Narcissism Looming Larger As Root of Personality WoesBy DANIEL GOLEMAN
Nov. 1, 1988: N.Y. Times
NARCISSISTS will be pleased to know that they now hold the fascination of psychotherapists more than ever. In fact, therapists are recognizing narcissism in more and more of their patients. The traits include an inflated sense of self-importance and an insatiable need to be the center of attention.
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While no one knows if the ranks of narcissists are truly growing or if the therapists are simply recognizing them more often, narcissism is increasingly being diagnosed as the underlying problem in patients who complain of other problems, such as an inability to sustain relationships or severe depression after minor failures on the job.
Along with the rising interest in treating those whose narcissism undermines their mental health is a growing appreciation of how ''healthy'' narcissism plays a major and useful role in the lives of successful people.
Psychoanalysts, for example, see signs of narcissism in the drive to receive adulation that powers the careers of sports and entertainment figures. But narcissism may also help explain those petty tyrants who run companies or offices as though they were totalitarian states.
While narcissism has been known since ancient times, and was described by Freud in his writings, diagnosis and treatment of the condition is now surging, particularly among therapists with a psychoanalytic orientation. Witness the attendance at a conference on treating narcissists to be held this weekend, sponsored by the psychiatry department of Massachusetts General Hospital.
''The course has been sold out for weeks,'' said Gerald Adler, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School who is one of the organizers. ''If we had more than double the room, we could fill it up.''
The course, for 450 people, is the hospital's third in three years on treating narcissism. Each has eventually sold out, but this year tickets become unavailable within weeks of the initial announcement, Dr. Adler said.
Why the intense interest? One reason is that narcissists are particularly hard to treat. They find it difficult to form the warm bond with a therapist that naturally evolves with most other patients. Instead, they often become cold or even enraged when a therapist fails to play along with their inflated sense of themselves.
''A narcissistic patient is likely at some point to attack or devalue the therapist,'' Dr. Adler said. ''It's hard to have to sit with such people in your office.''
But narcissism is not limited to the most extreme cases, who make their way to the therapists' office. Many psychoanalysts hold that a healthy adjustment and successful life is based to some degree on narcissism.