Narcissisism – Successful People, Intimacy

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%.

5 comments on “Narcissisism – Successful People, Intimacy
  • I’ve learned to embrace being a selfish, self-centered bastard. By admitting that I’m an arrogant narcissist, I’m able to disarm critics, and then work from there to overcome my own self-reported deficiencies.

    It seems to be working, since many people actually seem to have a good opinion of me, but that may just be my narcissism talking!

    The point is that if you think big and dream big, the answer is not to rein yourself in. Rather, it is to embrace your natural tendencies and figure out how to make them work for you.


  • Your are very perceptive and self-aware for a young fella. I would say your initial perception about Pat House is on target. Siebel, in general, is a very arrogant organization. It is interesting to see them being humbled in the enterprise software marketplace. They face a very tough path. They will probably be acquired by someone before long.


  • Ben,

    I sincerely hope you focus on the word “most” people who are really successful are narcissistic. Seems to me a narcissistic person may find success which is both fleeting and unsatisfying.

    Eventually if they do not contemplate their ways, they will plunge into the lake as Narcissus did.

    That being said, I realize that I am at times, for example, preoccupied with unlimited success and beauty from an ideal love, which, ironically, starts with a self love. Although I strive towards love that is founded on self-acceptance, not self-importance. I’m not naive, I stray from the path, but believe that my actions are founded on something more powerful than narcissism.

    Finally, I gently and humbly suggest that you take the time to look into your reluctance to be intimate. You may discover you are no less reluctant than anyone else, you just happen to have a different way of acheiving that intimacy.

    If you are narcissistic, I’m an awful judge of character.


  • Yes i’m part of the 1%, and strange as it might sound i’m proud of it. I do not wish to be destructive, i wish to be successful. Therefor my wise therapist strokes my sensitive ego while channeling my energy on tasks that are uplifting and not destructive. I totally believe i can do good, since im not evil just indifferent. The only thing is that my qualities has to be channeled in that direction,and thats important. I realize thats its for my best interest to act good to become successful. This is better than acting bad, and become a criminal. My childish reflections are a great strength. Its effective. If you are a N, learn your weaknesses, and use them to your advantage, but act good! Remember that each child needs a parent, and that every N is just a child in heart. In my case (and should be in all Ns lifes..) my parent is my therapist. Good luck, corporate man.

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