Updated: Feb 15, 2022
I watched the latest Red Table Talk episode on Narcissism. (The clip of a covert narcissist made me cringe because that was me). I wrote “I Ego You”, a blog exploring the idea of myself as a covert narcissist. I could see the narcissists around me, but not in me. This makes sense given that I live in what bell hooks calls, “a culture of narcissism”.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5) published in 2013, The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as: “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts” (658). In order to be diagnosed with clinical NPD the APA requires that individuals exhibit five or more of these nine criteria: 1) grandiose sense of self-importance; 2) preoccupation with fantasies of power and success; 3) that one believes that they are special and unique and should therefore be catered to as such; 4) a need for excessive admiration; 5) unreasonable entitlement; 6) tendency to exploit and take advantage of others; 7) lack of empathy; 8) a tendency to be envious of others, and 9) arrogance.
Of course, it needs to be noted that additional conditions are required in order to diagnose clinical NPD. Contrary to popular belief the majority of people we call narcissists are actually not clinically narcissistic. According to the APA, prevalence rates for NPD range from 0% to 6.2% of those sampled. The APA is very clear about any personality disorder needing to “deviate markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture.” Herein lies my cultural critique of NPD. If any of these five traits (or more) are required for a clinical diagnosis, but in North America, it is culturally acceptable to exhibit all nine of these traits, can any one of us be said to “deviate markedly from the expectations of the culture?” While these conditions may be “abnormal” under a different set of cultural circumstances and different environments, they are totally normal given our North American cultural context.
Many of us say we were raised by narcissistic parents or that our partners are. Surely, we can't be naive enough to think we also didn't adopt some of those same insecurities and coping mechanisms. Even as a defense mechanism to survive. It's unrealistic and why most empaths also have some narcissistic traits. It’s different sides of the same coin. I've heard others like Maryam Hasnaa and Teal Swan say the same thing.
I now equate narcissism with white supremacy and shame. It’s what upholds it, how it functions best and most ruthlessly. It's in all of us, some more than others. At least that was true for me.
Attributing narcissism where it belongs is important. Because it's still mostly Black and Brown men who are classified as narcissistic. But we must acknowledge that for many non-white communities, it was white supremacy via colonialism and Christian missionaries that brought narcissistic traits.
It’s true that Asante culture had its own tendencies pre-contact, which I've also written about a little in, Asante First Contact; Colonialism Is Alive. Asante kings, elites, and military officials dominated and ruled by power rooted in so-called narcissistic traits. But rarely do we hold white supremacy accountable for these traits that will not change because white supremacy wasn't created in such a way that it would be easily destructed or crumble. They need gaslighting and blame to stay in power. Blame signals shame. Shame is tied to the insecurities we try to mask. We cannot talk about domination and power imbalance without talking about psychology.
Psychologist Dr. Ramani said something interesting in the episode. She said that narcissists will only ever consider changing when their lives fall apart. This has been true in my experience and why I feel that public shaming and canceling certain people can be productive. It wasn't until I was able to reflect on how others perceived me, that I was able to acknowledge any narcissistic traits in me. Even now, I'm paying attention to my dynamics when I feel desperate and hit rock bottom. I still want to manipulate and control others and the situation. But I'm self-aware. More people need to consider themselves narcissists. Self-awareness is so necessary. Owning up to our bad behavior so we can transmute and transform it, that too is decolonizing.
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Until next time, in solidarity.
Image Description: A Black woman stands for a selfie. She is wearing a Black halter-top with jeans, and a shower curtain can be seen in the background.