On The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism

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In The Selfishness of Others, Kristen Dombek asks some real questions about the “narcissism epidemic.”  She wants to get to the bottom of how we got to a time when according to many health professionals, there are “more narcissists today living in the United States than at any other time, with the millennial generation leading the pack.” Even more provocative, she ultimately explores – is this epidemic even real to begin with?

Is it real?

I went into this essay in small book form thinking yes. I’ve read books by respected psychologists on this topic and have found it engrossing…and disturbing. One book, The Narcissism Epidemic, by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, has received quite a bit of recognition as an “eye-opening exposition of the alarming rise of narcissism and its catastrophic effects at every level of society.”

narcissism
Sigmund Freud

In her essay, Dombek does an eye opening exposition of her own. She takes us back to when narcissism became labeled as a personality disorder, including early thinkers on it like German psychiatrist Paul Nacke, Otto Rank, and Freud. With Freud, we learn about how his own unresolved issues drove how he defined and treated it.

She details how and why analysts and philosophers disagreed with Freud’s theories on what narcissism is and how to rid people of it. Dombek also discusses how the psychologist community has debated its understanding of “extraordinary self-absorption,” including the theories and psychological methods of analysts Otto Kerberg and Heinz Kohut to overcome it. She goes further, and treads on what we don’t hear a lot about when it comes to the study of narcissism: how many case studies have had a host of problems with how they were carried out.

Other problems include sample groups who have taken the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, and how the scores have been analyzed over the years and interpreted.  We get intricacy on why some people in the field believe “there is more work to do to verify whether we know what we think we know.”

Her Questions End with Questions

Ultimately, the questions Dombek seeks to answer end with questions. She wants us to see that when we look hard at it, many questions have just not been answered when it comes to this “complex storm” called narcissism.

Not only does Dombek shine light on why we should question this ‘epidemic,’ she challenges readers. To get to the truth of the dynamics of narcissism, she talks about why we need to go beyond just looking at the narcissistic ‘bad guy’ – we also need to look at ourselves. While easier to blame the narcissistic villain, she leaves us to contemplate how in relationships, it takes two to do this particular tango.

One thing for sure, after reading Dombek’s piece, in the future, when you read about the narcissism epidemic, you’ll do so in a wiser way.

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