The Original Narcissus and How He Got That Way

10 Dec


Donald Trump F-you look

OK, so we’ve (almost) all figured out that the U.S. semi-president-elect (at this point, we’re not sure about his status) has NPD or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Pity him for his mental disorder, but don’t be fooled. You probably don’t need to worry so much about him as you should about the people he’s appointing. Sadly, the entire cabinet so far, looks like a DT clone, although some appointees may be narcissistic without having full-blown NPD. There is a subtle difference.

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse
Echo and Narcissus by
John William Waterhouse

How much do we know about the original Narcissus who has made his way into post-Greek mythology literature and whose name is nearly synonymous with the president-elect. Most of us only know he’s the Greek mythological hunk who fell in love with his own reflection. But, as usual, that’s not the whole story.

Here’s the short and most widely accepted background on the mythological Narcissus. He was the son of the river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope. He was predicted to live a long life as long as he never saw his own reflection.

Well, you know the temperament of those Greek gods. You just can’t upset them or they start wielding swords of wrath. The Greek God of Revenge, Nemesis attracted Narcissus to a pool, where he–Narcissus– saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with himself. Apparently Narcissus wasn’t very bright or had never seen a pool of clear water before since he didn’t realize he was staring at himself. But he just couldn’t break away from the beauty of his reflection and eventually lost his will to live. He stared at his reflection until he died. Legend has it that the flower we know as the narcissus or daffodil appeared in the area where he died.

There are a few other versions of the story explaining why Nemesis punished Narcissus and alternate explanations for Narcissus’ death. There’s an even more complex love triangle involving the nymph, Echo who was hopelessly in love with Narcissus. He basically told Echo to get out of his life but the Goddess Hera had a beef with Echo as well, so she really didn’t have a chance with Hera and Nemesis on her case for different infractions.


So we know that Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself and one’s physical appearance even though Narcissus was kind of tricked into looking at himself. Here’s the thing: you can be a narcissist and not necessarily have Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

“Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” -Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic article explains if you have NPD, “… you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having “the best” of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club or medical care [for yourself].”

Does this remind you of anyone?

“At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior…”  [or tweet your contempt in all CAPS at 3 AM].”

Psychology Today says that narcissism is not as severe as NPD. “People who are narcissistic may be described as cocky, self-centered, manipulative, vain, demanding and feel they deserve special treatment.” (They love mirrors) But certain other “markers” for full blown NPD may not characterize the “normal” narcissist.

Come’on, you know who they are—the neighbor who monopolizes your time with his newest idea when you’ve been trying to leave for the past half hour[and you’re on crutches from recent surgery]; your boss who belittles you in front of your peers; your colleague who throws you under the bus, taking credit for your idea; the guy who won’t let you get a word in the phone conversation (although they may just be hard of hearing); the person who uses the word “I” excessively and seldom uses “you” in an empathetic manner; the professional interrupter, and yes, the people who seem to be constantly primping and looking at themselves. In this age, a person’s level of narcissism is probably being measured by the number of selfies she or he takes per day.

More than a few writers and psychologists have referenced narcissism for centuries. Havelock Ellis, a sexologist wrote in the late 1890s that “narcissus-like” behavior was related to excessive masturbation. OK, TMI. BTW, Ellis was known for aligning his writings with open discussion of sex education and pro-women’s rights. Sigmund Freud (of course) and Otto Rank also used the term in association with sexual perversion.

Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard
Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard


A handful of movies and TV shows also include the term. Examples: the Disney film Hercules; the 2011 film Seeing Heaven (where Narcissus is depicted in a painting); and the 1979 film Alien. Ah ha, missed that one? It’s the name of the escape hatch that Sigourney Weaver (Ripley) takes to get back to earth. Well, after all, it’s all about her or we wouldn’t have had a sequel or tri-quel.

T.S. Elliott summed it up nicely.

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm but the harm they cause does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in an endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

And at age 60, maybe 70, they still blame their mother.

Read more about the symptoms and possibly tragic results of NPD at

See more at and at, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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