Is narcissism the origin of evil?

Lately, the words “narcissism” and “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” have appeared in a lot of news commentary, usually bandied about without much explanation.

In the words below–while I cannot speak for him–I think Sam Keen may be referring to the most extreme forms of narcissism when he says that people who commit evil acts are on a deep, unconscious level motivated by a need for ego-aggrandizement or self-importance. In effect to matter, for our existence to have meaning, some impact. How we experience “self”–thus our self-image and self-esteem–is vital to our sense of “being” in the world, particularly as individuals in relationship to others, including from infancy onward.


There is healthy narcissism, and there is pathological narcissism, on a continuum from very positive to very negative. While self-confidence and pride are good qualities, self-righteousness and a need to win or to dominate can lead to harming others and authoritarian superiority. When our earliest experiences are not adequately positive to build a strong, integrated sense of our body/mind/spirit personhood, self-esteem is poor and the ego is fragile. Tragically, trying to preserve that fragile “self”–especially if feeling threatened or seemingly pushed into a corner–can result in lashing out in pretty awful ways, including cruelty and abuse. 

People who fit the mental health diagnosis known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder can, to greater or lesser degrees, manifest the most negative and pathological of such attitudes and behaviors, probably because those with NPD exhibit little or no empathy for other people. Taken to the absolute extreme, this lack of empathy leads to the absence of concern or caring for human pain and suffering seen in sociopaths, even to such individual’s enjoyment of inflicting pain on others.

History gives us many examples, some of the worst among them Adolf Hitler, Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele and other Nazis of the Third Reich. It is indeed appalling to think that these men were possibly motivated, on a very deep, unconscious level, to commit heinous atrocities and other crimes against humanity because they were seeking to feel good about themselves. That seems absurd, doesn’t it? But sadly, the human psyche is capable of such horrific turns and twists.

I don’t know if narcissism is the origin of evil, but it is interesting to contemplate, and certainly points to the importance of providing children a positive, nurturing environment in which to grow up and flourish. And needless to say, it underscores the importance of putting an end to all the physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse that so much damages or destroys the sense of self of so many. At worst, monsters create monsters.


8 thoughts on “Is narcissism the origin of evil?

  1. I agree. I actually know someone who has this disorder but they fail to admit it. I can also see the damage they cause in surroundings.

    You’re welcome, best wishes to you too!

    • I was looking at your blog and wanted to tell you I really liked the good advice you offered in your “birthday” post (I tried to comment but for some reason the site wouldn’t post it). You and I are far apart in age but I think close in spirit. (We may also have the same birthday–3/14?) It’s so great to see someone who is concerned about mental health and the inappropriate stigma attached to so many who struggle with such issues. You know, I’m writing a novel about a 22-year-old young woman who, in San Francisco in the late 1960s, is trying to leave behind a painful history and be all that she can be. She is also interested in psychology, and as the story progresses, meets a hot guy who is a psychologist. They have some conversations you might enjoy. Ha-ha. Kindred spirits all? Cheers!

      • It makes me so happy to see that you read a post on my blog and liked it too. I must look into why your comment wasn’t posted.

        Oh my, yes! 3/14! It totally makes sense why we’re close in spirit now, Ha-ha!
        I can’t wait to read your novel. Do keep me posted about it.

        Also, I would love for you to read my posts and advice me on how to become better at writing.


        • I just read your post Plan ahead or live in the moment? Once again, it resonates with my thinking. When I was your age I was desperately struggling to sort my life out, searching for answers by doing then-popular group therapies, going to Esalen Institute workshops and “encounter groups,” exploring Eastern religions. In time, my life was utterly transformed by what my searching led me to, and I found a home in Buddhist teachings, particularly Zen and Vipassana, or what is now commonly called Mindfulness. Living in the present moment is, I agree, the key to contentment, or at least a degree of calm amidst whatever storms we must go through. If we do our very best to live well in the present moment, to do “right” in actions, speech, thoughts, even eating and sleeping, our present will be as good as it can be, our past will become filled with more and more good memories, and our future will be blessed with many more such moments to come. I’m not familiar with Karen Maezen Miller, but her words sound as though she is perhaps influenced by Buddhist or similar psychology. My main teachers in this area were Alan Watts (whose lectures I attended in late 60s San Francisco) and Jack Kornfield (who has taught meditation in Marin County California since the 80s, and now leads Sprit Rock Meditation Center there). There are so many from whom we can gain wisdom, isn’t that so? How fortunate we are when our personal journeys lead us to such teachers, whether in person, in books, or through friends.

          We grow from community, don’t we? That is my best advice for improving your writing. I’ve found joining a community of writers, including participating in writers’ critique groups, to be a wonderful way to grow as a writer. I’m not sure where you are located, but suspect there might be such groups in your area, too. There are also online critique groups, and writers’ support communities. I’ve heard others say those are fun and helpful. Above all, keep writing, and write a lot. That’s what I’ve found works best.

          I signed up to follow your blog, so look forward to reading more of your posts. I invite you to do the same with mine, though I can’t promise frequent posts. I need to do better at that, I know.

          Best wishes!

        • Thank you for your advice. You seem like a wonderful personality. It’s huge that at a very young age, you set out to discover yourself.
          I shall go for online critique groups, that would be more feasible for me.

          Best wishes to you too!

    • Yes, NPD definitely seems to erode the goodness in people. To make matters worse, people with NPD rarely seek help in therapy. To do so would mean they must admit they have a problem, that they need help, and that’s something they find very difficult, if not impossible, to do. The big, shiny facade they’ve built to hide and protect the fragile, frightened child inside is very thin, though, and there is always a chance all will come tumbling down. In truth, that could be a good thing, an opening to healing, to a new beginning, but few narcissists are able to go there. So sad. Thanks for visiting my blog. Best wishes to you!

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