Sunday 2 November 2014

The Life of I The New Culture of Narcissism by Anne Manne

I attended an Ideas at the House event 2 months ago where Anne Manne spoke about The Narcissism Epidemic.

It was fascinating.

She spoke of narcissism as being on a spectrum (like autism) with a high-functioning group at one end and a pathological extreme at the other.

Her extreme case study for the talk and her book, The Life of I; The New Culture of Narcissism was the Norwegian serial killer Anders Behring Breivik.

He ticked all the boxes for a narcissistic personality - unstable sense of self, high but fragile self-esteem, grandiose, sense of entitlement & superiority, willingness to exploit others, complete lack of empathy, distortion of reality, a belief that whatever is good for the self is good, that others exist for them, they are always right & never have to say they're sorry, savage retaliations for any criticism & a strong sense of victimhood when wronged.

The psychoanalyst Adam Phillips claims "to be unforgivable is to be unforgettable" for people like Breivik.

In the middle ground though, are all of us with our own biases, self-serving tendencies & faults. We all have the ability or the potential to be narcissistic at times. The difference between pathological and high-functioning is destruction - self-destruction and destructive actions towards others.

We've all known, lived with or worked with the compulsive liar, the 'awesome' person who is surrounded by a bunch of  'incompetent cretans', the boss who takes the credit and all the glory from the work of others, the aggressive vitriol when asked to explain or justify their actions, the charming sweetness as they try to get us to do something for them & the sudden cold drop when they get it, the person who will say or do whatever they have to to get what they want & their complete inability to see how their behaviour is affecting other people. They can be genuinely surprised to find that no one likes them.

However most of us are saved from the extremes of narcissism by fostering empathy, altruism, generosity, caring for each other and the planet.
We can learn to be self-reflective, self-respecting & self-correcting.
We can be self-confident, experience self-efficacy & feel justifiable pride in our achievements.
We can develop secure attachments & establish reasonable boundaries.

We can happily take selfies for our social media profiles as long as we appreciate that these profiles lack substance & authenticity. They are for show, they are fun, but we are so much more than our 'profiles.'

In a less narcissistic world we would shift from the "pursuit of attention to the giving of attention."

This post is part of AusReading Month and Non-fiction November.


  1. I find that psychological explorations such as this to be fascinating.

    I like the fact that the book looks at the phenomenon of narcism as a spectrum. I think that this is true of many anti social behaviors.

    1. That's very true Brian - any look at the DSM will show that we all share some of the traits that fall under the heading of mental health disorders.

      I wanted to ask Anne how Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissism go together as lots of the signs, symptons & traits are very similar.
      But so many people had questions for her & I missed out.

    2. I've had this same question about Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissism. I deal on a regular basis with an undiagnosed person who I believe has one or both of these disorders. You are so right about the signs, symptoms & traits being similar.

    3. It's not always easy to get a diagnosis for these disorders either, Terri, as they often refuse to stay with a psychologist long enough to be assessed properly.
      Which is part of the signs & symptons, I guess - refusing to 'put-up' with someone who challenges & questions what they're saying is a very typical BPD trait. They demand unconditional, unquestioning trust, even as they lie to you!

      Good luck :-)

  2. This sounds like a really interesting read, I think I'll be adding it to my TBR! :-)

  3. What an interesting sounding book - it is being added to my TBR list.

  4. Anonymous6/11/14

    " We are so much more than our profiles" ...I love that quote!
    My first thoughts were " Yes, I have worked with that kind of ' boss' and yes, I have known my share of ' awesome ' people.
    Now, I find that I can use those experiences and your comments while reading about a character.... I will see if I can find a narcissist in my blog archive that I overlooked! Great review!

  5. This sounds so fascinating! I'm especially interested to hear why it's a new phenomenon or if it really is.

  6. Manne's point, I believe, is that narcissism is not new or even uncommon (which is why the Ancient Greeks created a Narcissis story in the first place!) She was, instead, exploring the new presentation of narcissism in today's society and it's apparent rise in the last 40 yrs.


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