In Under the Banner of Heaven the main subject, Ron Lafferty, was diagnosed by one doctor with narcissistic personality disorder. NPD is distinguished by “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy…indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
- is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- 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)
- requires excessive admiration
- has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
“It has been estimated that 1 percent of the American population is afflicted with it…To a noteworthy degree narcissists fuel the cultural, spiritual, and economic engines of Western society. Many successful people are narcissistic, it’s especially prevalent among accomplished businessmen, attorneys, physicians, and academics. Such people have a sense of vast self-importance and believe they’re smarter and better than anybody else. They’re willing to work incredible hours to provide confirmation to support their grandiose ideas…On the other hand, it really impairs their ability for intimacy and closeness because they lack empathy, and can’t understand the importance of other people’s life experiences.”
A few things really stood out for me after reading this. First, it made think of Siebel co-founder Pat House’s remarks at the Stanford conference I went to in February. She came across as pretty egotistical and narcissistic and initially I was turned off. But thinking about it more, I think the excerpt above is right: most really successful people I know are narcissistic. As for myself, I think I exhibit some of the “symptoms” listed above. And one of my big character weaknesses is my reluctance for intimacy and closeness. Some kids my age say I have a shell.
I’d be interested in hearing from others who may exhibit certain narcissistic characteristics but do not hide behind it but rather embrace the fact that they’re part of the 1%.