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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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7 Health Tips From Ancient Physicians
Portrait of Galen
Portrait of Galen

If you feel bombarded by conflicting advice on how to stay (or get) healthy, you’re not alone. Intermittent fasting, juice cleanses, and low-carb diets are a few of today’s health trends, but fashionable health advice is nothing new. Consider these health tips from ancient physicians, which range from surprisingly relevant to downright absurd. (Just don't consider any of it actual medical advice, of course—that's what modern physicians are for.)

1. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR DREAMS.

Galen, a Greek physician who treated Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius among others, wrote hundreds of texts about medicine starting around 150 CE. Galen believed that what you dream about can indicate your overall level of wellness and reveal specific ailments you might be suffering from. Before you call him a quack, keep in mind that he acknowledged that some dreams are simply a random assortment of the day’s events, rather than a direct message about the state of one’s health. As he wrote in On Diagnosis in Dreams:

“The vision-in-sleep [dream], in my opinion, indicates a disposition of the body. Someone dreaming a conflagration is troubled by yellow bile, but if he dreams of smoke, or mist, or deep darkness, by black bile. Rainstorm indicates that cold moisture abounds; snow, ice, and hail, cold phlegm. ... But since in sleep the soul does not produce impressions based on dispositions of the body only, but also from the things habitually done by us day by day, and some from what we have thought—and indeed some things are revealed by it in fashion of prophesy ... the diagnosis of the body from the visions-in-sleep that arise from the body becomes difficult.”

2. DON’T CHANGE YOUR DIET TOO QUICKLY.

Line engraving of Hippocrates
Hippocrates

Greek physician Hippocrates, now known as the father of medicine, wrote several works chock full of health advice. In On Ancient Medicine (written around 400 BCE, although the dates and authorship of the text are somewhat disputed), he explains the wisdom of treading slowly when it comes to making adjustments to your diet. As he explains it, some people are used to eating only one meal per day, while others feel better eating two meals per day. If someone who is accustomed to eating once per day suddenly adds another meal to his schedule, disease can occur.

“But there are certain persons who cannot readily change their diet with impunity; and if they make any alteration in it for one day, or even for a part of a day, are greatly injured thereby. Such persons, provided they take dinner when it is not their wont, immediately become heavy and inactive, both in body and mind, and are weighed down with yawning, slumbering, and thirst; and if they take supper in addition, they are seized with flatulence, tormina [abdominal pain], and diarrhea, and to many this has been the commencement of a serious disease, when they have merely taken twice in a day the same food which they have been in the custom of taking once.”

3. DRINKING TOO MUCH BOOZE CAN CAUSE PIMPLES.

As Galen explains in the Art of Physick, people with high body heat, red cheeks, and a cheerful disposition have a sanguine complexion. Such people, he argues, are more prone to certain conditions such as fevers and phlegm. Luckily, Galen tells sanguine patients how to achieve an optimal diet and exercise program for their body type. He warns that drinking too much beer, ale, and wine can cause a variety of maladies, including scabs, abscesses, fevers, and red pimples.

“Inordinate drinking of strong beer, ale, and wine, breeds hot rhewms scabs and itch, St. Anthony’s fire [a skin infection], quinsies [an infection behind the tonsils], pleuresies [pain when breathing], inflammations, fevers, and red pimples.”

4. BEANS AND FLOWERS CAN FIGHT DYSENTERY.

In On Regimen in Acute Diseases, Hippocrates lays out an easy plan for fighting dysentery, an intestinal infection that causes severe diarrhea. Luckily, no pharmacists are needed for this treatment, but you will have to track down some beans and plant shoots, if you don’t already have them on hand.

“For dysentery. A fourth part of a pound of cleaned beans, and twelve shoots of madder [a Eurasian plant] having been triturated [ground to a fine powder], are to be mixed together and boiled, and given as a linctus [a medicinal syrup] with some fatty substance."

5. IF YOU’RE PREGNANT, STAY AWAY FROM HAMMOCKS.

Detail of a woodcut depicting ancient herbalists and scholars, including Soranus
Detail of a woodcut depicting ancient herbalists and scholars, including Soranus

Scholars credit Sushruta as one of the earliest surgeons and the author of The Sushruta Samhita, a Sanskrit medical text written sometime around 600 BCE. The text warns pregnant women to avoid certain activities, such as fasting, falling, and taking medicine that causes vomiting. But some of the guidelines may sound strange to modern readers. According to Sushruta, pregnant women should not ride a horse, swing on a hammock, or sit on uneven ground, lest those activities cause the fetus to prematurely detach from the uterus.

“Sexual intercourse during pregnancy, riding on horseback, etc., or in any sort of conveyance, a long walk, a false step, a fall, pressure on the womb, running, a blow, sitting or lying down on an uneven ground, or in an uneven posture, fasting … use of emetics or purgatives, swinging in a swing or hammock, indigestion, and use of medicines which induce the labor pain or bring about abortions, and such like causes tend to expel the fetus from its fixture. These causes tend to sever the child from the uterine wall with its placental attachment owing to a kind of Abhighatam (uterine contraction) just as a blow tends to sever a fruit from its pedicel.”

6. IF YOU DON'T WANT TO GET PREGNANT, TRY SNEEZING.

Soranus, a Greek physician who worked in Rome around the early 2nd century CE, had plenty to say about menstruation, contraception, and abortion. As he wrote in Gynecology, sneezing can expel semen from a woman’s body and serve as an effective birth control method. Just remember to squat before you start sneezing.

“And during the sexual act, at the critical moment of coitus when the man is about to discharge the seed, the woman must hold her breath and draw herself away a little, so that the seed may not be hurled too deep into the cavity of the uterus. And getting up immediately and squatting down, she should induce sneezing and carefully wipe the vagina all round; she might even drink something cold.”

7. USE BURNING IRON TO CURE YOUR HEMORRHOIDS.

Hippocrates wrote at length about hemorrhoids, and his writings on the subject survive to this day. In On Hemorrhoids (400 BCE), he offers several methods to remove the offending piles. One of his tricks, which entails burning the hemorrhoids with pieces of hot iron, requires the patient to purge the day before. Sounds like fun.

“I recommend seven or eight small pieces of iron to be prepared, a fathom in size, in thickness like a thick specillum [speculum], and bent at the extremity, and a broad piece should be on the extremity, like a small obolus. Having on the preceding day first purged the man with medicine, on the day of the operation apply the cautery. Having laid him on his back, and placed a pillow below the breech, force out the anus as much as possible with the fingers, and make the irons red-hot, and burn the pile until it be dried up, and so as that no part may be left behind. And burn so as to leave none of the hemorrhoids unburnt, for you should burn them all up.”

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Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
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Bill Gates is Spending $100 Million to Find a Cure for Alzheimer's
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Not everyone who's blessed with a long life will remember it. Individuals who live into their mid-80s have a nearly 50 percent chance of developing Alzheimer's, and scientists still haven't discovered any groundbreaking treatments for the neurodegenerative disease [PDF]. To pave the way for a cure, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has announced that he's donating $100 million to dementia research, according to Newsweek.

On his blog, Gates explained that Alzheimer's disease places a financial burden on both families and healthcare systems alike. "This is something that governments all over the world need to be thinking about," he wrote, "including in low- and middle-income countries where life expectancies are catching up to the global average and the number of people with dementia is on the rise."

Gates's interest in Alzheimer's is both pragmatic and personal. "This is something I know a lot about, because men in my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s," he said. "I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it. It feels a lot like you're experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew."

Experts still haven't figured out quite what causes Alzheimer's, how it progresses, and why certain people are more prone to it than others. Gates believes that important breakthroughs will occur if scientists can understand the condition's etiology (or cause), create better drugs, develop techniques for early detection and diagnosis, and make it easier for patients to enroll in clinical trials, he said.

Gates plans to donate $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund that supports Alzheimer's research and treatment developments. The rest will go to research startups, Reuters reports.

[h/t Newsweek]

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