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John Dunbar

Student Psychology Major,

TEDCRED 10+

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Is Narcissism at the root of all mental illness?

When we look at mental illness, maladaptive perceptions, attitudes, and behavior what common thread do we see? Is Narcissism at its core the reversion to a non social being? Has there been an increase in Narcissism in recent years? What do you think?

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  • Jun 5 2012: I can assure you that root of many if not most mental ilnesses is not Narcissism.

    There are numerous reasons for mentail illness, some of them include genetic predisposition, abuse, traumatic events, overwork and other.
    • Jun 5 2012: Yes Zdenek I understand that. I find your answer somewhat condescending and I don't think you read what I wrote underneath the original question. Of course all of the factors you listed are causes for mental illness and at the core you have the brain governing our reality hence you have the brain determining mental illness. What I was hoping for was a study or some sort of data on why people revert to non social beings and how this affects modern society. Is narcissism maladaptive or adaptive? Maybe I should have posed that as the question
      • Jun 5 2012: Brian can you please explain what do you mean by narcissism? Can you provide examples?

        "why people revert to non social beings"
        I find this to mean that people are mentally ill because they will become non-social beings?

        Cheers
        • Jun 5 2012: narcissism is a child like state In with they believe the objective world exists as an extension of the self, it does not exist independently(they seem to think the world revolves around them). It works as a defense due to shame and guilt over how a person unconsciously views themself. the mental process that occurs usually stems from two opposing aspects. narcissism can be created due to pampering and high expectations and it also occurs due to abuse and neglect. Both however seem to create similar attitudes and perceptions. Narcissism is normal in certain developmental states and for some reason child rearing from two opposing points seems to create an individual who has reverted to a child like self absorption. An example of narcissism would be an individual who sees themselves as a genius, when there is little evidence to back this claim up. Upon further viewing of this individual it would have to be evident that they are not psychotic and probably also believe other ideas about themselves that are equally grandiose and seemingly untrue. Another aspect is the individual will take half truths and run to the extreme with them. If a person is somewhat average looking and someone tells them they are very pretty, or handsome narcissists will take this in as a truth that they are extremely gorgeous or extremely handsome. This goes both ways and reactions would be similar to a remark that is taken as demeaning. There isn't much sense of an identity, in fact the identity would mostly be mediated by his or her peers. This can be said of many people, so when I use these examples, understand I mean them in the extreme form. To encapsulate, narcissism is a defense mechanism and a reversion to child like thought and behavior that works to feed the totally selfish aspect of personality. So I would say that narcissism is absolutely a reversion to a person who is no longer working to make the world a better place but to serve his/her childlike impulses.
        • Jun 5 2012: In regards to your inference on "why people revert to non social beings", i am not really sure how you gathered that I meant people would become mentally ill because they will become non social beings. What I was saying has to do with becoming an individual who only seeks to serve his impulses. How does this happen and what are the implications? Sometimes when you write something it can be difficult to make sure it is perceived the way you would like it to be. Sorry about the confusion, I think when I posed this question it was my first time on Ted and probably misled people about what i was really after. In the future I will do my best to fully describe what it is that I am talking about.
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        Jun 5 2012: Brian, NPD only effects 1% of the population. I would harly consider that the root of all mental illnesses. Your thoughts that others are condescending ... and that they either did not read or understand what you wrote .... are quite interesting.

        As you have said, you are a student, psych major. And now a question that is certain to make you angry at me but please think about the answer ... this is personal to you and no reply is expected. Did you make this post to demonstrate your superior knowledge. That is what your responses tell me.

        To make fun and degrade TED members is not the purpose of the site. I like these people. I do not always agree with them but we disagree with respect.

        If you wish to continue this go to my profile and send a e-mail.
        • Jun 6 2012: I in know way meant to degrade anybody. As i stated in one of my replies this is my third day on ted. I posted the question because I wanted to see if I could get some hard data on some facts in relation to narcissism, this obviously back fired. I joined TED in the hopes that I could learn as well as share some ideas that will progress society. The answer to your question "did i post this to show my superior knowledge" I've considered it and there may be some truth in that. However for you try and scold me on this post then tell me to only reply in an email to you I find to be a little ridiculous. But I also see that the point of TED is not to hash out who is more intelligent or who has a bigger ego. So I will respectfully say that your point has been taken. Again, I think I posed the wrong question here, I was hoping for a different response but upon further inspection, I understand that at first glance the answer to this question is absolutely what I have received so far. To honor the idea of TED, which i have nothing but admiration for, I apologize if I was rude and concede that I have shown some arrogance in my discourses on this topic.
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        Jun 6 2012: Brian, Thank you for your reply. There is always room for another fellow TEDster. I expect to converse with you often. All the best. Bob
      • Jun 6 2012: Brian you explained in detail narcissism however I am still confused how that directly relates to mental illness? Why do you think narcissism is the root of all mental illnesses when, for example, people become mentally ill because they experienced a tragedy or trauma, they are predisposed to mental illness or they otherwise injured their brain? In all these cases the people can be very social, concerned about others etc?

        Is it possible that once you become mentally ill you might become more involved in thoughts about yourself rather than the other way around?

        I think TED provides some great discussions for people to participate in even thou occasionally there is some misunderstanding. I hope you continue to enjoy TED. For some very specific questions in your field you might want to also look for forums purely oriented in your field of study.

        cheers
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    Jun 6 2012: Narcissism is not at the root of all mental illness. Our fallacies centered on different level of arrogance.
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    • Jun 5 2012: I could also argue that in an attempt to control thoughts you can develop a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. Its far better to accept your thoughts and know that some of them just don't matter. Of course Zdenek is right, I wasn't asking where mental illness comes from I could find the answer to that in far easier ways than posing a question on Ted. Yes narcissism is a very strong word but I only ask because of the unbelievable commonality of it. Having grown up in a suburb 40 minutes from Boston The amount of narcissism I saw and still currently see is nothing short of scary. And yes I mean narcissism not just normal selfish behavior. Im talking about the full embrace of a false idealized self, jersey shore emulation.
      I also want to bring up the amount of narcissism seen in paranoid delusions, drug addiction, Bipolar Disorder(especially in the manic state), OCD has its features (to believe that you can control the objective world by completing ritual), the point I'm making is that narcissism seems to poke its head out in many disorders of course you could never attribute this to just narcissism. But maybe there is some correlate to mental illness and the reversion to an Id controlled mind.
  • Jun 5 2012: Narcissism is an ugly little buzz word which is too often misused to demonize someone which is perceived to behave in an exaggerated self-serving way.

    There have been many conversations lately posing the question; "is there such a thing as a selfless act". This is a question because ultimately everything we do is self motivated in one way or another.

    If there is an inner world which is our mind and an outer world in which we act physically, every physical act is designed deliberately to have some desired effect. What is less important that the effect on the outer world is the effect on the inner world because unwittingly that is what we are trying to effect. If we are hungry, we feel bad so we eat to feel better. If we see someone hurting, we empatheticly feel their pain so we try to help them. In either case the reality is that the act is designed to effect the emotional state of the one acting.

    If someone is behaving in an anti-social or outwardly destructive way, it might be easy to assume that they are just selfish and you'd be right since everyone is but you wouldn't have any kind of useful insight into what their mental illness actually is.
    • Jun 5 2012: Ok so everyone at the end of the day is self serving, of course, but thats why the term narcissism in the clinical sense exists. There are varying degrees of this and yes if someone is selfish enough they are narcissistic. To say that narcissism does not exist because everyone is self serving is to say that over eating does not exist because we all eat. The point is healthy perception of the self and narcissism sits on the opposite side of the spectrum there. Narcissists are hopelessly obsessed with fame,beauty,brilliance, wealth, and status. We all want those things to a degree but at no point does the normal person embrace the delusion that this is true. Yes if someone is acting out in a self destructive manner you don't have much insight as to what the underlying problem may be. But I can assure you that selfish behavior does go hand in hand with narcissism and pathological selfish behavior does co exist with most criminal behavior. Why has this happened? there are a million reasons but this doesn't change the fact that the end result is narcissism and Im wondering why we seem to return to a non social being that seeks for the self ruthlessly if we are social creatures.
      • Jun 6 2012: I don't just mean that everyone is selfish sometimes, I mean everyone is selfish all the time.

        We each have our own value system and it's this value system which defines how we express our self serving behavior.

        Maybe I'm just being pedantic about definition, ultimately, despite using different words, I would guess that we each are trying to say something very similar.

        I would guess that that an obsession with fame and fortune comes from a strong emotional need for validation and a belief that fame and fortune is the best proof of true greatness.

        Everyone has a desire for validation and everyone has their own personal opinion of what matters and if someone has such strong and specific beliefs and desires that they are hurting themselves and the people around them then there is a problem.

        You can say that it is due to narcissism and that it is a matter of varying degrees but I think it's very important to try to understand the more specific pathology.

        You probably could say that a lot of mental illnesses are an expression of narcissism and if that is all you mean to suggest then I can accept that but I do still have a problem with the word narcissism and how it is popularly used and thrown around.

        I believe that most people who use a word like narcissism are doing so to influence the audience and give them a sense that the target is somehow morally wrong or inferior.
        • Jun 6 2012: Luke, I couldn't agree more. It is a term that usually devalues a person by reducing them to a selfish, hedonistic, low life. It is commonly used by demagogues and does not take the point you make about the nature of people into account. The point I am making is that narcissism seems to be one of the threads that connect many mental disorders. Self preservative narcissistic features seem to safe guard the individual from unconscious conflicts mainly dealing with identity. Someone afflicted with this should not be seen as a morlock but more so just someone who needs help. Main stream use of the word has devalued its actual meaning. My question follows the train of thought that Sigmund Freud produced, when he wrote Beyond the Pleasure Principle. The question is, if people experience a life and death drive, where one aspect seeks to replicate life and be social and one part seeks to return to its original state of matter, where does narcissism fit on the scale? Were humans at one point asocial animals while undergoing the evolutionary process?
        • Timo X

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          Jun 7 2012: I do not think you are being pedantic Luke, I think you are being concise. Brian sees a narcissism as a central theme to all mental disorders. But none of the various definitions he offered (e.g. self-aggrandizement, excessive egotism, natural developmental state of children, subconscious defense mechanism against identity crises, solipsism) fit with that idea.

          For example, how does narcissism explain depression, which is often characterized by low self-esteem? How does narcissism explain phobias, hallucinations, psychosis, etc.? Of course, the definition of narcissism can be changed into 'a central theme that is the root of all other mental illnesses', but then it will mean even less than it does now. As it stands, there is a whole host of mental disorders that have absolutely nothing to do with narcissism.