Quiet Riot Girl believes that narcissism is less a personality disorder, and more a normal attribute of contemporary culture—even for men.
A few people such as Mark Simpson and I celebrated. Why? Because we believe, as Simpson’s work on metrosexuality has shown, that narcissism, far from being an individual “syndrome”, is a major aspect of the whole of culture. Men, in particular, have benefitted from growing acceptance of their “desire to be desired’, enabling them to express and look after themselves as much as women do.
But our celebrations were short-lived. Towards the end of last year, after much pressure from professionals and members of the public, it was announced that narcissism was officially sick again. It will appear in the 2013 DSM as originally planned.
Does this mean men across the land are turning in their hair straighteners and pink shirts? Are there mass group therapy sessions for recovering metrosexuals? No—of course not! It takes more than some fuddy-duddy psychiatrists to turn the tides of social change.
But the continued focus on NPD as a personality disorder has some worrying effects in my opinion. The main one I think is that it gives license to people to pathologise—talk about as if they are medical illnesses—normal behaviours by large numbers of people.
A stark example of this was an article in the UK about the British reporter Marie Colvin, who died in Syria recently. Journalist Jenny McCartney wrote:
It appears to me that what she stood for is especially important when set against the prevailing cultural current of our times. For although she certainly had an ego—no one could build a career in war zones without one—she seems to have been largely immune to the besetting diseases of narcissism and trivia which have come to devour so much of the modern age, and femininity in particular. [My emphasis.]
After identifying narcissism as a “disease” the journalist went on to say:
The schedules are packed with programmes about folk who are enormously fat, or frighteningly thin, or intent upon undergoing surgery to change their image or perceived age. This isn’t purely a media phenomenon: in real life, rising levels of obesity are already exacting a crippling toll on the NHS in terms of special equipment, gastric band surgery and a host of related diseases. People are simply gorging themselves to death.
In other words: narcissism is fatal. And people who display it should be what? Pitied? Treated by medical professionals? Discriminated against?
The writer also seemed to be suggesting narcissism is more of a problem for women than men. But I find when I look on youtube, facebook and twitter there are just as many phone-pics and videos of men showing off their bodies and style, if not more, than there are of women.
Once again men are being marginalised and ignored.
Another British journalist, this time in The Guardian, pathologised men’s narcissism and body consciousness in quite a pointed way. He asked:
what kind of sickness would make anyone want to emulate the washboard stomach of Men’s Health’s cover twit of the month? [Link added.]
Well, if he had read Mark Simpson‘s piece only a few weeks before in that very same newspaper he might have discovered that actually, the answer is a very ubiquitous kind of “sickness” called “metrosexuality”.
So in fact, whilst these journalists are making out they are “concerned” about the state of people’s sense of self in the 21st century, what they are really doing, is encouraging people, including metrosexual men, to feel bad about themselves.
A psychology journal made an odd historical comparison to contemporary narcissists, stating:
While this pattern of behavior may be appropriate for a king in 16th Century England, it is generally considered inappropriate for most ordinary people today.
In doing so they demonstrated a complete misunderstanding of contemporary culture, for ours is The Dorian Gray Age, and we all admire our portraits lovingly in all sorts of media, especially online, all the time.
Whilst I accept that there are some mental health issues that do involve people elevating their sense of self-importance to unhealthy heights, I do not think the term “narcissism” is the correct term to use to describe them.
This defence of narcissism is partial in that, whilst I am an enthusiast for metrosexual masculinity, including its core ingredient of “self-love” I am not saying narcissism is always positive. What I am saying is it is one of the most common characteristics of contemporary men (and women), and so to maintain its status as a psychiatric disorder is wrong, harmful and way behind the narcissistic times.
Photo credit: Flickr / qisur