Narcissistic personality disorder affects approximately 6.2 percent of the U.S. population, according to the National Institutes of Health. Narcissistic traits, however, are more common in society. The prevalence of this general narcissism is the subject of much concern, dialogue and research, as selfies and mundane status updates fill social media sites each second. Researchers have determined methods of curbing narcissistic tendencies by practicing self-compassion in a culture that more readily encourages self-criticism.
Dr. Kristin Neff of the University of Texas, Austin has pioneered the notion of self-compassion over the past decade. She defines self-compassion as a combination of self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. These practices can all be used to combat narcissism through awareness. The concept of common humanity incorporates accepting that everyone is human, placing high value on individuals being able to relate to each other on this basic level instead of feeling shame or self-loathing if goals are not met or mistakes are made. Dr. Neff even suggests that self-compassion is as important, if not more so, than practicing compassion toward others, but that it is antithetical to the nature of society today. High self-esteem is considered attractive and competent, fueling a narcissistic culture, while self-compassion is often labeled indulgent, lazy or selfish.
A recent study conducted by Dr. Neff and colleagues consisted of individuals being given positive or neutral feedback on a simple self-introduction. Those who rated high on self-compassion did not have strong reactions to either forms of feedback and accepted that it was accurate based on their efforts. Participants who rated high on self-esteem were angered by neutral feedback and were more likely to blame the person providing the feedback for the results. As Dr. Neff states, “This suggests that self-compassionate people are better able to accept who they are regardless of the degree of praise they receive from others. Self-esteem, on the other hand, only thrives when the reviews are good and may lead to evasive and counterproductive tactics when there’s a possibility of facing unpleasant truths about oneself.”
Since narcissistic personality disorder and general narcissistic traits begin developing in childhood, there has been a recent surge in research on the ways in which praise affects the development of self-esteem and narcissism. Dr. Carol S. Dweck of Stanford University led a 2013 study that monitored parental interactions with toddlers and evaluated the children five years later. The researchers found that focusing on effort when praising children increased motivation and positive attitudes when faced with challenges later in life. Dr. Dweck explains, “[Saying,] ‘You’re great, you’re amazing,’ that is not helpful. Because later on, when they don’t get it right or don’t do it perfectly, they’ll think they aren’t so great or amazing.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with narcissistic personality disorder or other mental health issues, help is available. Call the 24/7 California Mental Health hotline at 855-559-3923 to speak with a representative today.