Within the last 10 years, social media has pounced all over narcissism and psychopathy. Once conditions relatively unheard of outside of academia, social media interest in narcissism and psychopathy has exploded exponentially and self-proclaimed narcissism and psychopath experts, life coaches (myself included), counsellors and survivors seem to populate social media with their insights, opinions and stories. Much of the credit for transferring the concepts of narcissism and psychopathy from academia to everyday discourse needs to go to Israeli writer Sam Vaknin. Mr Vaknin is a self-proclaimed narcissist who first began to publish material on the internet and YouTube about narcissism, narcissists, narcissistic abuse and psychopathy in the mid 90’s. Mr Vaknin is responsible for popularising terms such as narcissistic abuse, no contact, narcissistic pathologized space, inverted narcissist and cold empathy along with redefining old and outdated terms such as narcissistic supply, narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury to name just a few. Unsurprisingly, Sam Vaknin receives very little credit from social media pundits for his 20 plus years of documenting and describing narcissists and psychopaths.
With this in mind, the current social media trend seems to be focused on displaying the ‘evil’ and ‘injurious’ sides of narcissism and psychopathy. The animosity and hatred towards narcissists, narcissism and psychopathy may be driving the disorders underground. Outside of academia, there is very, very little information being disseminated about healthy narcissism or pro-social psychopathy. Narcissism, in its healthy form, is a core component of healthy personality development. Without narcissism, one cannot adequately develop self-esteem or a sense of self-worth. I have discussed healthy narcissism briefly in my article Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most narcissistic of them all? Likewise, there are only a few authors (Andy McNab) and academics (Kevin Dutton, James Fallon) willing to buck the ‘psychopaths and narcissists are evil’ trend and discuss the pro-social aspects of psychopathy and narcissism and the positive effects these pro-social aspects have on society.
Sadly though, the majority of narcissist and psychopath experts, life coaches, counsellors and survivors preach a ‘do not go anywhere near’, ‘do not procreate’, ‘do not empathise’, ‘they have nothing positive to contribute to society’, ‘they can never be healed so never give them a chance’ mentality. This is the exact mentality behind the eugenics movements of the 30’s and 40’s. The eugenics movements in both the United States and Germany (in addition to other countries) was motivated by the desire to ‘breed out’ the undesirable traits/disabilities from the human population. The eugenics movement erroneously and unjustly preached that individuals with disabilities had no social worth and should therefore be eliminated or sterilised to prevent them from procreating and spreading their inflictions to new generations. The disabled were considered a burden on taxpayers and society. Individuals with disabilities such as Downs Syndrome for example were excluded from gaining employment and were generally ostracised from society. It was not until the early 2000’s if not a little earlier that disabilities and people with disabilities were re-integrated and accepted into society. Anti-discrimination laws were designed and applied to greater protect those with disabilities. Incentive and training programs were designed to help individuals with disabilities to gain employment and function within society. Australia rolled out the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2016. This scheme aims to provide all Australians who acquire a permanent disability before the age of 65 which substantially impacts how they manage everyday activities with the reasonable and necessary supports they need to live an ordinary life.
There is no doubting the negative aspects of narcissism and psychopathy. Scientific and clinical research has demonstrated unequivocally that narcissism and psychopathy have a negative impact on society in many ways. Psychopaths are 20 times more likely than non-psychopaths to reoffend if released from prison. Whilst I do not have all the answers, I would like to pose a few possibilities;
1. Would it be better for society to normalise narcissism and psychopathy in order to reduce the stigma and motivate more people with the conditions to seek out therapy without fear of shame?
2. Should society as a whole be responsible for continually providing a narcissist and psychopath, once they have been diagnosed as such, and regardless of whether they have or have not committed a crime, with immediate rewards and positive reinforcement (i.e., the job of their choice, a car if they want it, no interest loans, etc), so as to encourage them to engage in more pro-social behaviours with lifetime incarceration only occurring as the last resort?
3. Should primary schools implement a curriculum centred around narcissism and psychopathy and teach students not only about the conditions themselves but how to protect themselves from such personality styles? Classroom topics could be based around boundary setting, spotting and avoiding manipulation, and learning how to become more assertive.
Hopefully this article can generate discussion and remind readers that there are always two sides of a coin.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA.
Dutton, K. (2012). The wisdom of psychopaths: What saints, spies, and serial killers can teach us about success. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Falkenbach, D. M., Howe, J. R., & Falki, M. (2013). Using self-esteem to disaggregate psychopathy, narcissism, and aggression. Personality and Individual Differences, 54(7), 815-820.
Fallon, J. H. (2013). The psychopath inside: A neuroscientist's personal journey into the dark side of the brain
Harris, G.T., Rice, M.E. & Cormier, C.A. Psychopathy and violent recidivism. Law Hum Behav 15, 625–637 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01065856
Perego Gaia, Di Mattei Valentina E. (2020). A New Framework for Narcissism in Health Psychology and Psycho-Oncology. Frontiers in Psychology (11), pages: 1182. https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01182
Pincus, A. L., & Lukowitsky, M. R. (2010). Pathological narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder. Annual review of clinical psychology, 6, 421-446.
McNab, A & Dutton, K. (2014). The Good Psychopath's Guide to Success. Transworld Publishers Limited. ISBN: 0593073991, 9780593073995
The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). https://www.ndis.gov.au/
Vaknin, S. (2001). Malignant self love: Narcissism revisited. Narcissus Publishing.