Getting Real About Narcissism


I’m alarmed by the number of times I am hearing or reading the term Narcissism each week. I’m not alarmed by the term itself. I’m alarmed by the use of the term as a putative weapon of war.

Anyone who pays attention can attest that as a nation we often have a strong preference for collective notions/labels that lump ideas or people under a single illusory banner as if it were the solid truth. These lumping labels save us from having to do the more difficult, much more thoughtful work of making important distinctions so that we can see what’s really going on or who we’re really seeing. This, of course, puts us immediately on the slippery slope to inferior conversation and uninformed decisions.   We’re regularly abetted by the Press, Pundits, Educators, and our own sloppy thinking.

Take Liberal and Conservative for instance as labels. On the surface they work well to create the illusion of opposites. In fact, people don’t fit neatly into these boxes. At least 30 people have told me in the last month – usually out of the pain of discussing the national and local elections – that they are fiscally conservative and lean towards socially liberal.  More than that have told me – ditto – that they are abandoning their historic political party for this election.

Take Depression for instance as a label. On the surface it’s a homogenous condition characterized by sadness and loss of interest. In fact, it’s much more complex and nuanced than that, a combination of conditions that can vary from person to person.

Take Baby Boomer for instance as a label. On the surface it’s a homogenous group of people characterized by being born between 1946 and 1964. In fact, the diversity and complexity of the 76.4 million members of the Boomer Generation is staggering.

Which brings me to Narcissism. Like Depression, Narcissism is in many ways a sloppy, generalized label for a much more complex set of underlying conditions that need to be examined to understand what’s really going on. This is especially true if loyalties, decisions, actions and votes are going to be predicated on that label.

Here is a list of conditions to review – conditions that to a greater or lesser degree combine to form what we are calling Narcissism in the popular press and in our own conversations and conclusions:

  • Grandiosity
  • Need for admiration
  • Lack of real empathy
  • Need to be at the center of priorities and actions (think of a hub or a fulcrum)
  • Self-protective Conspiracy Theories
  • Absence of personal responsibility
  • Imperviousness to differing opinions or facts
  • Denigration of anyone who disagrees or holds a contrary position
  • Personal insulation from impact of words and actions

Regardless of who or what you are talking about – individual candidates, national and local political campaigns, elected and appointed officials at all levels, our neighbors, our peer group, our opponents and ourselves – here is a simple technique for examining what’s really going on:

  1. Identify the person or group
  2. Hold him/her/them up against the list of conditions above
  3. Use this scale for absence or presence of each condition:  -3   -2   -1   0   +1   +2   +3, assigning a number score to each condition
  4. Take a look at your scoring to see much more clearly what is really going on
  5. Use this information to inform your conversations, decision making, actions, and votes

This technique can be used in a wide variety of other situations, too.

I’m hoping that in taking a closer look at what’s really going on, the quality of our conversations, decision making, actions, and voting behaviors will improve far beyond the rhetorical, adrenalin-laden reactions and overreactions we’re seeing at the moment.

What are your own techniques for looking more closely at what’s really going on?

3 responses to “Getting Real About Narcissism”

  1. Jean says:

    My thoughts are: If it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it must be a duck!

  2. Jari Searns says:

    Hi George!
    Interesting topic…for myself I find that I need to read a great deal more on a variety of subjects from American history, biographies of famous (or infamous)whose actions might reflect and explain further the contrary nature of today’s political scene and options.

    I also now explore a broader number of sources before forming any concrete conclusions. I watch CNBC, MSNBC, Fox News, lots of editorials from a plethora of political pundits in the newspapers and publications I receive. When we were to Toronto last week we had a wonderful and lengthy political discussion with our Canadian relatives about their Prime Minister and our upcoming election. It was quite an adventure in differing opinions and attitudes.

    The only final conclusion I personally have reached after all this “data input” is that our country is on a very, slippery sloop and I’m not at all certain we can recover to assume again our position as the leader of the free world…but perhaps I’m being too narcisstic…

    • George Schofield says:

      What I always appreciate about your responses, Jari, is how you pay attention/own your opinions and queries. George.

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