Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
You may have used the term "narcissist" casually — to describe others, or even yourself (when your friend is on her 18th selfie attempt in an effort to capture the perfect angle, or when you feel the need to put makeup on before going to yoga class). But, true narcissism — or narcissistic personality disorder — involves a whole lot more than caring about how you look: According to the DSM-5, it includes a lack of empathy, the inability to achieve intimacy due to little or no interest in others, entitlement, arrogance, and "excessive" reliance on others' opinions to maintain self-esteem. In his new book, The Narcissist Next Door, science writer and editor Jeffrey Kluger explains why, exactly, narcissism isn't going anywhere: Narcissists statistically have more sex — and, by extension, more babies — than the rest of the population. Babies who carry self(ie)-obsession on to the next generation.
In Kluger's book (the full name of which is The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed — in Your World), an excerpt of which was published yesterday on the New Republic, Kluger explains that narcissists have some of the best success in courtship — making narcissism one of the disorders least likely to be eliminated from the population. While researchers aren't sure exactly what causes narcissism, they surmise that it's a combination of genetic, social, and psychological factors. Scientists have yet to identify a "narcissist gene" — and a family history alone won't guarantee that the disorder will develop. However, a hereditary background combined with certain environmental factors can create next-gen narcissists. Research indicates that narcissists are slightly more likely than non-narcissists to have narcissistic kids. While this could indicate a genetic component, it's also true that children imitate behaviors and attitudes they see in their parents. And, when we couple that increased likelihood with the consistently higher numbers of children narcissists have had throughout history, Kluger argues you've got a trait that just refuses to quit.
To illustrate the allure of people who are their own biggest fans, Kluger describes a conference at which New Mexico State University researcher Peter Jonason cited James Bond as the epitome of the narcissistic stud. Bond exemplifies not only narcissism but also manipulative tendencies and a thrill-seeking streak, three personality traits that are together known as the "dark triad." As Kruger relates, Jonasen's research indicates that (heterosexual) women really do tend to be attracted to men with this trio of traits — at least long enough to sleep with them. Narcissists are more confident and extroverted than others, and will go to greater lengths to win over potential sexual conquests. While this may sound like a total turn-off, narcissists are often funny, charming, and charismatic in person, at least when you first meet them. Often, it's only over time that you realize that, like James Bond, they're not as great as you first thought they were. Something to remember the next time your date orders a martini shaken, not stirred.
The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed — in Your World, by Jeffrey Kluger, $17.04, available at Amazon.