Somatic narcissism is a documented psychological disorder in which a person becomes obsessed with his or her beauty, personality, and sex appeal — basically all of the outward features that make a person attractive. The disorder usually involves more than a simple fixation on these physical details, though. Sufferers are usually so focused on thoughts of their own appearance that they can think of little else, and the obsession can and often does intrude into other aspects of life. These people have a hard time maintaining close friendships and forging meaningful romantic relationships, for instance, and often feel very isolated. Most experts think that the disorder is caused by a combination of subjective factors, like childhood trauma and parental pressure, and more intrinsic features, like genetic predisposition. Not a lot is known about exactly why people show symptoms, but in most cases the condition is treatable with therapy and counseling.
Basics of Narcissism Generally
Most experts believe that somatic narcissism is just one manifestation of the broader narcissistic disorder. Scholars usually divide narcissism into two branches: somatic, which concerns the body and physical appearance, and cerebral, which is focused almost exclusively on the intellect and intangible self esteem.
While a cerebral narcissist will fixate on his or her intellect and boast of academic or career achievements, someone with the somatic form of the condition will obsess over his or her beauty, personality and sex appeal. Narcissism disorder in either case usually requires psychiatric treatment. The disorder prevents sufferers from having satisfying relationships with other people since, in most instances, the narcissist does not feel anything beyond his or her own desires.
In many cases the term “narcissist” is used somewhat casually to describe a person who seems more self-interested than most, but its clinical meaning is actually very serious. People who have the disorder, whether somatic or cerebral, aren’t able to control their obsessions. They don’t usually spend time in front of the mirror because they want to, for instance, but because they can’t help themselves. This can sometimes be hard for healthy people to understand, particularly when the narcissist’s actions cause emotional damage.
Key Characteristics of the Somatic Disorder
People who suffer from somatic versions of narcissism typically see themselves as being irresistible. They may develop a sexual attraction to themselves and may prefer their own company to having a true relationship with someone else. They often flaunt their bodies in an effort to show just how beautiful they are and to win admiration.
Symptoms of somatic narcissism are often obvious, though they may only appear at certain times. The somatic narcissist craves attention, and those who are in a relationship with one may not recognize the problem at first. People who have this disorder aren’t usually able to have meaningful relationships with others and, because they cannot relate emotionally to their partners, they often are unfaithful. They see relationships as games of power and are always looking for something better or more worthy.
The self-involvement that comes with the disorder can lead narcissists to believe that they have a right to anything they want. In somatic cases, this often results in numerous sexual encounters and romantic “flings,” often without any regard for partners’ feelings or desires.
Experts aren’t exactly sure what causes people to develop the condition, though there is some evidence that it may be genetic. Tests have shown that the disorder can be passed from one generation to the next in some families. A genetic cause can make treatment more difficult but also can help pinpoint what therapies will be successful.
Sexual or mental abuse might also be to blame. Psychiatrists have shown that, in some cases, children who have been abused for long periods of time by adults in their trust might rationalize the abuse they suffer and ultimately see it as their own fault. Children in these situations may become convinced that they are simply too irresistible, even for family members who should be trustworthy. This belief can develop into somatic narcissism in some individuals.
Psychiatric help is almost always required for someone to overcome the symptoms and lead a more normal, fruitful life. The most common form of relief is counseling and therapy, with drugs usually being reserved for very extreme cases. Therapy can help a narcissist discover how to properly handle emotions, which can help him or her develop satisfying relationships with others. The families of narcissists are often in therapy as well, often to learn how to deal with the narcissistic behavior and otherwise help their narcissistic loved one.