Thanks to marketing, social media and our own selfish nature, narcissism runs rampant. But is it (still) a mental disorder?
August 11, 2011
The American Psychiatric Association held their annual meeting in Honolulu last week. A primary objective for the group was outlining revisions to the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5. The book was last updated 20 years ago. Shrinks the world over use this manual for diagnosis, prescription information and countless other important matters. It’s like a bible of psychiatry.
According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, “among the myriad proposals now on the table (at the convention): reducing the number of specific personality disorders from 10 to five, a move that would eliminate the diagnosis of narcissistic disorder.” Narcissism has long been a marker for mental illness, including sociopathic behavior. In general, most societies view the behavior as a bad thing. Serial killers are said to be narcissists.
That said I think removing the classification is probably the right move. Like it or not, the world is full of narcissists. And the number is only increasing. I attribute this to two things in particular: social media and marketing.
Once we were just ordinary people. Joe from accounting. Sally, the girl next door. Minor roles in the grand scheme of things. Cogs in the proverbial wheel. But the new century changed all that. Our roles got bigger… better… and badder. Joe became a rock star. Sally a goddess. He’s got “fans.” And she has “followers.” We became main characters in the screenplay of our lives. Veritable movie stars! Now people, places and things revolve around us. Our names are like brand names, with images to think about. In other words, we became narcissists. Popular websites like Klout measure our “social currency,” giving each of us a score, which determines are sphere of influence. Basically it tabulates “fans” and “followers” and “likes.” Engagement is a major criteria. More is better. Therefore, Klout is but a measure of our narcissism.
That marketing feeds our desires for popularity, prestige and success is beyond debate. Of course it does. Sally wants to look more like Jane so she buys what Jane has. Jack wants to impress Joe so he drives a BMW. And so on.
Consider Apple: Imac, Ipod, Ipad, Iphone. We love “I.”
Ad copy has always played to our prurient desires, be they material or psychological. Most religions of the world consider that a sin. Whether or not that’s true is a broader discussion and one that we will all be having for the rest of our lives. Yet, while many of us are some kind of crazy we are likely not serial killers. Hence, I think it’s a good move for the APA to take narcissism off the punch list of mental disorders. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, what choice do they have?