Consumption and Narcissism

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Connections between hyper-consumption and narcissism have been rarely reported. Slate had a nice piece today tying this personality disorder to much of our recent troubles. Here’s the lede:

The narcissists did it. Some commentators are fingering them as the culprits of the financial meltdown. A Bloomberg columnist blamed the conceited for our financial troubles in a piece titled “Harvard Narcissists With MBAs Killed Wall Street.” A Wall Street Journal op-ed on California’s economy suggested that Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desire for voter’s love (“It’s classic narcissism”) helped cause the state’s budget debacle. A forthcoming book, The Narcissism Epidemic, says we went on a national binge of I-deserve-it consumption that’s now resulting in our economic purging.

The Slate article is well worth reading. In my book, I include narcissism in a collection of psychological traits characteristic of the modern psyche that are complicit in shaping the self that is always in need of something; the having mode of life. While referring to several journal articles and books, Slate missed the section on Narcissism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), the standard used by mental health practitioners. Here’s part of the section.

Treatment for this disorder is very rarely sought. There is a limited amount of insight into the symptoms, and the negative consequences are often blamed on society. In this sense, treatment options are limited. Some research has found long-term insight oriented therapy to be effective, but getting the individual to commit to this treatment is a major obstacle.

Prognosis is limited and based mainly on the individual’s ability to recognize their underlying inferiority and decreased sense of self worth.With insight and long-term therapy, the symptoms can be reduced in both number and intensity.

That treatment for this pathology is so rarely sought is testimony to the stranglehold that addictive patterns of consumption have on societies and on our personae. The limited prognosis is potential cause for further social depression and pathology. It is impossible to consume ourselves out of the current financial crunch and cure this deep social dysfunction at the same time. Just as the prognosis for curing individual narcissism is not promising, the prognosis for curing the financial system breakdown without long-term cultural therapy is not wonderful either.

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