Mike Kueber's Blog

July 17, 2010

I used to be a narcissist

Is saying that you used to be a narcissist the same thing as saying, “I used to be a perfectionist” – i.e., you recognize the fault and are still trying unsuccessfully to eliminate it?  Is writing an introspective blog entry about former narcissism a narcissistic excuse to write about yourself?  I hope not. 

David Brooks, my favorite columnist, has a column in the NYTimes today about narcissism.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/opinion/16brooks.html?_r=1.  A Mel Gibson phone rant, which I haven’t heard, prompted the article.

Growing up I was not familiar with the term “narcissist,” but our words “self-centered” or “conceited” probably served the same purpose.  In his column, Brooks provides a fuller definition: 

  • A person “marked by a grandiose self-image, a constant need for admiration, and a general lack of empathy for others.”

Brooks further notes, “There used to be theories that deep down narcissists felt unworthy, but recent research doesn’t support this.  Instead it seems, the narcissist’s self-directed passion is deep and sincere.”  I would be interested in seeing the research that Brooks refers to because the common wisdom where I grew in North Dakota was that the conceited people were actually insecure, and my personal story provides anecdotal support for the common wisdom.

I went through high school severely insecure about my looks.  As I surveyed the looks of the other 25 boys in my high school, I could identify only one or two who looked worse than me.  You can imagine my shock when a “personality poll” of the student body at the end of my senior year listed me as the best-looking boy.  It also listed me as tied for the most intelligent boy.  That was almost as much of a shock because I thought I was the third-ranking boy academically in the senior class.  And I was no slouch at athletics, having been named to the All-Conference team for basketball, even though I was continually worried about whether I could hold onto a starting position on the team.

Shortly after high-school graduation, I was talking to the brother of a female classmate, and he said that she thought I was nice enough, but conceited.  That floored me.  Other people apparently thought I had all of these gifts, while I thought I was struggling mightily just to keep my head above water.

My classmates, however, were onto something.  Looking back, I see traits that reveal some unhealthy narcissism, such as a general lack of empathy for others and a lack on interest in warm and caring interpersonal relationships. 

But no one has to stay stuck on stupid.  According to the National Institutes of Health, a Narcissistic Personality Disorder is more prevalent in young people (9.4% of those in their 20s), as compared to the general population (6.2%).  So maybe I outgrew my unhealthy narcissism.  I do know that one of my favorite expressions the past few years is “being comfortable in your own skin.”  During my last years working at USAA, I waged a war against “conversational narcissists” (those who want to talk ad nauseum about themselves and their family) and “medical narcissists” (professionals who pretend to know everything and who never make a mistake).  And finally, on the Narcissistic Personality Disorder Inventory, I scored 13, which is below the national average of 15.3. 

For your fun, I have attached the Inventory below.  If you take the test, be sure to be honest to yourself.

1. A. I have a natural talent for influencing people.                                                     
B. I am not good at influencing people.

2. A. Modesty doesn’t become me.                                                                                 
B. I am essentially a modest person.

3. A. I would do almost anything on a dare.                                                                  
B. I tend to be a fairly cautious person.

4. A. When people compliment me I sometimes get embarrassed.                                  B. I know that I am good because everybody keeps telling me so.

5. A. The thought of ruling the world frightens the hell out of me.                            
B. If I ruled the world it would be a better place.

6. A. I can usually talk my way out of anything.                                                            
B. I try to accept the consequences of my behavior.

7. A. I prefer to blend in with the crowd.                                                                         
B. I like to be the center of attention.

8. A. I will be a success.                                                                                                    
B. I am not too concerned about success.

9. A. I am no better or worse than most people.                                                           
B. I think I am a special person.

10. A. I am not sure if I would make a good leader.                                                    
B. I see myself as a good leader.

11. A. I am assertive.                                                                                                         
B. I wish I were more assertive.

12. A. I like to have authority over other people.                                                          
B. I don’t mind following orders.

13. A. I find it easy to manipulate people.
B. I don’t like it when I find myself manipulating people.                                            

14. A. I insist upon getting the respect that is due me.
B. I usually get the respect that I deserve.                                                                      

15. A. I don’t particularly like to show off my body.                                                      
B. I like to show off my body.

16. A. I can read people like a book.
B. People are sometimes hard to understand.                                                              

17. A. If I feel competent I am willing to take responsibility for making decisions.               
B. I like to take responsibility for making decisions.

18. A. I just want to be reasonably happy.                                                                     
B. I want to amount to something in the eyes of the world.

19. A. My body is nothing special.
B. I like to look at my body.                                                                                                                

20. A. I try not to be a show off.                                                                                        
B. I will usually show off if I get the chance.

21. A. I always know what I am doing.                                                                           
B. Sometimes I am not sure of what I am doing.

22. A. I sometimes depend on people to get things done.
B. I rarely depend on anyone else to get things done.                                                 

23. A. Sometimes I tell good stories.                                                                              
B. Everybody likes to hear my stories.

24. A. I expect a great deal from other people.
B. I like to do things for other people.                                                                              

25. A. I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve.
B. I take my satisfactions as they come.                                                                         

26. A. Compliments embarrass me.                                                 
B. I like to be complimented.

27. A. I have a strong will to power.                                                           
B. Power for its own sake doesn’t interest me.

28. A. I don’t care about new fads and fashions.                                    
B. I like to start new fads and fashions.

29. A. I like to look at myself in the mirror.
B. I am not particularly interested in looking at myself in the mirror.                

30. A. I really like to be the center of attention.
B. It makes me uncomfortable to be the center of attention.                               

31. A. I can live my life in any way I want to.                                                      
B. People can’t always live their lives in terms of what they want.

32. A. Being an authority doesn’t mean that much to me.                                          
B. People always seem to recognize my authority.

33. A. I would prefer to be a leader.                                                    
B. It makes little difference to me whether I am a leader or not.

34. A. I am going to be a great person.                                      
B. I hope I am going to be successful.

35. A. People sometimes believe what I tell them.                                    
B. I can make anybody believe anything I want them to.

36. A. I am a born leader.                                                                      
B. Leadership is a quality that takes a long time to develop.

37. A. I wish somebody would someday write my biography.                                  
B. I don’t like people to pry into my life for any reason.

38. A. I get upset when people don’t notice how I look when I go out in public.     
B. I don’t mind blending into the crowd when I go out in public.

39. A. I am more capable than other people.                                  
B. There is a lot that I can learn from other people.

40. A. I am much like everybody else.                                                          
B. I am an extraordinary person.


Assign one point for each response that matches the key.  

1, 2 and 3: A
4, 5: B
6: A
7: B
8: A
9, 10: B
11, 12, 13, 14: A
15: B
16: A
17, 18, 19, 20: B
21: A
22, 23: B
24, 25: A
26: B
27: A
28: B
29, 30, 31: A
32: B
33, 34: A
35. B
36, 37, 38, 39: A
40: B

The average score for the general population is 15.3. The average score for celebrities is 17.8. Pinsky says he scored 16.

Young says it is important to consider which traits are dominant. For example, an overall score that reflects more points on vanity, entitlement, exhibitionism and exploitiveness is more cause for concern than someone who scores high on authority, self-sufficiency and superiority, he says.

The seven component traits by question:

• Authority: 1, 8, 10, 11, 12, 32, 33, 36

• Self-sufficiency: 17, 21, 22, 31, 34, 39

• Superiority: 4, 9, 26, 37, 40

• Exhibitionism: 2, 3, 7, 20, 28, 30, 38

• Exploitativeness: 6, 13, 16, 23, 35

• Vanity: 15, 19, 29

• Entitlement: 5, 14, 18, 24, 25, 27

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