“Notwithstanding his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on others to validate his self-esteem. He cannot live without an admiring audience.” 

~ “The Culture of Narcissism,” Christopher Lasch, 1979

I am trying to get another book deal and most publishers with whom I have corresponded state that they would reject James Joyce if he submitted “Ulysses” today unless he had 50,000 Instagram followers. One of my former students told me that psychologist Nicole LaPera received a book deal after garnering 1m followers so I checked out her IG page. Following suit I gathered an array of quotes from my writings and classes that students have quoted back to me and I posted them on my IG page.

At the same time a woman I was dating perused my social media and said, “I can’t believe you quote yourself! You’re a narcissist!” I told her it was for marketing purposes but to little avail. Being diagnosed — even by a non-therapist — as a narcissist caused me to explore what is considered to be narcissism by laypeople in our late-capitalist, individualist, entrepreneurial, social-media society.

Firstly, because narcissism and sociopathy are often confused, please allow me to distinguish between them: according to the DSM V, a narcissist has a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, constantly seeks the approval of others, is antagonistic, expects to be recognized as superior, demonstrates feelings of entitlement, make excessive attempts to be the focus of the attention, and squarely believes that he is superior to other human beings. A sociopath, on the other hand, essentially takes pleasure in harming others. Schadenfreude on steroids with legs. Sociopaths hide their true intentions whereas narcissists do not (cannot). A female praying mantis that bites her lover’s head off and devours his corpse would be considered a sociopath; a lion roaring to scare other lions away from his territory would be considered a narcissist.

Please allow me to make a second distinction: when treating patients who may suffer from OCD, a psychotherapist must reckon if the affliction is ego-syntonic or ego-dystonic with the patient. If a patient knows that checking the stove 45 times before going to sleep is unwarranted but is compelled to do so, it is ego-dystonic. If he believes that it is normal to check the stove 45 times before going to sleep then it is ego-syntonic.

Donald Trump would never entertain the possibility that he is a narcissist; rather he would claim that it’s a dog-eat-dog world and he’s top dog. Narcissists are incapable of fathoming that they are narcissists; in fact, they would probably belittle anyone who called them a narcissist. Their affliction is ego-syntonic.

Just for kicks, please list some of the characteristics that would help an entrepreneur or businessperson — say, of the male species — succeed in business in America:

  1. He is decisive
  2. He is determined
  3. He is dedicated to his job
  4. He is smart
  5. He is confident
  6. He knows how to get a desired outcome from a situation
  7. He can signal or market his abilities so that you trust him to get the job done
  8. He has strong people skills; some may even consider him to be charming

Christopher Lasch in “The Culture of Narcissism” posits that rampant individualism birthed rampant narcissism; whereas John Higgs concludes his brilliant treatise “Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century” with a much more optimistic view of rugged individualism (with which I vehemently disagree, c.f. “Bowling Alone” by Robert Putnam).

There’s an old joke that if someone served in the marines, attended Harvard, or is vegan, you will hear about it within one minute of meeting him. Maybe we should rename “Social Media” “Business Media” since dear few posts are neither overtly or covertly trying to sell something?

The user is the product,” states Jaron Lanier.

So when earthy-crunchy, spiritual, “let’s-make-the-world-a-better-place!” kumbaya, Birkenstock-wearing, bohemian publishers tell me to come back with my book proposal when I have 50,000 Instagram followers and I try to achieve that goal, does that ipso-facto make me a narcissist?

My psychotherapy supervisor recounted a story of a couple that was getting divorced and came to see him. He asked them what they liked about each other when they got married. The wife said, “I liked the way he chose the restaurants and made decisions.” The husband said, “I liked the way she made me laugh.”

“Why are you getting divorced?” asked my supervisor.

He’s so controlling!” she bellowed.

All she does is make fun of me!” he cried.

“What you love someone for in the beginning of a relationship, you’ll hate them for in the end,” says Self-Quoting Narcissist Ira Israel.

Over the past 13 years in private practice as a psychotherapist I have heard scores of women upon dissolution of their marriages claim that their husbands were narcissists. I refrain from asking, “Did you not notice this while you were creating your many children and homes with him or is this a rare case of late-onset narcissism?”

Your husband didn’t change. And nor has what women preternaturally consider to be desirable. The characteristics that make a man initially attractive to women will make him repulsive at the end of a relationship. But does that mean he’s a narcissist? And if so, why didn’t the wives object to this behavior during the first twenty years of their marriage?

When men come into my office and tell me that their future ex-wives suffer from clinically undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder I refrain from asking, “Did you not notice this while you were creating your many children and homes with her or is this a rare case of late-onset BPD?”

Your wife didn’t change. And nor has what men preternaturally consider to be desirable. The characteristics that make a woman initially attractive to men will make her repulsive at the end of a relationship. But does that mean she’s borderline? And if so, why didn’t the husbands object to this behavior during the first twenty years of their marriage?

Hopefully the new wave of feminism will preclude both sides from diagnosing their ex-spouses.

“We grew apart,” I instruct all future divorcees to say. “We grew apart.”

You can quote me on that.

It would be very validating.


  • Ira Israel

    Psychotherapist & Author

    Psychotherapist Ira Israel is the author of “How To Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re and Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening,” which is endorsed by Sting, Reverend Michael Beckwith, Marianne Williamson, Jack Kornfield, Shauna Shapiro, Warren Farrell, Katherine Woodward Thomas, Jai Uttal, Joanne Cacciatore, Lorin Roche, Fred Luskin and many many others. Ira teaches workshops on authenticity and happiness at Esalen and Kripalu and has written over 300 articles on psychology, philosophy, Buddhism, yoga, film, art, music & literature for The Huffington Post, Good Men Project, Mind Body Green, Thrive Global, and Medium.  Ira is also the producer, writer and actor of the best-selling DVDs and videos "Authenticity and Awakening for Lovable Idiots," "A Beginner's Guide to Happiness," "A Beginner's Guide to Mindfulness Meditation," "Mindfulness for Depression," "Mindfulness for Anxiety," and "Yoga for Depression and Anxiety.”  He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has graduate degrees in Psychology, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. For more information please visit www.IraIsrael.com