CLOSE
Original image
iStock

9 Megalomaniacal Facts About Narcissism

Original image
iStock

You hear the term narcissist tossed out frequently, but is that date who’s more interested in hearing himself talk really a narcissist or just a jerk? What about your boss who always demands you do things his way? The term stems from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a beautiful and proud young man who was cursed by the god Nemesis to fall in love with his own reflection and died pining for his own beauty. But in real life, psychologists have developed a list of actual criteria for the definition of narcissism.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), as it’s called in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), “is one of the least understood of personality disorders,” psychologist Anjhula Mya Singh Bais tells mental_floss. A former model and now Ph.D, Bais has for the past 10 years worked with clients who are celebrities, high achievers, and their partners dealing with various facets of NPD.

Bais says the NPD diagnosis evolved through collaboration between psychoanalysts and psychologists over the years “who couldn’t quite put their finger on a subset of their patients." NPD also tends to co-exist with depression or anxiety; having one of those conditions is often the only reason a narcissist tries therapy.

To qualify as a narcissist, an individual must have "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts," paraphrased from the fifth version of the DSM [PDF]:

— A grandiose sense of self-importance, exaggerating achievements and talents
— Fantasizes about unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
— Believes that he or she is “special” and should associate only with high-status people or institutions
— Requires excessive admiration
— Has a sense of entitlement, expects favorable treatment or automatic compliance
— Is interpersonally exploitative, taking advantage of others
— Lacks empathy, unwilling to recognize or identify others' feelings and needs

1. NARCISSISTS LIVE IN A GRANDIOSE WORLD OF THEIR OWN MAKING.

Narcissists become fixated on fantasies of infinite success, control, brilliance, beauty, or idyllic love, Bais says. They believe they are "extraordinary and exceptional and can only be understood by, or should connect with, other extraordinary or important people or institutions.”

2. NARCISSISTS DO NOT EXPERIENCE EMPATHY.

What makes narcissists incredibly difficult to be in relationship with is “they lack empathy in totality,” Bais says. They do not care about others’ points of view or feelings, unless “it is to manipulate a situation or person to their advantage,” she adds. Psychologist Brad Reedy, the clinical director of Evoke Therapy Programs, puts it more bluntly. “If you don’t fulfill their needs, they have no use for you,” say Reedy, who has treated clients with narcissism in therapy for 20 years. In this regard, the difference between a narcissist and a sociopath—who also views people as objects and lacks empathy—may simply be a matter of degree.

3. YET THEY HAVE A MADDENING ABILITY TO CHARM.

A romantic relationship with a narcissist may start with passion and excitement. Your narcissist may be the most dynamic person in the room or “extraordinarily charming,” Bais says. But that charm eventually gives way to manipulation, entitlement, lack of forgiveness, a desperate need for ego strokes, and even rage.

4. NARCISSISM IS WORSE THAN ARROGANCE.

According to Reedy, the narcissist’s personality is so pervasive, rigid, and consistent that “they won’t be able to demonstrate anything different than the narcissist presentation.” A person who is just a little arrogant still has moments where they can admit they’re wrong, apologize for their mistakes, and empathize. But unlike people with “strong confidence” or arrogance, narcissists “place value only on [themselves] and no one else,” Bais says.

5. NARCISSISM STARTS IN CHILDHOOD …

Narcissism is forged by “a fundamental lack of connection in childhood—a lack of attachment,” Reedy explains. This “narcissistic wound,” as psychologists call it, comes from what Reedy describes as “valuing the wrong thing in the child”—such as praising them for their achievements or outward appearance, but never for their inner value. In this way they differ from people with anti-social personality disorder, who usually have experienced direct abuse. Many children who become narcissists, according to psychologist Alice Miller’s landmark book The Drama of the Gifted Child, consistently seek admiration because of an empty sense of themselves. Without therapy, Reedy says, “it is impossible for the grandiose person to cut the tragic link between admiration and love.”

6. … BUT CAN ONLY BE DIAGNOSED IN ADULTHOOD.

Be careful not to call your child or teen a narcissist, Reedy cautions. “Developmentally, children have many narcissistic traits," he says. "This is normal. Shaming them is not healthy.”

7. TRY NOT TO TAKE A NARCISSIST’S BEHAVIOR PERSONALLY.

Since narcissists require immense amounts of therapy to even begin to make changes in their nature, your best bet if you’re dealing with one in your life, says Reedy, is to “see them for what they are and don’t take it personally. It really isn’t about you.” However, narcissists inspire in others an understandable urge to “take them down a notch” or “put them in their place," Reedy says, which will only further aggravate a narcissist’s behavior. “A superiority complex always covers up an inferiority complex.”

8. HOWEVER, YOU MIGHT HAVE TO LEAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH A NARCISSIST.

Since narcissists are unlikely to change on their own without therapy—which most of them are unlikely to seek out unless they have co-existing anxiety or depression—you may have to accept that the only solution for a healthy relationship is to leave. “If that is either impractical or you are unwilling to leave [the relationship], be sure not to try to fix it or conclude that you can fix it if you do all the right things,” Reedy advises. He considers that the most common mistake of people who stay in “toxic relationships.”

9. THERAPY MAY HELP NARCISSISTS TO CHANGE.

The cure is long-term therapy, Reedy says, “where one experiences something different than what they experienced in their childhood.” However, getting a narcissist to therapy is no small task, as many of them view therapy as an admission of something wrong with them. The good news is that once they’re getting help, Bais says, they do respond well to psychotherapy.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Medicine
Why Haven't We Cured Cancer Yet?
Original image
iStock

Walkathons, fundraisers, and ribbon-shaped bumper stickers raise research dollars and boost spirits, but cancer—the dreaded disease that affects more than 14 million people and their families at any given time—still remains bereft of a cure.

Why? For starters, cancer isn't just one disease—it's more than 100 of them, with different causes. This makes it impossible to treat each one using a one-size-fits-all method. Secondly, scientists use lab-grown cell lines cultivated from human tumors to develop cancer therapies. Living masses are far more complex, so potential treatments that show promise in lab experiments often don't work on cancer patients. As for the tumors themselves, they're prone to tiny genetic mutations, so just one growth might contain multiple types of cancer cells, and even unique sub-clones of tumors. These distinct entities might not respond the same way, or at all, to the same drug.

These are just a few of the challenges that cancer researchers face—but the good news is that they're working to beat all of them, as this TED-Ed video explains below.

arrow
crime
8 Bizarre Medical Murderers
Original image
A facial reconstruction of William Burke

We are often at our most vulnerable with physicians and nurses, which might be why stories of crimes committed by medical professionals seem so shocking. Because if you can’t trust your doctor, who can you trust? The answer: probably no one. Below are eight of the most appalling acts of murder, fraud, and grave-robbing associated with the medical community. Patient, beware.

1. BURKE AND HARE: THE BODY-SNATCHERS

In the early 19th century, Edinburgh, Scotland was one of Europe's leading centers of medical study. But there was a problem: The city's medical schools were constantly short on bodies to dissect. The law dictated that only the bodies of executed convicts were allowed to be carved up for science. So fresh bodies, however harvested, could command a princely sum, and there were plenty of local entrepreneurs ready to take advantage. Known as “resurrectionists,” they thwarted graveyard watchmen to plunder the city’s cemeteries, selling the treasure to anatomists.

William Burke and William Hare were a special breed of resurrectionists. In 1827, they began their foray into body-snatching courtesy of one of Hare’s recently deceased boarders. The pair sold the body to a Dr. Robert Knox, one of the city’s leading anatomists. With 7 pounds 10 shillings (about $820 today) in their pockets, they realized they’d stumbled upon a promising enterprise. But like the city's doctors and students, they were frustrated by the lack of bodies. So they decided to create their own supply.

The two soon began murdering other lodgers, travelers, and the generally down-and-out—usually by plying them with whiskey and then suffocating them. Burke and Hare kept Dr. Knox and his students supplied for almost a year, until an acquaintance alerted authorities after stumbling upon one of their victims hidden in a straw mattress. Upon arrest, Hare agreed to testify against Burke, who was convicted of just a single murder, although it is commonly believed the total number killed was at least 16. Burke, whose name became synonymous with his mode of killing, was hanged on January 28, 1829 before a crowd of more than 20,000 spectators. Fittingly enough, his body was donated to science and publicly dissected by one of Dr. Knox's peers.

2. GERALD BARNBAUM: THE FAKE

The vast majority of physicians are highly dedicated individuals. And no one was more dedicated than Gerald Barnbaum, a.k.a. Gerald Barnes. The only problem was, he wasn’t actually a physician. That didn’t stop him from practicing medicine in southern California for more than 20 years, and neither did five convictions and stints in prison for practicing without a license, mail fraud, and manslaughter, among other charges.

Trained as a pharmacist, Barnbaum lost his license in a Medicaid fraud scandal in the mid-1970s. Fascinated by the medical profession since childhood, he decided to follow his real passion, albeit without the pesky education. Barnbaum used a sob story to fool both the California medical authorities and a medical school into sending him the credentials of one Dr. Gerald Barnes, a respected, and real, California MD (he claimed a bitter spouse had destroyed the originals). He then went on to spend more than two decades charming his way from one clinic to another.

He was first caught in 1979, when he misdiagnosed a clear-cut case of diabetes in a young man, who later slipped into a coma and died. He pled down from murder to manslaughter in 1981, and served 18 months of a 3-year sentence before being paroled.

Thus began a bizarre cycle of practice, discovery, conviction, and parole that would repeat four more times. The fifth attempt came in 2000 after Barnbaum escaped custody during a prison transfer. Four weeks later he was caught, of course, practicing at a North Hollywood clinic. He’s currently serving a 10-year sentence for that crime, and is due out in 2019, at the age of 86.

3. HAROLD SHIPMAN: THE LITTLE-OLD-LADY KILLER

Photo Of Doctor Harold Shipman
Getty Images

One of the world’s most prolific serial killers was considered by most who knew him to be a caring family physician. Harold Shipman spent decades practicing medicine in the small city of Hyde, in Manchester, England. Most loved him, but a few noticed that many of his elderly charges passed away at or around their visits with the good doctor. Once, the coroner’s office was even alerted, but could not find evidence of any foul play.

That’s because Shipman’s weapon of choice was often diamorphine—a medical form of heroin—which he injected into his patients. He’d then alter his records to support whatever cause of death he gave the relatives of the deceased. He also discouraged autopsies and encouraged cremation.

It was his greed that finally undid him. When a healthy 81-year-old widow named Kathleen Grundy died in 1998, her daughter grew suspicious at the appearance of a will that left Shipman much of her mother’s estate. It was an obvious forgery, and her report resulted in a raid of Shipman’s home, which unearthed enough evidence to prompt a deeper investigation. Shipman was arrested on suspicion of 15 murders and one case of forgery. He maintained his innocence, but in 2000 was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to 15 life sentences. Four years later he was found dead in his cell, having hung himself. Subsequent investigations that compared the mortality rate of Shipman’s patients to those of other practices estimated that at least 215 deaths could be attributed to him.

4. NIELS HÖGEL: THE “BAD LUCK CHARM”

Many medical professionals will tell you there’s nothing to match the feeling of saving a life. But for at least one German nurse, the thrill was so addictive there never seemed to be enough desperate cases to quench it.

In 2015 nurse Niels Högel was convicted of two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. He’d been caught administering a large dose of an unneeded cardiovascular drug to a patient. His goal: Send the patient into cardiac arrest so he could resuscitate them. Högel claimed that he’d found his work as a nurse boring, but reveled in the glory and recognition that a successful resuscitation would bring. His colleagues saw it differently; at one hospital he’d been labeled a “bad luck charm” for his presence at so many deaths.

If only it had been bad luck. During an initial trial, which covered his employment at a clinic in Delmenhorst, Germany, between 2002 and 2005, Högel admitted to dosing some 90 patients, 30 of whom died. The shocking admission prompted an investigation into 500 former patient cases, and the exhumation of 134 bodies. To date, 84 additional victims have been identified, with others still being tested.

5. JANE TOPPAN: THE NURSE FROM HELL

For the sick and suffering, emotional care can be just as palliative as physical. In 19th century Boston, patients of “Jolly” Jane Toppan received both—and then some. The beloved nurse was known for her boisterous good humor with patients, but those she grew especially close to had a habit of expiring, most likely due to the large and lethal doses of morphine and atropine that Toppan administered.

Born Honora Kelly in 1857, Toppan worked as an indentured servant for the Toppan family until she was 28, at which point she began training as a nurse in the city (her name was changed to Toppan during her time with the family, although she was never formally adopted). It was there she began experimenting on her favorite patients, administering varying doses of morphine and atropine to observe their effect on the nervous system. Later, she would admit to receiving a sexual thrill at being close to her patients as they wavered between life and death; she’d even climb into bed and embrace them as they struggled.

After dismissal from both Cambridge Hospital and Massachusetts General, Toppan spent 10 years as a private nurse in the Boston area. During this time she expanded her pool of victims to landlords, friends, and, on occasion, professional competition [PDF]. Again, morphine and atropine were her weapons of choice, although she occasionally dabbled in rat poison.

Her coup de grâce, however, occurred between in July and August 1901, when she systematically eliminated a family of four on Cape Cod. She started with the matriarch, Mattie Davis, who had visited her to collect rent owed on a summer cottage that Toppan rented from the family. Davis lingered for a week before succumbing, and Toppan traveled with the body to the Cape, under the guise of attending to the grieving family. Davis’s oldest daughter was next to go, followed by Mr. Davis, and finally, the youngest daughter, Minnie Gibbs, all in about five weeks.

Suspicious, Gibbs’s husband contacted a toxicologist, asking him to exhume the bodies and test them. Toppan was arrested and tried for the Davis murders, but found not guilty by reason of insanity. She was committed to a mental institution for the rest of her life. Turns out, Toppan had owned up to at least 31 murders in front of her defense lawyer, and may have been responsible for as many as 100. She died in her 80s in a lunatic asylum.

6. LAINZ ANGELS OF DEATH: THE HEARTBREAKERS

Looking after the ill and ailing is a tough job, an unending litany of needs large and small. That goes double for the ill and elderly. In the 1980s, four Austrian nurse's aides decided to make things a little easier on themselves by eliminating the needy.

Nicknamed the Angels of Death, Maria Gruber, Irene Leidolf, Stephanija Meyer, and Waltraud Wagner shocked Austria when they confessed to having brutally murdered some 49 elderly patients between 1983 and 1989. Wagner, largely believed to be the ringleader, initially confessed to all but 10 of those killings, though she later recanted and placed her total number closer to 10 (and all of those mercy killings).

But as their trials—Wagner and Leidolf for murder, Mayer for manslaughter, and Gruber for attempted murder—progressed, it became clear that while mercy may have motivated the first few killings, later victims were chosen not for their suffering, but because of offenses as small as soiling the bed or snoring. The murders themselves were carried out either through an overdose of drugs like insulin or through the “water cure,” in which the patient’s nose was pinched closed, the tongue held down and water poured into the lungs. And according to at least one member of the group, the total death count could have been more like 200, though that was never proven.

All four women were convicted and imprisoned, Wagner and Leidolf for life, but by 2008, all had been released from prison on good behavior.

7. MICHAEL SWANGO: THE KILLER ON TWO CONTINENTS

While Harold Shipman and Jane Toppan ingratiated themselves with those around them, the brilliant Dr. Michael Swango failed to charm. In fact, some found him downright creepy. He’d often express admiration for serial killers and kept a scrapbook of violent accidents. Yet even as suspicious patient deaths followed him over a decade and a half, he was always able to find work—and more victims.

From the very beginning of his medical training, bodies just seemed to drop around Michael Swango (in med school, he earned the nickname Double-O-Swango, because he had a “license to kill”). The dead followed him through his internship in an Ohio hospital, where nurses reported his uncanny appearance just before or after code blues.

In 1984, Swango was arrested for poisoning six of his fellow EMTs by lacing doughnuts, tea, and soda with arsenic. Damned by a mountain of evidence gathered at his apartment, he was convicted and served two years of a five-year sentence.

After prison, Swango bounced around the country, lying about his past on residency applications. After being fired from a number of programs, he tried to escape the mounting evidence against him by practicing in Zimbabwe, where, again, he couldn’t seem to help himself, and was soon under investigation for several patient deaths.

Finally, in 1997, the FBI—who’d been investigating since the death of three patients at a Veterans Affairs hospital on Long Island years earlier—caught up with him during a layover at Chicago-O’Hare airport. Initially convicted of falsifying his credentials on his VA application, he served several years in prison before being charged with three murders. He pled guilty to avoid a death sentence, and is currently serving time at a supermax prison in Colorado.

While it’s unknown just how many people Swango murdered during his career, conservative estimates put it at around 35, and some place it as high as 60.

8. DONALD HARVEY: THE DIS-ORDERLY

Like German nurse-cum-serial-killer Niels Högel, orderly Donald Harvey was given nicknames by his hospital co-workers—"Kiss of Death" among them. Patients, especially the old and infirm, had a habit of dying on Harvey’s watch. At least 34 of them expired thanks to Harvey’s direct intervention, which he claimed to be an act of mercy.

From 1970 to 1987, Harvey worked in hospitals in Ohio and Kentucky, where he’d often be in close contact with the seriously ill. Almost as soon as he began his first job, he started to kill off patients through methods that included smothering them with plastic sheets and pillows, feeding them cyanide and arsenic hidden in food and drinks, or hooking them up to depleted oxygen tanks. And while he said each was an attempt to end suffering, he would also tell the media that he enjoyed exerting control over life and death.

Later, he escalated to non-patients, again via poisoning, and in one case, attempted to kill his lover’s friend by exposing her to hepatitis serum he’d stolen from the hospital.

Harvey was finally caught in 1987 after a doctor performing an autopsy on his last victim caught the smell of cyanide in the victim’s stomach. An investigation followed, and Harvey was arrested. He’d eventually plead guilty to 37 murders (34 patients at two hospitals, and three non-patients). His lawyer later reported that Harvey had actually admitted to 70 murders, but no further charges were ever brought. In 2017, while the 64-year-old was serving multiple life sentences in a prison in Toledo, Ohio, he was beaten to death by a fellow inmate.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios