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Narcissus, von Benczür Gyula (1844-1920). Modified section.

Narcissist swindles taking over

In Greek mythology, the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. Narcissists seek to gratify vanity or they admire their own attributes egotistically. The American Psychiatric Association has used the classification narcissistic personality disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 1968. (See Morrisin, 2014)

Narcissism is, further, also considered a social or cultural problem.

Primary self-love uses narcissism. Otherwise, narcissism may be a problem in a person's or group's relationships with self and others.

It may be suggested that covert narcissism among "guru devotees" and others in a cultish setting becomes obvious as decades go by - by small steps it enters the scene, and slyly too. A gilded past leaser could be a feature of narcissistic mentalities formed by a group and shared among many of its leaders.

How is Narcissistic Personality Disorder diagnosed?

Many narcissistic patients do not think of killing themselves. (Ronningstam 2005:190). Further, a narcissistic investment in work can develop into counterproductive working behavior, destructive leadership, and stifling inhibitions in a workplace, or the other way round: it may give rise to successes - outer successes, that is, but still real accomplishments and successes. Moreover, grandiose fantasies may function as motivators and guidelines for achievements and goals, even fulfilling exceptional roles and tasks. Success may feed or bolser more realistic self approval, pride, constructive self-criticism, and realistic balance between attainable ideals and actual capability. (Ronningstam 2005:72-74, passim)

Also, an interactive group process can contribute to improve emotional and vocational functioning. (Ronningstam 2005:157-58)

A suicidal behavior in narcissistic patients can be understood as an effort to avoid facing a major shameful defeat, loss, or narcissistic injury. Often there are fantasies of grandiose self-experience, aligned with revengeful strivings. Evaluations of suicidal states in narcissistic patients are especially challenging. (Ronningstam 2005:180-81)

In narcissism there is an interchange between stability and changeability and an oscillation and interaction between healthy and pathological narcissism. A life event "can either augment self-esteem and promote personal growth or lead to an increased sense of inferiority, with accompanying defensive grandiosity, interpersonal aggressiveness, and detachment. Our research has shown that pathological narcissism can decrease over time through corrective life events, even independently of treatment." (Ronningstam 2005:195)

What threatens or disrupt the individual's self-experience and normal self-regulation may worsen the narcissistic disorder. (Ronningstam 2005:196)

Personality disorders describe long-standing and enduring patterns of behavior, and therefore they are most often diagnosed in adulthood. If it is diagnosed in a child or teen, the features must have been present for at least one year.

Narcissistic personality disorder is more prevalent in males than females, and is thought to occur in around 6 percent of the general population, according to research.

Narcissistic personality disorder typically will decrease in intensity with age, with many people experiencing few of the most extreme symptoms by the time they are in the 40s or 50s.

Many people with narcissistic personality disorder don't seek out treatment.

Personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder may be diagnosed by mental health professional. You can initially consult a family physician about this problem, and then he or she may refer you to a mental health professional for diagnosis and a treatment. A diagnosis is made by comparing your symptoms and life history with the items on the following list, and then deciding whether your symptoms meet the criteria.

Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

There is a old saw that medicine students discover they have a good many of the diseases they find descriptions of in their textbooks. After some reflection some think otherwise, and go on to read of still more diseases, which they "get and lose". You should consider carefully if you use descriptions of diseases for self-help diagnoses. If you do such things, the descriptions may be of help.

Here is a core definition to starty with: "A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by 5 or more of following (symptoms)." And that is to say, to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) a person must meet five or more of these symptoms: He or she:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognised as superior without commensurate achievements)
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. 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)
  4. Requires excessive admiration
  5. Has a very strong sense of entitlement / self-entitlement), e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  6. Is exploitative of others (interpersonally), e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  7. Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  9. Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

However. In most cases of sensed, "intutive" evaluations, the Likert scale is much better and safer to use than the mere yes/no response, evidently.

In a very suitable form the responses to choose among on a Likert scale are:

  1. Emphatic, strong 'no' (much denial)
  2. Reserved 'no'
  3. 'Quite neutral' or 'don't know'
  4. Soft 'yes'
  5. Strong, emphatic or majestic 'yes'

The responses are allotted numbers, the numbers are next added, and then you may compare responses to an agreed-on key or table that furnishes quite averaged "boxes".

However, for the narcissism disorder such a nuanced solution has not come to my ears, so I leave you with the add the factors to say 'yes' to and see of you "break water" if you try it out.

More help, including some repetition

A personality disorder is an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates from the norm of the individual's culture. The enduring, inflexible and pervasive pattern - in cognition; affect; interpersonal functioning; or impulse control - is seen across a broad range of personal and social situations. It typically leads to significant distress or impairment in social, work or other areas of functioning. The pattern is stable and of long duration, and the onset may be traced to early adulthood or adolescence.

Dr James Morrison tells that people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have a lifelong pattern of grandiosity (in behavior and in fantasy), a thirst for admiration, and an absence of empathy. These attitudes permeate most aspects of their lives. They regard themselves as unusually special; they are self-important individuals who commonly exaggerate their accomplishments. (From the outset, however, we need to note that these traits constitute a PD [personality disorder] only in adults. Children and teenagers are naturally self-centered; in kids, narcissistic traits don't necessarily imply ultimate PD.)

Despite their grandiose attitudes, people with NPD have fragile self-esteem and often feel unworthy; even at times of great personal success, they may feel fraudulent or undeserving. They remain overly sensitive to what others think about them, and feel compelled to extract compliments. When criticised, they may cover their distress with a façade of icy indifference. People with narcissistic personality disorder often display snobbish, disdainful, or patronising attitudes. As sensitive as they are about their own feelings, they have little apparent understanding of the feelings and needs of others and may feign empathy, just as they may lie to cover their own faults.

Patients with NPD often fantasise about wild success and envy those who have achieved it. They may choose friends they think can help them get what they want. Job performance can suffer (due to interpersonal problems), or it can be enhanced (due to their eternal drive for success). Because they tend to be concerned with grooming and value their youthful looks, they may become increasingly depressed as they age.

NPD has been seldom studied. It appears to occur in under 1% of the general population; reportedly, most patients are men. . . . these difficult personalities. (Main source: Morrison 2014:550-51)

Features of the narcissists summarised

These people possess grandiosity, together with a craving for admiration. To get it, they typically exaggerate their own abilities and accomplishments. They tend to be preoccupied with fantasies of beauty, brilliance, perfect love, power, or limitless success, and believe that they are so unusual that they should only associate with people or institutions of rarefied status. Often arrogant or haughty, they may believe that others envy them (though the reverse may actually be true). Lack of empathy engages their feelings of privilege in justifying the exploitation of others to achieve their own goals.

The disorder begins in teens or early 20s and endures. Contexts are diffuse.

(Extracts from Morrison 2014:550-51)


Possible Causes and Treatment Attempts


Researchers today don't know what causes NPD, but most professionals subscribe to a model with causes that are likely due to

  • biological and genetic factors,
  • social factors (such as how a person interacts in their early development with their family and friends and other children),
  • psychological factors (the individual's personality and temperament, shaped by their environment and learned coping skills to deal with stress).

This suggests that causes may be complex and intertwined.

Psychosocial treatment in gross outline

Much revolves around getting and keep contact, and friendly contact.

Therapist's concerns.Treatment of of NPD typically involves long-term psychotherapy with a therapist that has experience in treating this kind of personality disorder - etc. Professionals must convey a feeling of respect, and acknowledge the patient's sense of self-importance. This is so that the patient can establish a coherent sense of self and improve the self-confidence. The treating clinician must also avoid reinforcing either pathologic grandiosity (which may contribute to denial of illness) or weakness (which frightens the patient).

When treating, attention should be paid to the consequences of removing symptoms in a patient whose underlying character is primitive and or fragile. One has to help the individual develop stronger self-esteem.

The therapist must be aware that the patient may not be able to acknowledge the real humanness of the therapist but may have to see him/her as either superhuman or devalued.

Goals for ordinary psychotherapy should not be too great, since the source of these patients' difficulties lies deep.

Group therapy. The goals of group therapy are to help the patient develop a healthy individuality (rather than a resilient narcissism) so that he or she can acknowledge others as separate persons, and to decrease the need for self-defeating coping mechanisms.

Empathy brings surprise and hurt experiences as a result of confrontations within the group. Mind the group need to control destructive behavior regardless of ego weakness. In groups, the therapist is less authoritative (and less threatening to the patient's grandiosity); intensity of emotional experience is lessened; and regression is more controlled, creating a better setting for confrontation and clarification.

Outpatient analytic-expressive group therapy requires an individual, somewhat supportive relationship for most patients. They are perhaps leaving the group at the first sign of psychic insult, and prone to disorganised thinking. They are are seeking to maintaining a sense of self-worth - call it self-esteem - or hanker after it.

Two good sources

◦Link 1 -- ◦Link 2

Relating the material to Erikson and Maslow's theories

If asked to postulate something indiscreet in addition here, here is something:

Related to Erik Erikson. I would watch out for early traces in Erik H. Erikson's 4th stage of competency development, around 12 years or so, and see what psychosocial competence has withered, more or less.

Also from the 5th stage, I would try to see if any role models were there, or all absent. More important still, did the person in that id-stage try be oneself and hold on to being oneself? Otherwise, feigned loyalty is sallow counterfeit for true loyalty. Fanatic drives may result.

It builds up and becomes manifest in time as the outer conditions allow for it. Manifest symptoms may become really visible or annoying in or from the 6th stage (the 20s), where the person may seek isolation, seek to lose oneself in someone or something else, being quite obsessed with something, such as a wrong "God's cause". True love and partners to be gained are contrasted with sham exclusivity, or promiscuous love, and an overall cultish take.

Related to Maslow. In Abraham Maslow's overall survey, as summed up through his pyramid of needs, failed, old self-actualisation drives may become a crucial matter to handle above lack of esteem and lack of self-esteem, possibly. Being oneself and doing things that feel pressing from within - if failed, may give rise to hurts - lots of hurts or damages to handle for one's life.


Narcissism of Cultism

For some cult members

If a church society was called a cult by a late editor-in-chief in it, you need good proof to avoid becoming a victim of hearsay. (1) There are official and semi-official papers to struggle with. If many trusted, official sources say "cult" or "sect", it is not enough. If one or two say "cult", it is still not enough. It may not quite do to label a society a cult or classify it as a cult, for opinions vary, and there is a need to clarify the marks or signs of cults (their main criteria and other, possible criteria). For example, see what you get out of a [◦Belgian list of movements, including cults and sects]

Regardless, there are some marks or criteria that tend to reveal if a religious or semi-religious group is a cult or hardly so. Given that, there may be a need to discern between hard cults and more mellow ones - that is, a need to classify or grade cults. The large society is no model of perfection either, and may be bad.

The average-looking person may not be a paragon of virtues either, or a good standard to compare with. "Look to the best persons, not to the most of them" (Norwegian proverb)." Many have commented on that last point, including the drs Erich Fromm and Abraham Maslow. Maslow (1987, Chap. 11) found the cream fellows were not all average, and called them plus-variants. The Bell curve (also called Gauss curve) suggests how he idealised such matters.

Different people evaluate a church society differently, like it or not. The best way to make guesses is to go to the cult criteria, and weigh them discerningly - at the very least by responding "yes or "no" or uncertain" to the criteria, and then see how many main cult criteria a church meet. If you do, and the church is old, refrain from rocking your boat, refrain from making big waves for your own sake, or for the sake of your family. Consider what the church might do to you. It could ostracise you, and split your family. So by all means try to count the possible cost of "crying wolf" in this way.

Is Self-Realization Fellowship Church (SRF) a Good Cult?

SRF was registered as a church in California, by Swami Yogananda in late March, 1935. Between 200 and 2005, one third of the monastics working in it, left it. Lola Williamson has described the background for it in Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion (2010):

A labyrinth of difficulties beset the organization . . . there was so much bad feeling. . . . SRF hire[d] outside communication and organizational consultants to offer advice . . . Two new committees . . . were formed to execute the suggestions made by the consultants. This was the beginning of a split among the monks and nuns who resided at the Mother Center. Some viewed the promise of change with exhilaration and hope; and some viewed it with fear. The end result was that a large number of monastics left SRF from about 2000 to 2001. Due to the entrenched resistance to change, the communication consultants were let go . . ." (Williamson 2010:76)

One is to look beneath the hood at times. If the engine is full of skirmishes, the car may not be worth buying, no matter how polished it may be. Consider if the price is reasonable, at any rate. A contract that includes "life-long devotion and more" may not be part of a wise deal. [More]

One may also come to discern:

  1. - between (a) the content and (b) its wrapping, that is, between the book and the cover. The wrapping may be fine-sounding words and phrases, public ceremonies and dressing, and symbols used. The content are the internal criteria of cults, its rigging.

  2. Then there are members - how are cult members, if we can find any? Narcissist factors may be taken into account, and a factor called blinding should be taken into account as well - but it is not on the list. You may study it in private, for that matter.
To the degree the SRF church is a cult beneath the hood, the narcissism points 2, 3, 5, 8, and 9 (below) could be latent or at work in the open for many members. It depends a lot on who and how you are too; not just those in charge. There are some narcissist factors one might want to investigate on top of several individual verdicts of former SRF monastics and other SRF members. The factors:

2. Fantasies of ideal love: In a hybrid church like SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship) a part of the liturgy revolves around crying to God Mother for her love - loving Mother God is part of its ritual. It may breed depressons and much else, and is quite an example and may reveal exclusiveness of attitutes (cf. point 9) in some in addition.

3. Being unique and of a high class with its associations: It is taught in SRF that those who get initiated are specially favoured, have particularly good karma, and most others may have to be left outside of those much favoured circles, maybe for lifetimes.

The idea of staying away from others is taken so far in monastic circles as they tend to retire from contact with lay members. A previous leader of SRF, Daya Mata (1914-2010), also lived in another place than most SRF monastics for thirty years without their knowing (!). After those news broke out, one third of the SRF monastics left the premises too for some reason or other. [More]

5. Self-entitlement compliance: The founding guru entitled his own gurus "divine descensions", avatars, and Christs, and members comply with such titles "up in the clouds." Big titles on hollow legs may be bad if overblown or untrue. It is far easier to claim than to substantiate or verify properly. That is where the problem lies to some, after being gullible in the first place.

7. Recognising feelings of others outside - maybe or not. There may be dilemmas in sticking to the regulated way of life (boss-given) even though it hurts one's mate. That sort of ruthlessness may be found, and loss of much frivolity. [More]

8. May be envious of others who live freely, are free to doubt and think freely, have sex copiously and not as guru-advised, and so on.

9. Arrogant attitudes: It depends. Arrogance and painful shame and insecurity go together in a narcissist. There are two sides of the coin. Delight in living may suffer for it.

All right evidence can be hard to come by

It is rarely fit for a layperson to denounce others and groups of others as narcissists or narcisstic. It might backfire: that is one reason for not sticking one's neck out far too much. In general it pays a lot to be polite. One may get or have suspicions, but suspicions are not good evidence. Evidence of psychological traits or disorders can be tough to get to. It might requires much discernment, lots of good schooling, and much practice of such a mind-craft (educated guesswork, aided by lists of characteristics that are sorted and weighed ad lib, so to speak. Given that, suspicions are one thing, and proof another.

One ought to consider that cult and sect members by and by may get turned into narcissists if they were not in the first place. There is also a chance that some cult members were narcissists before entering the group of their choice, led by propaganda or something. However, gullibility and tomfoolery may account for lots in these waters too.

What do we do with narcissists?

"Nothing," unless you are a therapist, is a decent answer. (Cf. the previous section). Have space between you and them accordingly. In that way you do not learn a lot about them either, and may not get good chances to correct possible wrong views. Thus a taller answer: "It depends also on who we are, and lots of other things. But it may help to be informed, and perhaps to stir gently."

Narcissism, narcissists, Literature  

Lunbeck, Elizabeth. 2014. The Americanization of Narcissism. London: Harvard University Press. ⍽▢⍽ American social critics have seized on narcissism as the sickness of the age, regarding Americans as greedy, shallow, and self-indulgent. Professor Lunbech gives the social critics much space in her book, and describes changed cultural values in the USA over some forty years, changes toward hedonism, consumerism and selfishness. A clue: Capitalism thrives on narcissism.
    To a clinician, on the other hand, narcissism describes a person with an illness described in the diagnostic manual of mental disorders (DSM), That difference in the main uses of 'narcissism' ought to be clear.
    In the USA and its too culture-copying "vassal states", a healthy ecological perspective is needed above corporate greed, shortsighted, abusive egotism.

Maslow, Abraham. 1987. Motivation and Personality. 3rd ed. New York, HarperCollins (1954). ⍽▢⍽ Perhaps the best known work on human needs. Dr Maslow writes as an academic, and all may not be easy to understand. But the cores that Maslow got to stand out for posterity. He is famous for his postulated, pyramid-shaped hierarchy-layered survey human needs; they span from basic physical needs at the bottom of he pyramid to self-actualising needs at the top. For people to thrive and actualise themselves welll, a health-fostering culture with a a safe, nurturing environment for children must be formed to the end that people can express inherent proclivities far better and thereby become holistically healthier, if not greatly healthy or self-actualising. A point, the more you deviate from the average, the rarer you are, and the more difficulties you may get in fitting in. "In certain basic ways [the self-actualized person] is like an alien in a strange land. Very few really understand him, however much they may like him." (Ch. 11) It may not be so bad if like attracts like, for such healthy ones are also good examples of what man and woman might become. Basic: The average is not a fulfilling norm of human health, for people are individual, and to the degree they express it, they deviate from their group(s). Accept it as you would accept getting old, thinking "The alternative may not be as good."

Morrison, James. 2014. DSM Made Easy: The Clinician's Guide to Diagnosis. London: The Guilford Press. ⍽▢⍽ From the book: Narcissistic."These people are self-important and often preoccupied with envy, fantasies of success, or ruminations about the uniqueness of their own problems. Their sense of entitlement and lack of compassion may cause them to take advantage of others. They vigorously reject criticism and need constant attention and admiration." (p. 529)

Ronningstam, Elsa. 2005. Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality. New York: Oxford University Press. ⍽▢⍽ It is no bad thing to understand their disorder somewhat, even though some clinicians hold there are productive narcissists who succeed well in life. Ronningstam's guide is for most part written for clinicians. It tells of a tug of war between brashness on the one hand and painful shame and insecurity on the other.

Williamson, Lola. 2010. Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion. London: New York University Press.

Yogananda, Paramhansa. 1946. Autobiography of a Yogi. 1st ed. New York: Philosophical Library.

Yogananda, Paramahansa;. 1980. Sayings of Paramahansa Yogananda. 4th ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

⸻. 1982. Man's Eternal Quest. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

⸻. 1993. The Divine Romance. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

⸻. 1997. Journey to Self-realization: Discovering the Gift of the Soul. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

⸻. 1998. Autobiography of a Yogi. 13th ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF).

Yogananda, Paramhansa. 2008. Whispers from Eternity. Ed. Kriyananda. 1st ed. Paperback. Nevada City: Crystal Clarity. Online.

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