Over a hundred years since Freud published his seminal 1914 essay “On Narcissism,” public discourse about narcissism seems to have reached an all-time high, crashing across our mass consciousness like a tsunami.

The Rising Cacophony of Narc Talk

Thanks to the Internet and social media, rapid-fire sharing of our individual and collective experience is unprecedented in the history of humanity. Sure, we talk a lot about a lot of things, but lately it seems the subject of narcissism pops up everywhere.

From the pages of science journals to dating magazines, major news outlets to blogs, daily newspapers to university weeklies, narc talk is a rising cacophony. Just in the last few days alone, articles about narcissism have appeared in high-profile outlets such as New York Magazine, NPR, HuffPost, and The Nation to obscure sideliners like Ancient Faith Ministries, MilTech, First Wives World, and Durham Research Online, as well as everything in between. Meanwhile on Quora, a massive crowdsharing information website, there are thousands of questions about narcissism and exponentially more answers, from a range of professional “experts” to seasoned survivors.

Why? One reason is Donald Trump. Assertions that our POTUS exhibits a textbook case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are everywhere. Violating longstanding ethical code, to date over 55,500 mental health professionals have signed a petition calling for Trump’s removal from office because of his “mental unfitness” for office.

Malignant Narcissists Versus Psychopaths

Whatever you believe about Trump, the larger reason so many of us are talking about narcissism is that it is flat-out hellfire on Earth, arguably worse than psychopathy.

Thanks in part to depictions like Silence of the Lambs (RIP Jonathan Demme), as a society we’ve developed a terror of the psychopath as a ruthlessly unfeeling human mutation who preys on others out of boredom and thrill-seeking. But the reality is that compared to hardcore narcissists, psychopaths generally, with glaring exceptions, do their own thing because they do not need others.

The person with NPD, in contrast, is defined by his parasitic need to feed on others for self-definition and self-worth. Deprived of formative validation as a young child, he has a fundamental reliance on others for psycho-emotional sustenance. The malignant narcissist’s primitive craving for validation combined with a pathologically infantile lack of empathy for others make him a highly predatory personality who operates outside the moral code (aka The Golden Rule) that most of us strive to live by: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Why So Many of Us Are Talking About Narcissism

With an estimated 6.2 percent of Americans impaired with NPD, most of us are touched by this profound personality disorder, whether among family, lovers, friends, and/or colleagues. And the reason we need to talk about it is that, despite its notoriety, it remains insidiously hidden while at once intensely traumatic to be around.

A defining characteristic of NPD is extreme abuse and manipulation that is calculatingly shuttered from outside view. Narcissistic abuse rears its ugly head in politics and business, but its roots are domestic, making it a family scourge that traumatizes childrenspouses, and other relatives on an erosive daily basis. Because the narcissist personality is dependent on others for “narcissistic supply,” she seeks out relationships and subjects “loved ones” to a classic pattern of idealization, devaluation, and, often, discard. The narcissist who stays with a relationship typically wreaks long-term damage on her family, treating them to all manner of abusive manipulation to protect her false face.

To hide his feelings of inferiority from the world and, more importantly, from himself, the narcissist enlists those closest to him in sustaining his mask of superiority and entitlement. Because of his hypersensitivity and vulnerability to exposure, he continuously shields himself from injury by preemptively attacking others. Anyone he perceives as a threat to his constructed reality is fair game for abuse, which takes countless forms, from smear campaigns and gaslighting (making you think you’re crazy) to projection, rage, and outright violence.

To those who haven’t experienced narcissistic abuse firsthand, it is unimaginable and typically diminished or altogether dismissed. Even most trained mental health practitioners do not understand narcissism and its devastating impact. Again, this is because the narcissist operates outside of normative moral boundaries, severely lacking or altogether devoid of compassion, oftentimes sadistically inclined, and an expert student of human vulnerability and exploitation.

Julie L. Hall’s articles on narcissism regularly appear in The HuffPostPsychCentral, NYMedTimes, SmartNews, and YourTango. She is the author of two forthcoming books: a psychology book about narcissistic family dynamics and a memoir about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissistic family (read excerpts). 

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Image courtesy of Renegade98, Creative Commons.