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Constructing narcissism: Theory, diagnosis, measurement and culture in inventing health and pathology

13 December 1996


The concept of pathological narcissism is deconstructed and reviewed within a social constructivist framework. Current social constructivist tenets and theories are reviewed and applied to the evolution of narcissism as a widely used psychological term. The historical development and prominent psychodynamic theories of narcissism are discussed, followed by analysis of the role of diagnostic nosologies in the reification of the construct. Problems with the diagnostic behavioral criteria are analyzed and clarified. Studies utilizing the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) are reviewed, 2 and the potential utility of the NFl for clarifying theoretical and diagnostic points is discussed. Current analyses of socia-historical and cross-cultural influences on the experience of selfhood are applied to the construct of narcissism. Throughout the paper, 1) inconsistencies within and between the various conceptualizations of narcissism are presented; and 2) the problematic lack of distinction between healthy and pathological expressions of the construct is discussed. Potential solutions to the definitional problems, areas for further study, and the necessity of addressing socia-historical context in the definition of personality and pathology are briefly outlined.


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