Redefining Personality Disorders
Redefining personality disorders is a challenge to be sure. But doing so is most necessary in these days of more widespread personality and character disturbances.
In the not too distant past, mental health professionals largely ignored personality and character issues. Why? Because they assumed most folks were pretty solid in their overall makeup. And they could more safely assume that the issues that led them to seek professional help were transient – prompted by unusual stressors or by biochemistry that somehow went awry. So clinicians generally treated symptoms rather than the whole person. They figured the person was relative sound to start with and that when they were finally over the proverbial “hump” of their temporary distress, they would be sound once again. But we can’t assume such things anymore.
These days, many more of the problems that come to a professional’s attention stem from a person’s habitual ways of seeing and doing things (i.e. their personality). See also: Personality and Character Disorders: A Primer.) Moreover, immaturity of the moral side of personality (i.e. character) accounts for a greater proportion of problems. And while many professionals still focus primarily on symptoms, the big problems in life don’t usually abate until proper attention is given to the whole person, including their character.
Problems with Definition
It’s harder than ever to adequately define personality and character-related pathology. Why? Because the spectrum of character dysfuntion has become so broad and so varied. (See also: Understanding the Character Disorder Spectrum.) And that’s also why some personality disorders have been removed from the official compendium. Moreover, it’s why the researchers who outline these disorders constantly examine whether our classifications are even valid or useful. There was a time when certain personality styles were rare, significantly deviant from the norm, and distinctly maladaptive. But that’s no longer true. Narcissistic styles of relating are just one example. Narcissism is no longer rare, outside the norm, or necessarily maladaptive. And that’s just one reason why redefining personality disorders is more challenging than ever.
Narcissism as a Dimension as Opposed to a Condition
Many traits and tendencies can contribute to a personality or character disturbance. And just how these traits or tendencies come together in a person’s overall makeup can vary considerably, too. And because so many folks these days lack a solid internal moral compass and set of controls, almost any style of relating can prove problematic.
Narcissism is a feature of many different personality styles. And it varies considerably in both its degree of severity and manner of expression.
Some narcissistic styles can seem incredibly benign – even attractive. Such is the case when it comes to the kind of narcissist some categorize as the “amorous” type. (See also: Amorous Narcissists Can Charm Convincingly.) These “charmers” are often quite likeable and pleasant to be around. And thoses skilled in the art of ego massage know how to make you feel good about yourself. But other narcissitic styles are more malignant. Malignant narcissists use and abuse wantonly and heartlessly. And while some keep their true nature and intentions hidden at first, they always leave wreckage in their wake. (See: Malignant Narcissism and Malignant Narcissism: At the Core of Psychopathy.)
Narcissism is a lot more complicated subject than many make it these days. And I’ll be having lots to say on the many manifestations of narcissism on upcoming podcasts of the New Character Matters. You can access Podcast 2 “Narcissism Pt.2” here.