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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Clarifying and Understanding Those With Narcissism

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 7th 2011

Clarifying and Understanding Those With NarcissismAll of us need some narcissism or self love and self acceptance in order to live and function. Without it none of us would have any ambition or the drive to work and love others. However, too much self love is a problem that stands on its own.

The Myth of Narcissus:

This is a tragic myth about Echo and Narcissus. Basically, Echo, a beautiful young nymph, falls in love with Narcissus, an equally handsome young hunter. However, Echo cannot communicate with him, except to respond with the last word that he has spoken. The reason is that Juno, the Goddess, has set this as a punishment for Echo's betrayal. When Echo tries to respond to Narcissus' calls, he cruelly rejects her.
Echo then fades away.

Narcissus goes on to reject another nymph who prays to Juno to punish him for his cruelty. She hears the call and sets the punishment. Narcissus, when out hunting, comes across a beautiful body of water not knowing it's his reflection. Hungry and thirsty, he bends down to drink, sees a beautiful image in the water and, without knowing it is his own image, falls in love. But, when he reaches down to kiss the image of himself, it vanishes, only to return a few moments later. This happens repeatedly as Narcissus pines away and dies.

You can read a full version of this myth, as well as others, at a web site called the Mythology Guide. The URL for Narcissus and Echo is:

This myth is actually sad and tragic. Neither Echo or Narcissus gets what they desperately seek. Echo lies to Juno and is manipulative. Narcissus is cruel and suffers the consequences of self love without regard for others.

How is it that Narcissus, loved by Echo and all of the other nymphs, cannot really appreciate the real meaning of being loved by others?

One of the answers lies in the works of one of the brilliant psychiatrists and psychoanalysts of the late twentieth century, Heinz Kohut. Kohut is renowned for his work on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Narcissistic Personality Disorder(NPD)is defined as:

"A mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings."

Symptoms of NPD:

1. Believing that you are better than others.
2. Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness.
3. Exaggerating your achievements.
4. Expecting constant praise and admiration.
5. Believing that you are special and acting accordingly.
6. Failing to recognize other people's feelings.
7. Expecting others to go along with and agree with you.
8. Taking advantage of others.
9. Expressing disdain for those you believe are inferior. 
10. Trouble keeping healthy relationships. 
11. Being easily hurt and rejected.
12. Having a fragile self-esteem even though you may appear as tough-minded or unemotional. 

In other words, behind the mask of ultra-self confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that is vulnerable to the slightest criticism. This fragile self esteem includes self hatred, loneliness and a hidden depression.

In those cases where patients presented with this personality disorder I was aware of sensing an over-whelming inner emptiness, loneliness and fragility. Of course, one of the symptoms that helped me hypothesize that a new patient had this personality disorder was that, initially, I felt a sense of inferiority and that this individual appeared to me to be very arrogant.

Most often the reason they were seeking psychotherapy was either a relationship that was in deep trouble or serious problems at work that jeopardized their careers.

There is no doubt that being around someone with narcissistic personality disorder is difficult and unpleasant. Yet, it is also important to remember that these people are actually in very bad shape. Even if they become very successful at first, they usually end up foundering on the rocks and sinking into defeat.

Your questions and comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD






Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

relationship.unanswered questions - POKvlp - Jul 10th 2013

how do i understand that this could be a mental illness for him, yet get on with my life after i've been so involved, trusting and loving him completely. I am completely consumed with loss right now.

Chicken and the Egg? - Cathy - Sep 7th 2011

I have seen more than a few people where narcissism was ruling their being.  Reading the article though, I thought it was sort of like which came first, the chicken or the egg in that with the personality traits that they have, it would only be expected that they would be lonely, depressed, etc.  Really, I have seen this discussed and you will have a very hard time getting someone to believe that the narcissist that they live with is deep down insecure and filled with self-hatred.  I don't buy that for one minute either.  I say, the narcissism causes the loneliness, the depression, etc.  because, like how undesirable are those traits?  Think about it. 

Toward improvement in understanding? - - Sep 7th 2011

It is my hope that the proposed DSM V definition of personality disorder will help people, including those in the “helping professions”, look at folks beset with personality disorders in terms of their functional deficits rather than just their social ones.

I'd like to see therapies increase their focus on helping us to develop a coherent sense of self -- and other.  But even though that's probably been a unconscious/unquestioned adaptation for "normals", it is not so normal for us.  I sometimes feel like I have to break bones that have set wrong in order to get things straightened out.  Skills training helps, but is not sufficient.  If/when there are therapies that have some good promise of improvement in a reasonable time frame, I think lots of folks with personality disorder will be glad go for it.  Of course, I probably had OCPD, not NPD, but I think my father probably had NPD.  And I know/understand the inner emptiness and vacuum.

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