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There's never a wrong time for us to peer into the mirror and take objective stock of who's staring back. I've been doing more of that in recent years.

In a lurch toward intellectual honesty, I realized I have steadily become a somewhat reformed narcissist with each passing decade. I take pride in the transformation.

I say "somewhat" because I'm not certain our self-esteem and ego allow most of us to completely shed tendencies toward an exaggerated and unrealistic sense of self-importance and entitlement. Mother Teresa and Mohandas Gandhi pulled it off.

Much of the youthful narcissistic tendencies (grossly inflated by social media postings) fall into perspective for many folks as the grandparenting years roll around. It's difficult to remain a narcissist when your hair's gray, most teeth are gone and you're ambling with a cane.

Nonetheless, I hear plenty people bandying the term around more than ever as a slur in these sharply divided days. So what is this, anyway?

One definition refers to narcissism and diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder as the pursuit of gratification from vanity, or the egotistic admiration of one's own idealized self-image and attributes.

This includes self-flattery, perfectionism and arrogance. Outgoing narcissists spend a lot of time focused on their appearance and become experts at it, what researchers call "effective adornment." The term "narcissism" stems from Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool.

Also included in the mix of narcissistic personality traits is the need for one to be recognized as superior when actual achievements show otherwise, more specifically exaggerating accomplishments and talents. They also include a chain of troubled relationships and a lack of empathy. It takes five or more such traits to qualify for diagnosis as narcissistic personality disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

I ask myself whether I regularly consider others' needs alongside my own. Do I have to be the center of attention? Do I let others finish their point before butting in? Do I see myself as being above others in morals and/or intellect? Do I consider how what I am saying or doing could affect others? Am I so insecure that the successes or opinions of others cause me to feel threatened? Am I generally a know-it-all, look-at-me arrogant twerp? It can challenge one to honestly answer these kinds of questions.

One Healthline article listed 11 indicators of being romantically involved with a narcissistic personality.

Narcissists tend to be extremely charming at first, and believe they deserve to be with special people--the only ones who can appreciate them completely, says Nedra Glover Tawwab, founder of Kaleidoscope Counseling in Charlotte, N.C. They also can turn when you disappoint them. That has nothing to do with you, says Tawwab, but everything to do with the narcissist's beliefs.

Second, they hog conversations and talk frequently of their greatness. Third, they thrive on your compliments (seemingly super confident yet in reality insecure). Fourth, they lack empathy (a hallmark trait). Fifth, they lack long-term friends and lash out when you spend time with yours. Sixth, they constantly pick on you. Seventh, they "gaslight" you, a form of manipulation where they lie, falsely accuse others, spin the truth and distort reality.

In the eighth spot, narcissists will dance around defining the nature of your relationship. Ninth is never apologizing when they are wrong while believing they never are. Tenth, they panic when you try to break up, and eleventh, they lash out when you show them you truly are finished.

Recent surveys show a collective form of narcissism has metastasized.

The Washington Post reported last year on a study published by the journal Psychological Science in which researchers asked nearly 3,000 residents what percentage their home state contributed to the history of the United States. Delaware residents on average claimed theirs helped create 33 percent of national history, and Georgians 28 percent. Texans claimed a 21 percent role, Californians 22 percent, Virginia respondents said 41 percent and Massachusetts claimed 35 percent.

"The question we asked is crazy in one sense, because there's no correct answer, but it told us a lot about people and what they believe about themselves," Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis, told The Post.

Another study went global to 35 counties and showed even stronger indicators of nationalistic narcissism. For example, residents of tiny Malaysia believed they contributed 49 percent of the world's history. Canada claimed 40 percent. Our nation self-rated at 29.6 percent, behind Peru and Bulgaria.

The most narcissistic population, the study found, were Russians, who said they believe their nation contributed 60.8 percent of the world's history.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 12/03/2019

Print Headline: MIKE MASTERSON: The great 'I'

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