A Quick and Dirty Guide to Success at Everything: Narcissism 101

You want to succeed? Quickly? Be a narcissist.

I was glancing at my DSM the other day (the “Bible” (albeit flawed) of psychiatric diagnosis) and musing on Narcissistic Personality Disorder. As I reviewed the symptoms of the disorder, I rather sadly realized that it read more like a list of traits that all but guarantee success in today’s marketplace. This was even more galling in light of the recent passing of John Wooden whose “pyramid of success” and general guidelines for excellence emanate from integrity, persistence, and commitment. And brought into even starker focus by Lebron James’ behavior – which has effectively anointed him the patron saint of narcissism.

However – once you take a look at this list– one is left wondering – to achieve real success in the current world – are you better off as a person of honor or a true blue narcissist. Let’s take a look – symptom by symptom:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self importance (for example – the person exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).

Oyyyyy. This is every reality-ebrity out there – whose “achievements” come by mere dint of their existence and bad behavior – we watch with bated breath as Jake and Vienna, and the Kardashians, and those people with all the kids (Kate and eight?) simply live their (rather troubling) lives and want to be treated with honor that was once saved for world leaders and Nobel laureates. Grandiosity is empty window dressing and posturing – if people think you are all that, in this world you are. It’s all illusion, and if you and the world buy into the illusion of your grandiose self- then it must be true.

  1. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

Take a gander through the weekly magazines – the illusion of ideal love is all over the place (“this is a love like no other”, “ this one is different – we are going to make it forever”). People, especially young people, are vulnerable to all sorts of damage (eating disorders, cosmetic surgery) to achieve the illusion of beauty that the photo-shopped media hands us. In fact, many purveyors of services designed to enhance life say that you should visualize what you want in order to get it. Love, money, success, power – these are the things people want, and it is hard to let go of these visions – even letting them overtake us (all of us want these things in some way – the key word here is “preoccupied”).

  1. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by , or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).

Again with the window dressing – if you are “all that” – then how can anyone ordinary really ever understand you and all of your specialness. It’s about driving the right car, going to the right school, working for the right firm. In the blind quest for the “right” place, thing, person – people stop honoring themselves. In our society who is deemed successful ? The unhappy student at Yale or the blissfully happy student at community college. Let’s face it, in our world – Yale 1, East LA College 0. I would beg to differ – but by and large, society wouldn’t.

  1. Requires excessive admiration:

Success in our society is often based on a diet of empty calories – so we get hungry more quickly and need to be fed more and more. As such, those that often “appear” the most successful – need the most “fluffing”. An authentically successful person gets that fluffing internally.

  1. Has a sense of entitlement (for example unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).

Ever watch an entitled person interact with a desk clerk at a hotel? It is painful and ugly, and the person really believes they deserve this treatment. Again with the window dressing – they TRULY believe they deserve better than everyone else, and the world reinforces them. If we step back from this and view it from a paradigm of children and behavior it makes more sense. Imagine that you have a child, and EVERYTIME that child throws a tantrum you buy her a new toy or give her candy. What do you think she will do?

Tantrum again.

Same thing for entitled adults. The screaming entitled fool gets rewarded for his behavior, scream long and loud enough and get upgraded to a suite. So what will he do next time? Scream and get another suite. Our society not only tolerates entitled behavior, we celebrate it, and reinforce it, and ultimately, these entitled people get more stuff. At the end of the day – they “look” more successful, while the rest of us fly coach.

  1. Is interpersonally exploitative ( take advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).

In simple language. They are users. They will use any connection, friendship, or colleague to get what they want. Climb over other people, throw folks under the bus, do what they need to do to get ahead. It’s Darwinian, it’s the foundation of free-market capitalism. People become objects. Many of us would do this in a pinch – but sadly, many people who are materially successful have done some slick and sly things where others are concerned. The hard part – even after they achieve ostensible success – habits are hard to break – and people remain objects that exist for their needs.

  1. Lacks empathy; is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

This is the Big Kahuna of narcissism. If it ain’t happening to them –they can’t feel it. Rule of thumb number one – NEVER enter into an intimate relationship with a person like this. However, their lack of empathy often allows them to plow through life with little reflection on the consequences – and often times, rapid success in our society and economy means moving quickly. Empathy gums up efficiency – it slows things down if you have to stop and think about other people’s feelings. It’s like driving with the windows open. When you do it – you can feel the world, hear the world, smell the world – you are part of it – but the car actually runs less efficiently. Empathy is like going through life with open windows.

Now – the most skilled narcissists can fake empathy. (it’s a bit like faking an orgasm – it looks like pleasure but it’s not – with faking empathy – it looks like caring, but it’s not).

  1. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.

There is a subset of successful people, and definitely a group of people trying to become successful, who look kind of paranoid. It’s not paranoia per se (e.g. the government is reading my mind), but rather a belief that other people want what they have, or covet what they have. So they covet what others have (I want that bag/car/girl/house), or fear/revel in the fact that others want what they have. Our superstars often seem sort tense and taut – like a rubber band. Keep in mind – that success that is won through such dirty tricks can feel fleeting. Karma’s a bitch.

  1. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

No brainer. We often associate success with arrogance, hubris, bluster and bullshit. This goes back to reinforcement- they act like jerks, get reinforced either via reward or fear reactions from others, and the beat goes on.

So what does it boil down to? Success in this society, in our media, in our economy, is too often about illusion and bad behavior. Illusions about what success is, illusions about who we are and what we want, illusions about other people. It is about bad behaviors like entitlement, maltreatment and neglect of others, disconnection, and subsequent reinforcement of those behaviors.

Perhaps at the end of the day, narcissism begets illusory success – success tied into wealth, power, and fantasies about love. Real success – authentic success, tied into being present, honoring your inner voice, ignoring external demands and staying true to yourself, without selling yourself to money and fantasy – perhaps that requires the Wooden-esque disciplines of integrity, collaboration, persistence and I would argue – authenticity. Real success is a dish best shared and achieved through a path of collaboration and growth with others. Empathy is it’s own reward – yes it does slow down efficiency, and that is good, because it allows us to take a moment and actually feel the experience of success in the moment (the wind through the open windows).

However – if you want to make a lot of money fast, or to be the next “big thing” – follow the 9 steps above. I can all but guarantee you will get there. Will you want it once you arrive? You will be too empty to care.


This entry was posted on Monday, July 12th, 2010 at 9:49 pm and is filed under Media and Mental Health, Relationships and Sex. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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