Narcissism is nothing new. However, the increase in narcissism among celebrities appears to be on the rise. Dr. Drew Pinsky, a medical doctor and addiction medicine specialist who works with and treats celebrities and their addictions, has written a book about the prevalence of narcissism in media and the impact that may have on those who look up to these people.
Narcissism is a personality characteristic and is also an official personality disorder according to the DSM-IV (the so-called bible for psychological diagnoses). Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder tend to present themselves with a grandiose sense of importance. They often believe they are superior to others and may only want to associate with other people that they believe are at their level. These individuals often lack remorse for others, and their feelings of empathy may be shallow. There are varying degrees of narcissism, from what is called “healthy narcissism” to extreme versions of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Healthy narcissism refers to a high level of self-esteem and sense of self-worth. It refers to the ability to put yourself first sometimes. But it does not mean that you have a lack of regard for the feelings and needs of others. Extreme narcissism, on the other hand, refers to individuals who exhibit many of the characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder demonstrate elitism. The person feels privileged and important above others (even if they do not have commensurate achievements). They often present with what is called “histrionic” features. They may be sexually seductive, enticing, glib and clever, and can be pathological liars.
Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder seem to have high levels of self-esteem but their view of themself as grandiose and important is actually serving to counteract deep feelings of inferiority. It is as if they are over-compensating by creating illusions of being superior, exceptional, and admirable. Some individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder will also demonstrate deficits in their conscience. They may be unscrupulous, deceptive, and amoral. Criminals with psychopathic traits frequently have extreme levels of narcissism. It is also often seen among celebrities and those in the entertainment business. These people may have no problem in stepping on others to get ahead. They may use relationships with others to advance their own careers and may switch from one partner to the next based on who has the highest status (or who raises their status by association).
What Dr. Drew and other researchers have found is that narcissism is very common among celebrities, especially reality stars. It seems that individuals with high levels of narcissism tend to be drawn to the spotlight. They are also often quite charming and likeable to others. However, this tendency for others to be drawn to them only lasts so long, as they tend to not make good mates. Being in a relationship with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be very painful. Imagine being in a relationship with someone who is only concerned with self-interest, who is unwilling to admit wrongs, and who is increasingly likely to cheat.
Research has found that narcissistic traits are highly correlated to an individual’s likelihood of cheating (Buss & Shackelford, 1997). Although narcissists may not openly scheme to exploit and take advantage of others, they often end up treating those they are in relationships with badly. People who are in relationships with them often feel depressed, demeaned and frustrated. For many people who are in a relationship with a narcissist an important step is to understand this personality style and then use the information to help you decide how much of a relationship you truly want to have with that person, to learn how to set limits with them and take care of their own needs. I have worked with people who have had parents with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and this often leads to low self-esteem in adulthood. A narcissistic parent can be very damaging. A good resource for those wanting to understand narcissism better is the book “Why Is It All About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism” by Sandy Hotchkiss, LCSW.
Once you begin to understand narcissism and how it manifests, you will become much more able to spot it in individuals in your life. You will also likely begin to recognize it in popular culture and media. You may begin to understand celebrity behavior and antics better. Hopefully, by seeing celebrity narcissism for what it is, we can begin to de-glamorize celebrity bad behavior and see it for what it really is.