Monday, August 22, 2016

‘Narcissist’ Is the Worst Insult

Photo: Cecil Beaton/Condé Nast via Getty Images
There’s pleasure in finding an insult that really lands — with the thud of absolute condemnation, the sizzle of something slightly illicit. Circa age 17, I remember feeling this way about douchebag. Today, Americans seem to feel this way about narcissist.
At first glance, there’s the everyday sense of “self-involved,” “self-aggrandizing”: The narcissist is a selfish jerk who thinks he’s so great. But look closer and the label becomes more grandly, satisfyingly damning. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, someone with narcissistic personality disorder “is interpersonally exploitative” and “unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others." Venture into the realm of pop psychology and the narcissist is a mask over a void, a simulacrum of humanity, a terrifying abyss, a vampire. Usually if you start playing fast and loose with the DSM you’re going to risk offending someone, but nobody’s worried about offending the narcissists. Calling someone a narcissist means placing them beyond the reach of empathy: They don’t feel it and so you don’t have to either.
As Donald Trump (“A Textbook Narcissist?”) looms orangely on the political horizon, the term appears ripe for scrutiny. What does it mean that narcissism has become a default explanation for behavior we find baffling and abhorrent? In The Selfishness of Others (out this week from FSG), Kristin Dombek considers the rise of a cultural diagnosis. Incorporating personal experience, psychoanalytic theory, plus critical readings of social science and pop culture, she examines a host of familiar contemporary villains: millennials, transfixed by their smartphones like Narcissus at his pond; fleeting romantic partners, who promise happiness only to vanish; mass shooters, smiling in their mug shots. The narcissists are everything that we — those of us who situate ourselves in the first-person plural of upstanding, right-thinking moral rectitude — are not.
And this, as Dombek observes, has made the narcissist’s definition oddly slippery. What “we” dread most, what strikes us as most alien and incomprehensible — these things keep changing. Freud’s original conception of narcissism focused on women and gay men, whose resistance to his analytic formulas made them inscrutable. Nowadays, the narcissist tends to look more like the bad boyfriend who menaces female readers of self-help books. Narcissism scholarship abounds: Researchers have surveyed classrooms of intro psych students, counted instances of the word “I” in popular songs, and conducted meta-analysis over time. Their findings are carefully quantified and also totally vague. (If an increasing number of undergraduates agree with the statement “I like to take responsibility for my own decisions,” that tells us — what, exactly?) Purported varieties of narcissism now include sexual narcissism, spiritual narcissism, and communal narcissism, wherein the narcissist works to be perceived as kind, generous, empathetic, and charitable by the other members of his or her group — so, “exactly the opposite of whatever a narcissist is conventionally conceived as being.” Trump is a narcissist, but so, too (according to other observers), are Barack Obama, Edward Snowden, and Beyoncé.
Narcissism first gained favor as a sweeping public diagnosis in the ’70s — the period that, on the cover of this magazine, Tom Wolfe called “the Me Decade.” In 1979, around the same time the DSM began including narcissistic personality disorder, the historian Christopher Lasch published his best seller The Culture of Narcissism.
Lasch traced the way specific clinical traits psychiatrists observed in narcissistic patients were now inculcated in society at large. Americans had lost their sense of historical continuity; the potential end of the world had left them uninterested in future generations. Meanwhile, they were bombarded with mass-media spectacles and stuck in meaningless, bureaucratic jobs. Was it any wonder that these circumstances might lead them to put on bright faces while nursing secret emptiness, and begin looking inward for answers?
But what starts as an astute (if unscientific) reading of emergent sensibilities spirals out into general disapproval of modern life: permissive parenting, bad; the university, also bad; professional sports, somehow bad too. Lasch works “by a kind of deductive reasoning,” Dombek writes, “accumulating examples that become uncannily similar once the premise is assumed, a way of knowing — apocalyptic reasoning, we might call it — common enough in books (not to mention to any individual having a particularly bad day, or year).” The result reads as reactionary dismay.
Another one of Lasch’s bugbears is contemporary writing: He sees both confessional narratives and postmodern meta-fiction as obvious symptoms of narcissism. It’s a concern that has persisted over the last 30-odd years. In The Selfishness of Others, Dombek remembers attending a panel about the writerly self, the use of I on the page. The panel included two female memoirists and a male literary scholar. The scholar began to speak about the narcissism of I: Many writers start out working from the first-person singular, he explained, “but then they grow up, and begin writing he and she rather than me, generously inventing on behalf of the we.” He continued in this vein for a while. “The female memoirists on that panel may have had good reasons for writing about and from the I, but we didn’t get to hear about them,” Dombek reports. He proceeded despite their attempts to speak, overrunning the moderator’s effort to direct questions their way. “The scholar just went on,” she writes, “saying not ‘I think this’ but ‘This is true’ and ‘this is how things are.’”
The accusation of narcissism tends to preclude further analysis, and to throw the accuser’s own limitations into relief. Call something narcissism and you don’t have to try to understand it; plus, you look good on the moral high ground. As Dombek points out, in what might be the closest she comes to Lasch-style judgment, the popular advice on dealing with narcissists — shut them out, condemn them, feel superior — sounds awfully similar to the behavior of a narcissist.
The two books' subtitles, in this spirit, present a useful contrast for considering the question of narcissism. Lasch is describing “American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations.” What did we expect before our expectations diminished? Unclear, but definitely more than we expect now. His emphasis is our happy, hazy shared past; he writes to warn us of what he assumes we once had and are now in danger of losing. (It’s our narcissism that keeps us from making America great again.)
Dombek, meanwhile, has written “An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism.” There’s something gracefully modest in the fact of describing this short book as an essay — subjective, frankly limited in scope. Does saying so suggest diminished expectations? Solipsistic immersion in private thoughts and experience? Or the necessary beginning of some exchange? One person’s thoughts, with or without that I: It’s the best any of us can do, even if it’s only a start.

Why do we fear narcissism?

August 19, 2016 12:23 pm

Why do we fear narcissism?

We are in an age of unprecedented self-admiration — but why does this trouble us so much?
Caravaggio’s ‘Narcissus’, (c1597-99)©Bridgeman Art
Caravaggio’s ‘Narcissus’, (c1597-99)
The word might occur to you at dinner, at around minute 15 or so of a monologue that began the minute your companion arrived. There wasn’t a discernible difference between her arrival and the commencing of the monologue; barely a greeting, in fact, just wave after wave of language, stories whose subject is the same (how she’s been maligned or overlooked, perhaps), and she is not even pausing to breathe, and your breath shortens, as if it’s physically possible for a human being to suck the air out of another human being’s lungs from across the table.
Or it might occur to you in an entirely different kind of situation, with a friend or lover who seemed like the opposite kind of person — a real listener, warm and charming, preternaturally “present” with you, swiftly intimate. Then he pulls an invisible emotional zip-cord and goes cold, even disappears. Never mind if this second person’s reversal bewilders and angers you so much that now, at other dinners, you are the one whose stories of injury flow one from another. In both cases, it’s the same word that arises in your mind: narcissist.


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Sometimes the word explains an encounter with dull self-absorption, sometimes with a consummate performer, a charming surface covering a vacuum, a fake. Either way, it names a stunning lack of empathy. It expresses a belief that there is a piece of this person missing, an essential fellow-feeling, what we call “humanity”.
And yet, at the same time, it gets its strength, its explanatory power, by linking the diagnosed to something that many have claimed, in recent years, is everywhere. Data gathered by social psychologists such as Jean Twenge and W Keith Campbell are used to bolster the apocalyptic story that narcissism has become an epidemic, that among the young especially, traits of narcissism are on the rise, that the future is in the hands of Generation Me, and that more and more, a word that is used to describe the least human among us is the best word for all of us.
Not only psychologists but self-help gurus, bloggers, and journalists without the benefit or burden of training in psychology have joined the chorus, reminding us of the findings of the social psychologists and offering their own warnings and advice to those who might get caught up in the epidemic.
“Five Early Warning Signs You’re With a Narcissist” scrolls down the Twitter feed, and “18 Signs You’re Dealing With a Narcissist” and “Is Your Ex a Sociopath or a Narcissist?” and “Narcissists and Children of Narcissists: Yes, It’s Getting Worse!” And although organisations of professional psychologists discourage their members from diagnosing people without an in-person examination — a standard that a blog post on the American Psychiatric Association’s website reminded its members of recently — many perform long-distance diagnoses, explaining the behaviour of public figures in lengthy articles in national magazines.
Against the methods and conclusions of the social psychologists who claim there’s an epidemic, there have been levelled considerable critiques from within and outside their field. Twenge and Campbell gathered tens of thousands of surveys from 30 years of studies of college students and concluded that narcissistic traits were on the rise; others have argued that the measure — the 40-question survey called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory — is inaccurate and that the work is weak for the reasons social psychology studies are often weak: it is drawn from convenient samples of college students in introductory psychology classes. Other psychologists, such as Jeffrey Arnett, marshal evidence to show that millennials are more empathetic and responsible than any generation before.
Manhattanhenge sunset May 30,??2014 selfie©Getty
A boy takes a selfie in front of the ‘Manhattanhenge’ sunset phenomenon
Perhaps it doesn’t matter; more and more, the word just feels true, and we’re in an epidemic of diagnosis. But when the bore and the charmer both begin to look like a certain American politician, and the American politician reminds us of the worst of what’s online, which may be what the whole younger generation is like, and it begins to feel as if a new selfishness has taken the future hostage and your dinner companion is not just dull, your recently departed not just a fake, but the future itself is narcissism — it raises the question of what it is that we fear, exactly, when we say the word.
 . . . 
“You can love her, yes,” a therapist once answered, when I asked about someone who she thought might have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD. “But it’s different. You can love her like you’d love a six year-old. Not expecting her to be an adult. Not expecting her to love you back.” Like any diagnosis, the word narcissist sutures a person to a label that means he or she is not like you, not like normal people. And it signifies that you should turn away.
Of course we don’t necessarily intend, when we say the word, all that a clinical diagnosis implies, or we shouldn’t. As the World Health Organisation’s list of diseases, the ICD-10, puts it, a personality disorder is defined by deep behaviour patterns that are “extreme or significant deviations” from the way people in a given culture usually relate to others. And narcissism, serious narcissism, is rare. But the word exerts its power by association with deviance.
The memes that appear on the internet about a certain American politician include the following: 1) His face in a haughty, upward look, with the caption “Malignant Narcissist” underneath it. 2) His face in an ugly expression with the criteria for NPD — grandiosity, an excessive need for admiration, lack of empathy, and so on — superimposed over it. 3) His face while he’s giving a speech with a tally of the number of times he used “I” and “me” in the speech superimposed on it. 4) His face kissing his own face in a mirror.
More and more, a word that is used to describe the least human among us is the best word for all of us
The vanity, lack of empathy, and exploitativeness of the clinical narcissist are qualities shared by sociopaths; it is the diagnosis of cult leaders, of mass murderers. With our dinner companion, our lost lover, if the word gives us a moment’s solace, it does so by gathering its power from our sense of what pathology is. We’ve not only pushed them outside the circle of mental health, and into the company of the worst among us — narcissism, as a word, gets its bite from its association with a certain way of thinking about evil.
The narcissist is like John Milton’s Satan, who speaks in chiasmi: the mind, Milton has Satan argue, “can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”. Evil is our word for a lack of empathy, for deception, for falseness, but the feeling of evil can also come when the world as we know it might be upended, or so we fear.
But sometimes, just before we shut it down with the word, is the realisation that someone is seriously messing with our sense of what truth is.
The particular memes I described above, about the American politician, are not about Donald Trump, though there are plenty of memes in that direction, too, plenty of diagnostic articles. They were made by conservative Americans, and the face behind the lengthy list of diagnostic criteria for NPD is Barack Obama’s.
Which is not to say that narcissistic evil is simply relative to where you stand. Sometimes the fear is worthy, and the politician should not be voted for, and perhaps examined; the person should be divorced. But I’ve heard the diagnosis used, in all earnestness, to explain the self-absorption and immaturity of couples who, unfathomably, choose not to have children, and I’ve also heard it used, by someone who’s chosen not to have children, to explain the choice to do so, on an overpopulated planet. And here, our current word for evil seems to provide cover for a fear of a worldview, or a choice, or even a way of being, or a whole category of people whose experience somehow cancels out your own.
 . . . 
In Paradise Lost, Milton echoed Ovid’s Narcissus in his depiction of Eve. He had her, in her first moments alive, glimpse herself in a pool and fall in love with her own image, in “vain desire”; it was her narcissism that made her vulnerable to evil. Freud, too, would unite “narcissism” with “femininity” in his inaugural essay on the topic: “Women, especially if they grow up with good looks, develop a certain self-contentment . . . ” That the narcissists described today by online advice blogs are generally straight men only confirms the word’s utter flexibility. When it is difficult to reckon with a difference, it is easier to call a person fake, selfish, and sick.
An online meme featuring Barack Obama
An online meme featuring Barack Obama
The word arises in the mind to describe the feeling of watching a whole generation perform their lives online — the selfie-posting, the live-tweeting of nights out, the Kardashians — the monstrous new superficiality of our new lives. And here, for me, the word catches the most traction.
Maybe we are acting more and more, in general, in ways that were previously considered vain. But is the internet manufacturing a new kind of self, different enough from the way selves have been before that its most fluent practitioners — those who might post a selfie, incidentally, with considerably less anxiety and self-concern than a 50-year-old does — deserve the same name we give to people lacking the conscience to keep them from mass murder?
It’s an old claim, too — since the late 1970s, when Christopher Lasch condemned the superficial self-absorption of the time in The Culture of Narcissism, and Tom Wolfe satirised it in “The ‘Me’ Decade” on the cover of New York magazine, it’s adapted the language of psychology textbooks to explain the difference of the young. It’s always easier to see it in the previous generations’ condemnations — the nostalgia for a time that is slipping away, when selves were whole, and deep, when we didn’t have to perform them, when you could really trust people. The word as a description of the feeling of the centre shifting out from underneath you, as it does at that dinner table when your friend goes on and on and you fade into the wallpaper behind you, as if unseen; the feeling of history passing you by as you become invisible, and unable, any more, to speak.
If the narcissist challenges us to reckon with the possibility that empathy is something that can be performed, so does every post on our Facebook feed. Behind our computer screens, who knows what is going on? Some of my most empathetic and generous friends post the most selfies; maybe some of the people who never do, but post constant outward-seeming messages about injustice, are secret assholes.
Perhaps we fear narcissism because we are all more conscious of how much we make ourselves, how much might be under the surface, how unknowable we always have been. We bear witness, more and more, to selves under construction, in virtual space. In the comments sections, we react to others at lightning speed, on a scale greater than ever before in human history, judging others as fake and evil.
Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, in August©Reuters
Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, in August
The word narcissist asserts that our values are different from those of the American politician, the internet, the young, the dinner companion — that we have empathy, and they don’t, but sometimes what it covers over is our fear that we are a little like them, for we are called upon to do the very same things. Like every apocalyptic story, the story of the narcissism epidemic gives us a way out, a way to differentiate ourselves, asserting a kind of decency that is in danger of making us as self-satisfied as the ones we fear.
I cannot say whether or not the next time the word comes into your mind, you should write the person who causes it to arise in your mind off, completely; never see your dinner companion again, cut off contact with your former lover, try to love her more like a six-year-old, expecting nothing. But if everyone did that, we’d have an epidemic indeed. Because in that moment, the language of psychological diagnosis encourages us to consider ourselves the empathetic one, and judge the other as selfish — that is, to understand her actions only as they pertain to us.
And in this sense, while the internet challenges our understanding of what empathy is, how to interpret it, and how to perform it in meaningful ways, the moment when we fear narcissism is not a new thing at all. The psychological language that teaches us to dread the other makes a tragedy of what is also the oldest comedy of all. When you start calling each other assholes, you’re interpreting the actions of others only as they affect you. When you give up on them, then you’re one, too. The popularity of the word tells a deeper story about being human, that the internet forces to a crisis: when others look more selfish than we do, that’s often the moment when we’re most stuck in our own position, mistaking it for the centre of the universe.
Afraid of the feeling of the centre shifting away from us, of history moving past us, we interpret the world as if its meaning is its meaning relative to me, and, when we fear the narcissism of the other, the joke is often on us.
Kristin Dombek is the author of ‘The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism’ (Faber)
Photographs: Bridgeman Art; Getty; Reuters
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Writing as someone who is quite definitely not a sociopath, the obsession with sociopaths and narcissists as problematic worries me as well. It is as if we need cover for judgmentalism when we come across people who are not like ourselves. Human variation is enormous and it is as important for cultural innovation as genetic variation is important for species survival in the wild.
Surely we can draw a distinction between acts that cause social problems or harm individuals in a meaningful way and the irritation and frustration caused when another human being does not behave as we think they should behave. To me, narcissists and sociopaths are just part of the species. I just want a free society where I can avoid them if I want to and not if I don't.
Look at it from the opposite perspective ... the problem of the radical empath, weeping and wailing over newspaper pictures, perverting public policy with sentiment and patronising (or matronising) people who just want to get on with the job whatever the job happens to be. I guess we have a class of psychological and social scientists with skin in the game of pre-defining people.
Why not get back to defining harms and just deal with people who cause harms without going through the palaver of defining and then stereotyping them as persons. Maybe instead of defining persons as bad because of their alleged sociopathic brain structure, we should just ensure that people don't do bad things by structuring society and institutions accordingly. 

I'm alarmed that the writer is presumably a trained psychologist but seems to keep aligning three entirely separate conditions with different traits; Narcissism, Sociopaths and Psychopaths.
Many times in this piece "lack of empathy" is referenced in consideration of all three. What is frequently misunderstood is that sociopaths (and some psychopaths) actually have extremely high levels of empathy, they just have no sympathy. They can appear to relate exactly to what other people feel, but regularly they use this ability to manipulate them for their own ends as they don't really care about the other person. To normal people this is what terrifies them the most and is interpreted as low empathy as the alternative to "they cannot possibly understand how I feel" is that they are totally lacking in certain types of emotion... particularly guilt.
Narcissists usually do have a lack of empathy and is why they can seems like horrible vain people. If they cannot relate to something/someone they write it off as irrelevant, and continue with whatever is relevant. This is why the dinner situation is painful as if you raise a story that is very important or traumatic or meaningful to you, but they have no experience in the area they will just change the subject or be openly disinterested as their lack of empathy just turns them off. 
What I find interesting is people's perception of empathy.  I find today so many people have undying empathy for complete strangers but lack it most for those around them.  I am not talking about, "oh why doesn't she care about my trials and tribulations", but rather when they speak of people's problems around them they show little empathy that they can not post on FB.  Not sure I am making myself clear.  Just seems so many FB-users I know love to post their undying empathy and love for the plights of people who are victims around the world and ask their friends and love one's to look beyond on their personal plights (trivial as they may seem relative to the chaos of the world they are still that person's hurdles and pitfalls) and say things like, "I don't understand their whining, or why don't they just do it, or...  Don't get me wrong my heart goes out to victims of this world's evil, meanspritiedness and just plain unexplainable sadness; I just don't feel a need to tell everyone that a little boy in Syria, the victim of evil and poor world leadership, breaks my heart.  Of course it does.   It brings tears to my eyes quite frankly.  But I do feel a need to tell my friends and family I love them no matter what and I am always here to help them in anyway I can.  I realize some of their own actions brought their plight and it is my duty as someone that cares to maybe help them see that, but it is also my role to make sure they know that I love them no matter what.  The little boy in the chair needs me make a difference through real actions not by posting it on FB with an emoticon with tears.

I hope this gibberish makes some sense.
Convoluted style makes this a messy read, though at least it had value for an examination of the "n" word which many bracket with The Donald. And look what she did - tricked us into thinking it was Trump when it was Obama! One of the oldest hack devices in the book. Narcissism should not be confused with self-confidence, even arrogance, which both Obama and Trump possess - and it's a prerequisite for seeking the presidency. But behind one man lies the concerns of a community worker, behind the other the drive to appear to be the richest and most powerful guy in the room, especially when surrounded by his favourites, "the poorly-educated".
Seems like an awfully long-winded and rambling way to say that if you think your problem is that everyone around you is a narcissist or a sociopath who doesn't give you the respect or attention you deserve, then you are the problem.
Don't really understand why politicians are brought into the examples as they usually are not "normal" people. Just because most people accused of narcissism are falsely accused does not necessarily mean that Obama, Trump and the Clintons are not abnormal and dangerously psychotic.
The human race is the funniest thing ever.
@Nicolas Jouan Send in the clowns?
Nietzsche or Schopenhauer?
Nietzsche’s ‘Will to Power’ was intellectual/philosophical inspiration of German fascism. Schopenhauer’s pessimism on the other hand emphasizes futility of it all and impels you to put an end to all.
While one is mainspring of Narcissism and hyperactivity, the other induces to morbid inactivity. They are extremes and both wrong. Buddhist way of the golden mean is the ideal, albeit hard to practice.
"Why do we fear narcissism ?"
We don't. We disparage it.
Why do we disparage it ? Because it is a vice and a character flaw.
What else is to be said ?
I don't know that anyone "fears" narcissism, but it's not a good thing in politicians, executives, or people who have control of anything -- they tend to put their time and effort into trying to create a positive perception of themselves, rather than doing what needs to be done (and not doing what needs to be done, if it won't make them look good).  Otherwise, narcissists are just a pain in the ass to deal with.
"Why do we fear narcissism?"  The headline points to a fuzzy, illogical article and that promise is ably fulfilled. To begin with, perhaps "we" don't "fear narcissism" at all.  (Hard to tell with the definition of the term skating all over the place.)  Is there not something narcissistic in assuming that Everybody is "fearing" "narcissism"?  (Who is this "we"?)  This is an article written in order to get attention, with nothing much to offer in terms of information or insight.
But you did check the article to satisfy your curiosity about your extreme fear of narcissism, since perhaps you intimately know to be narcissistic.
This article emphasises the lack of empathy aspect of the narcissistic personality, but it does not describe the other half of the problem: the narcissist has great difficulty being in touch with his/her own feelings. These people have learned, early on in their lives, to cut off feeling from their awareness. Feelings are seen as a nuisance, a distraction, something to be avoided, and they are intellectualised rather than experienced. This is why the "true" narcissist is incapable of empathising with others and of accepting any experience which is imbued with feeling, such as falling in love. This is also why they can deal with life in a detached and cold-blooded manner. A quality that is often praised in business, by the way (with such labels as being "efficient" etc).
Could it be we detest narcissism of others because they seek to overpower or offend the narcissism of our own? Could it be narcissism is a trait ingrained by nature and rooted in ‘selfish gene’ which is so necessary to survive in a universe of scarcity and competition? What is bad is extreme narcissism bordering on sociopathic behavior, while its moderate dose could be an ingredient essential to self advancement.
There is a Buddhist meditation technique of ‘Vipassana’, which claims to cleanse the self of ego and infuse a sense of compassion and humility. But I have seen some ‘trained’ practitioners of this technique whose newly acquired humility is just cosmetic, which is moreover, supplanted with a barely hidden gloating that they have mastered their egos. Their narcissism is not cleansed but only given a new twist.
French philosopher Montaigne announced in exasperation, ‘What do I know?’ Yes, what does anybody know about anything? Do CBs, those citadels of Economics expertise, know what is happening to economies? Who would have voted for Obama if he had also proclaimed in a Montaignesque refrain, even though he would have then uttered a truth. We make narcissism possible in others by being gullible ourselves. Probably, gullibility too serves an existential need that we are not stranded and alone in our distress, that there is a leader around who will rescue us. Alas, the Great Leader mostly is an illusion.
@Trutheludes.. the only thing I concluded from this article is that the term "narcissism" is both incorrectly and over used. Also, the term represents some new form of mass social loathing. You on the other hand whether intentionally or unintentionally identified that this phenomena has philosophical underpinnings which gives us a much clearer starting point. Had the author done this, I wouldn't have been forced to re-read this lengthy inconclusive dribble to understand what she was trying to say! Please consider a job on the FT editorial board!
@American Viking
Well thanks for appreciating the comment. I wish I could be up to FT's editorial and intellectual standards. This is not to to say, however, that  I endorse FT's opinions, which often I do not.
@Trutheludes.. please consider yourself well beyond their intellectual capabilities!
@American Viking
Thanks again! You incite my narcissism, which I try hard to suppress being aware of my vulnerability to it.
Ah! That flashed another thought: Most Narcissists are not aware that they are so and often complain those around them don’t recognize their genius.
@Trutheludes Perhaps the level of interest in narcissism coincides with the popularity of the "selfie" and how shamelessly it is being used for self promotion.  In the era of instant internet fame ancient values such as humility, integrity, decency, and privacy have no utility.  My view is that the rise of narcissism coincides with the television generation-Boomers!  Ego tripping became pandemic with the rejection of Victorian morals and values prevalent into the 1950s.
Now we expect our leaders  to have huge egos or they won't reflect our individual concepts of self worth.  Instead of a candidate like Kasich gaining respect, Republicans pick a bombastic, self promoter, seemingly incapable of understanding how offensive his off the cuff remarks are.  Obama and Angela Merkel and other European leaders seem to have lost touch with their own constituencies because they exist in "rare air", making decisions based upon an idealized reality, rather than the one workaday schlubs occupy in quiet desperation. 

@Bernal @Trutheludes
@…leaders seem to have lost touch with their own constituencies because they exist in "rare air"….
So often true! Narcissism, given power, feels vindicated and feeds on itself. It propels one to mistaken paths and usually ends in disaster; there is no consciousness that one could be in the wrong and only a injured sense that their constituents/associates fail them.
At the age of eighty having spent most of my life in the building/construction business I have known a number of people who would fit the term "narcissist", a couple of these as developers were in the (minor) mold of Trump. One at the age of 26 was already a multi-millionaire when he gave me a copy of The Donald's new book The Art of the Deal telling me that this book would be his guidepost.
Another "narcissist" was a community organizer who had intention of re-developing city owned property that would benefit the residents of the projects of course some large benefits would naturally accrue to him.
One of these "narcissist" succeeded in his quest and a lot of people benefited from his work, people who worked for him and the people for whom he built homes and offices. The other was a miserable failure and he caused a lot of pain for the people that were touched by him.
I leave it to you to guess. 
Last week I was asked by two people if I was a Narcissist. I have two doctoral degrees and am a mathematician. Apparently my inability to drop to the basement to explain something has delivered the new N-word at my doorstep. My guess is that this word, this pop psychosomatic  insult is gaining Facebook snowballing and every dullard on earth is now a psychologist.  Apparently anyone who is even partially successful at anything is now a Narcissist. I am now awaiting with baited breath the next installment of this moronic salve for the smooth brained. It will go something like this...

The Biggie...
Good God we are bathing in a sea of idiots. "Hey that sounds pretty NARCISSIST doesn't it?
I guess I was just getting in touch with my INNER NARCISSIST...  
Though a touch or Narcissism is likely required to be successful in politics, the successful leader needs a completely different set of operating priorities.  Praising the work of others while offering ready apology for one's shortcomings has become so uncommon in the political sphere that it's practically extinct.  Sadly, this says so much about who we are, who we have become,  than we should be comfortable with.
Narcissists have much to be humble about, but since they are not, they are derided and despised by most, not feared.
In my experience, narcissism is the inability that everyone is the star of their unique drama. It is the disbelief that another's subjectivity is as powerful, formidable, and commanding as one's own. Everyone but you is simply a bit player ( third-rate, fourth-rate fifth-rate...) in your cosmic drama. Narcissism exits on a scale (minor to major, one to ten). The higher levels of narcissism prevent intimacy, discourage deep friendships, further abusive personal relations, harm children, and in general perpetrate dysfunctional social relations.
There are narcissists and then there are "Dark Triads" that display narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathology. While a bit of narcissism could prove to provide a needed bit of insulation in a cold world, Dark Triad personalities operate without any sense of fairness-think Nietzscheism where the self is aggrandized to mythic proportions, might is right, moral codes and spiritual or religious dogmas are only for idiots and losers. We've all known some, but over time they tend to find themselves very lonely as they peer into the lake and admire their vacuous gaze.
This article is too long given the simple message.
I have seen many posts here that are making fun of the word narcissist, and some that are spot on with dangers of the narcissist. The true sociopath narcissist, quite often can get themselves into a positions of a manager, politician or other respected business person or as mentioned someone on an advisory board or a combination many of these. The real problem with the narcissist, or what ever the relationship is, they will tell you one thing, and do another, without FEELING OF GUILT. The two most dangerous situations to be in, is a marriage or caring relationship or a business (money) arrangement. You give your trust to that narcissist individual and within a very short period of time, you will discover that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is CRAZY and doesn't care if you know it. I survived and even got the best of one in a business relationship. The frustration is horrible.