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9 Megalomaniacal Facts About Narcissism

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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.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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