You may not realize it when you first pick up a copy of Jeffrey Kluger’s latest book, The Narcissist Next Door (Riverhead Books, 2014, $14.99), but they really are everywhere. As the title suggests, you can find them in your family, in your office and even in your bed.
Kluger, a senior editor of science and technology reporting at TIME magazine, does not claim to be capable of clinically diagnosing Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NDP), what he calls “weapons grade narcissism,” but he professes a long fascination with narcissists, and wanted to take a closer look at the affliction.
“Narcissists are equal parts repellent and attractive, which is the appeal of a narcissist,” he told a rapt audience at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue last Thursday.
But how does one distinguish between extreme self-confidence and narcissism? Motivation is the difference, said Kluger.
“[With] self-confidence, there is a certain self-fulfilling quality. Self-confidence is just a function of resoluteness. Now narcissism is: ‘I am going to do this because I am incapable of failure, I bring something unique that no one else has.’ ”
During Kluger’s talk, he shared numerous personal accounts of the narcissists in his life, including a co-worker who was more than willing to share his personal stories, but couldn’t stop reading the newspaper to listen to Kluger. Once, the co-worker did find it in himself to congratulate Kluger on winning an award, but only because the co-worker wasn’t eligible for it anyway.
The Narcissist Next Door is a witty compilation of case studies and coping tactics for people plagued by narcissism in their daily lives. Kluger said he hopes that the book will prove helpful both to narcissists and those who have to deal with them.
“I hope [the book brings] some measure of self awareness,” Kluger said. “I think it can be very important for people who are not narcissists but who are afflicted with them in their life to know how to deal with them.”
The Narcissist Next Door references a somewhat alarming statistic – since 1979 there has been a 30 percent increase in narcissistic personality traits. While audience members questioned if
social media may have aided in this increase, Kluger cites the self-esteem movement and revival of a “no losers” ethos as catalysts.
“Facebook and Twitter are to narcissists what an open bar is to a drunk,” Kluger said. “Except now the Jack Daniels is pumped straight to your computer.”
Allowing those with narcissistic tendencies to continually receive positive reinforcement from their friends and followers online only encourages their bad behavior. But Kluger was sure to
clarify that not everyone who is posting on Facebook is a narcissist, although some might be genetically predisposed to the condition.
Kluger said genetics contribute about 70 percent of how susceptible one is to narcissism, but only about 3 percent of the population can be clinically diagnosed with NDP. Despite the small percentage, Kluger’s talk highlighted the prevalence of what he referred to as “lowercase ‘n’ narcissism” in personal relationships and the workplace.
The two industries most prone to narcissists? Kluger wasted no time in answering: entertainment and politics. The latter ought not to surprise anyone inside the Beltway.