Narcissism and Incivility: Is There a Connection?

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©2018 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Did you ever wonder where incivility comes from? Is it always what someone else is doing? It seems to have spread far and wide over the last few years. In all professions, in all organizations and in the larger society, we seem to be becoming more rude, more insulting and less sensitive to each other. This appears to be directly connected to the rise of narcissism in our society. This article suggests why these two trends are increasing hand-in-hand—and what we each can do about it.   The Rise of Narcissism In 1994, the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition—the DSM-IV—was published by the American Psychiatric Association. It indicated that narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) was present in less than one (1%) percent of the general adult population. (Personality disorders are generally not diagnosed until adulthood, since children and adolescents are still developing and changing.) This personality disorder is characterized especially by a “grandiose sense of self-importance,” a “sense of entitlement,” and a “lack of empathy.” These are just three of the nine criteria used by the DSM-IV, but it’s easy to see that this personality has increased over the last twenty-five years. In 2013, the DSM-5 was published and, using the same criteria as before, recognized that the prevalence of NPD may be as high as 6.2%, based on a study done by the National Institutes of Health. While it may be that this study was the largest ever done and therefore more accurate, it does seem that narcissistic behavior has increased. It’s important to note that personality-based behavior exists on a continuum so that there are many people with some traits of this disorder but not the full personality disorder.   Why Now? Narcissism has been increasing in our society for many years. Interestingly, two researchers have traced this to a specific time period: the early 1970s. The authors of the book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009), studied surveys of high school and college students over several decades, as well as articles written in major publications. It seems that this was significantly the time of a societal transition from group goals to individual goals, from emphasis on citizenship to self-esteem, and from self-discipline to self-expression. I believe a significant aspect of this societal change was the birth control pill in the 1960s and the ability to have smaller families. With families having just one or two children, it became easier for each child to become the center of attention. In 1970, California introduced “no-fault” divorce laws which then spread around the country and significantly boosted the divorce rate. Soon, parents were fighting over their one or two children, to give them attention and to get their attention during the marriage; and to have primary custody of them or equal custody of them after the divorce. Children went from being “seen but not heard” up to the 1960s, to becoming the center of the family and at times making key decisions for the family.   The Rise of Incivility At the same time, professions have seen a dramatic rise in incivility over the past twenty years. For example, in 2007, the California State Bar Association published the “California Attorney Guidelines of Civility and Professionalism.” Yet incivility increased in the legal profession after that. In 2013, I wrote an article “Misunderstanding Incivility and How to Stop It” for the statewide California Family Law News, pointing out that 80-90% of lawyers didn’t need such Guidelines because they were already civil on their own. I said that the 10-20% of lawyers who were engaging in uncivil conduct had such behavior as part of their personalities and that they would not change without enforcement measures, but there were none built into the Guidelines. Incivility has continued to increase. Today, we have many cultural and political leaders who regularly engage in uncivil conduct, so that we are seeing increased incivility from children on the playground to the daily news.   The Incivility Connection with Narcissism Simply put: uncivil behavior is narcissistic behavior. It involves one person putting another down, embarrassing the other, humiliating the other, and so forth, often in public. This is a trait of narcissism, as the theme for narcissistic personalities is “I am very superior to you,” and they repeatedly engage in arrogant behavior that says they are “winners” and others are “losers.” They often even use these terms. With this connection, hopefully, it is obvious that incivility is baked into the personalities of those with narcissistic traits or personality disorders. This means that this behavior will not easily change or go away. However, the larger culture makes a difference. If narcissistic behavior is glorified and rewarded in the media, we will get more incivility. Those with narcissistic traits will act like those with disorders. And ordinary people will start acting like they have these traits. That is what is happening right now in our culture. Leadership and leader emotions are contagious. Repetition of images of uncivil behavior leads to more uncivil behavior.   What Can We Do? Yes, we have a more individualistic culture now compared to pre-1970. But this doesn’t mean that we have to be more narcissistic (arrogant, superior, etc.). We can be respectfully individualistic and value each other as equals at the same time. This means we need to learn skills to manage our own narcissistic tendencies and teach skills to our children and the larger culture of balance: respect for all individuals and respect for our culture—our community, nation and planet. Here are some suggestions: 1.  Our Words: We can individually become more aware of how we give feedback, how we use sarcasm, how we promote ourselves by putting others down. Much of this is very subtle and we don’t even realize the way it may affect others. 2.  Our Emotions: People often justify their uncivil behavior by claiming that it is justified because of how someone else made us feel. When we are emotionally triggered, we are more likely

John Edwards, Guilty of Narcissism?

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. I’m writing this before knowing John Edwards’ verdict in North Carolina on charges of violating federal campaign laws by spending nearly $1 million of donors’ money on hiding his affair (and child) with Rielle Hunter. Whatever the outcome, he has already admitted that he is guilty of narcissism: “[My experiences] fed a self-focus, an egotism, a narcissism that leads you to believe you can do whatever you want.” He admitted that he had become “increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.” (abcNews, Aug. 12, 2008) I don’t diagnose people in public, but I share what others report – especially what people publicly say about themselves. He has provided a great opportunity to explain narcissism with a real life example, including what it is and what it isn’t. Narcissism in small doses can be a good thing. Narcissism in too large a dose becomes narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which can be harmful – for the person himself as well as those around him. Narcissism helps us all get by in the face of adversity. It helps us believe in ourselves enough to keep going. We all have some of it, or we wouldn’t have survived this long. Entrepreneurs, actors, politicians and many professionals (doctors, lawyers, etc.) tend to have above-average rates of narcissism, because it helps them push forward despite repeated criticism, rejection, set-backs and occasional public humiliation. In other words, they believe in themselves so much more and in what other people think so much less, that they can survive as risk-takers – and they are risk-takers. When they have a good idea, good talent and other good qualities, this narcissism helps them contribute to society from positions of leadership and power. You want your leaders to have some extra narcissism so that they can cope in protecting us from strong enemies and leading us forward in dealing with big problems. However, when they have a bad idea, little talent and lack sufficient redeeming qualities, this extra narcissism can get them into a lot of trouble and public humiliation. If they have narcissistic personality disorder, this means that they do not learn and change their behavior. So if they get into trouble, they can’t see that they did anything wrong and keep going. In a sense it’s like a form of self-blindness – they really can’t see the effects of their own behavior. Does John Edwards have NPD? I don’t know, but you can watch whether he learns and changes, or keeps on the same path. Here are some characteristics of NPD. See if you think he fits: A grandiose sense of self-importance? Fantasies of unlimited success and power? Believes he’s special and unique? Requires excessive admiration? Sense of entitlement? Interpersonally exploitative? Lacks empathy? Envious of others or believes others envy him? Arrogant behaviors or attitudes? About 6% of the population of the United States has narcissistic personality disorder, according to the most recent large study. This is also known as pathological narcissism or malignant narcissism. But if you recognize some of these characteristics in someone you know, DON’T TELL THEM! You will make your life a lot worse. Some people with these disorders become highly defensive and sometimes dangerous when confronted with their weaknesses or problems – for this reason they are often considered “vulnerable narcissists.” Others with this disorder truly don’t care what anyone else thinks – sometimes called “grandiose narcissists.” Many politicians seem to fit in this second type, since they truly don’t care what anyone else thinks. Yet they can be extremely charming, attractive and even intelligent. Yes, NPD has nothing to do with intelligence, which confuses people. They wonder how someone in a position to become Vice President or President of the United States would be so stupid as to take the kinds of risks Edwards took in having an affair during a campaign – even when his wife is possibly dying from cancer. It’s because intelligence is not the issue – personality is the issue. We have had many examples recently of highly intelligent and charming politicians who have crashed and burned – or at least humiliated themselves publicly. Several governors have been kicked out of office recently. Some politicians running for president have had a hard time recognizing when to quit, despite humiliating defeats. Many of these folks are the ones most eager to judge other people. To me, the issue is the future. How can we spot politicians with excessive narcissism or NPD before we elect them? The key is to recognize the PATTERN of behavior, even on a small scale. Lacks empathy? Sense of entitlement? Grandiose sense of self-importance? When you vote for any office this year, keep these patterns in mind. Don’t let good looks and charm mislead you. Check the list above instead. Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.