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Mindful : February 2018
Narcissism has fascinated and bedeviled researchers for decades. While people encountering them may consider it a disorder, narcissists themselves are quite content with their gargantuan self-regard. Joshua Miller was just starting out as a clinical psychologist at a treatment center for addiction when a new patient sauntered into his office. People with addictions often have other disorders, so Miller was prepared for anything. “The first time we met, he put his feet up on my desk,” said Miller, now a professor at the University of Georgia. “It was a clear display of bravado, dominance, and entitlement”—key ingredients in narcissism. “It was like a dog peeing on your desk,” a show of territorial dominance that spells out, I’m the alpha male here. Don’t mess with me, you insignificant twerp. There aren’t many personality traits that reference Greek mytholog y, in this case Narcis- sus, the beautiful young hunter who disdained human relationships and instead fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. While over 2,000 years would seem to be enough time to figure out where narcissists’ extreme self-love comes from, and what they think and feel and believe deep down, the study of narcissism is still shot through with controversies and unknowns. But lately, Miller says, there is new under- standing of the phenomenon. Psychologists are recognizing that, as a personality trait, narcis- sism can be beneficial in moderate doses. They are identifying what experiences foster it and questioning whether the self-esteem movement (every child should be constantly praised and rewarded for just showing up) may have pro- duced a generation of narcissists. Numerous studies find that levels of narcissism have been steadily rising among teenagers → Truly, Madly, Deeply in Love... with Myself ABOUT THE AUTHOR Sharon Begley is senior science writer with S TAT, a national health and medicine publication. She is also author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain and Can’t Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions (2 017, Simon & Schuster). Illustrations by Edmon de Haro 34 mindful February 2018 brain science