Sunday, November 22, 2009

Narcissism: When Low-Carbers Hurt Other People

Narcissus, a young hero in Greek mythology, saw his image in a pool of water, fell in love with it and was unable to leave the beauty of his own reflection. He has given his name to an Axis II personality disorder described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), narcissistic personality disorder.

There is no laboratory test for the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. Typically a trained psychiatrist or psychologist will evaluate a patient who, by early adulthood, demonstrates grandiose thinking or behavior, has an unusual need for admiration, and shows a lack of empathy for other people. These maladaptive patterns must be present in a variety of contexts.

In addition, a person with narcissistic personality disorder will demonstrate five or more of the following criteria (taken from the DSM-IV):

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

  3. Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

  4. Requires excessive admiration

  5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

  6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

While it is tempting to do amateur psychology, that is not the point of this blogpost. Only a professional can diagnose and treat narcissistic personality disorder. Nevertheless, it is important for laypeople to be aware that this condition exists, and that it exists in the low-carb community in particular.

Low-carbers are vulnerable. Typically they have been overweight for many years and have a poor self-image as a result. Many have tried and failed at various weight loss schemes. Couple those experiences with the societal stigma against overweight people, and self-worth becomes almost nonexistent.

Along comes low-carb. For once, these formerly-obese people find themselves successful at something. They are able to move their bodies, to buy clothes, and to go out in public without a sense of shame. And, in some cases, they find a mentor who is able to take advantage of all their vulnerabilities.

The mentor provides a diet outline that seems to work. The mentor creates an internet community that gives support and a place to belong to people who were formerly outsiders. All of that is good.

But if the mentor has narcissistic personality disorder, the mentor starts to overstate the benefits of his or her diet plan without commensurate proof (Point #1). The mentor sets himself or herself up as the ideal example of the diet plan (Points #2 and #4). The mentor begins to lay down specific rules that require either automatic compliance or, failing that, expulsion from the community (Points #3 and #5). The mentor may show friendliness, charm and empathy when it provides an advantage (Point #6), but in the end will behave in an arrogant, abusive manner toward people who have disappointed him or her in any way (Point #9).

In my experience, low-carbers tend to think the best of people, even of people who abuse them. When they encounter a person with narcissism, they often hope that by careful reasoning or sympathetic friendship, they can help that person see his or her problem, deal with it, and adopt a more successful style of living. Unfortunately, the treatment of narcissism requires psychotherapy (see this PDF for a fascinating outline of what's involved), and even then the treatment is unlikely to be successful if the patient is not a willing participant in the therapy.

In the meantime, when you encounter another low-carber who is self-absorbed, who believes himself or herself to be superior to others, who belittles others, and who is willing to manipulate others to achieve his or her own ends, recognize that this is a person who can derail your journey into good health. It may be difficult, but if the person is harming you while he or she claims to be helping you, it may be time to end this relationship and develop new ones in the low-carb community.


KrisR said...

Interesting blog post.....totally curious about the rest of the story but I'll be content in assuming I either know of whom you speak of or at least know of someone who I think fits this description of narcissism.

Keep up the good work. Your information is always of value.

Stargazey said...

Thanks for your comments, Sybil. (Beautiful pictures on your blog, by the way!)

I'll refrain from identifying anybody I may have in mind, since my intent is to alert potential victims rather than to reform possible abusers. :-)

Unknown said...

Thank you for the post. Your blog continues to be thoughtful and multi-faceted.
Yes, I can probably name more than one or two persons who fit the description. Not all of those names are necessarily within the Low Carb Community. One or more is to be found in almost all walks of life.
The real challenge becomes would I recognize myself if the description fit. And if I did recognize myself would I have the courage to make the changes necessary to become a human being others see as worthy rather than be a legend in my own mind.

Unknown said...
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Margaret said...

Funny that I read this right now. I've recently met one. I actually feel sorry for her some, for often via low self esteem or just the stigma of obesity - my own complaints are that I am a very nice person why doesn't anyone want to get to know me. I want to keep that which is inside even though a good half of me will soon be melted away and gone.