself of this debilitating disease. So, whether you are Sunni, Shi’i, Sufi, or Salafi, and even for those who are not Muslim, there is something that we can learn from tassawuf, purification of the heart.