A new study on narcissism, which selfishly lies behind a paywall, claims to have answered “three key, inter-related problems that have plagued narcissism scholarship for more than a century.”
These three problems are described in the abstract (which is publicly available) as:
…(a) What are the key features of narcissism? (b) How are they organized and related to each other? and (c) Why are they organized that way, that is, what accounts for their relationships? (The Narcissism Spectrum Model: A Synthetic View of Narcissistic Personality)
The study seems to have been well-summarized in 3 Core Facets of Narcissism, from Malignant to Adaptive:
This new way of understanding the narcissistic personality places self-centeredness front and center, providing a useful way to characterize narcissism’s two underlying dimensions. When you’re dealing with the most narcissistic of all individuals, the grandiosity you see isn’t masking any deep-seated insecurity. The narcissistically vulnerable, who becomes enraged when deprived of status and attention, conversely, is driven by feelings of insecurity, and insecurity alone.
My problem with the study is it is based on ephemeral “personality” traits rather than signals, which are much easier to quantify, analyze, and observe.
A semiotic or signal-based interpretation of narcissism allows us to base analysis on its most prominent feature—simplicity.
The simplest definition of narcissism is “narrow or reduced interpretation(s) of psychological signs.”
This is a functional definition that provides insight into a wide range of human psychological reactions. (Narcissism, a semiotic interpretation)
This definition explains why a wide range of humans display narcissistic traits, including small children, old people, alcoholics, those with brain injuries, dementia, and in many ways all of us to some degree at one time or another.
Narcissism forms and persists because it is a simple semiology that works. Drunks use it, angry people use it, advertising uses it, cultures all use it, even religions use it.
If we understand that narcissism is characterized by a “narrow or reduced interpretation(s) of psychological signs,” we can expect to find relief from it by widening and augmenting the sufferer’s use of psychological signs.
As for the three problems described in the study, these can be answered in this way:
Q: What are the key features of narcissism?
A: Simple semiology, me first
Q: How are they organized and related to each other?
Q: Why are they organized that way, that is, what accounts for their relationships?
A: The narcissistic system (me first) works better than any other the person knows of. It is organized to be efficient and easy to use. See Zero-sum, one-way street, malice, impression management for more on this.