Narcissism in the gym

I am far from being a narcissist. In fact I’m the opposite. I’m one of those brand of people who find amusement in loathing themselves, or something quite like that. Popular culture has oversimplified the definition of narcissism that it simply is “excessive self-love” which is partly correct.

But according to the American Psychiatric Association, narcissism or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a pattern of traits and behaviors which signify infatuation and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification, dominance and ambition.

Most narcissists (75 per cent) are men.

NPD is new (1980) mental health category. There is only scant research regarding narcissism. But what there is has not demonstrated any ethnic, social, cultural, economic, genetic, or professional predilection to NPD. It is estimated that 0.7-1 per cent of the general population suffer from NPD.

Pathological narcissism was first described in detail by Freud. The onset of narcissism is in infancy, childhood and early adolescence. It is commonly attributed to childhood abuse and trauma inflicted by parents, authority figures, or even peers.

Narcissists are either “Cerebral” (derive their narcissistic supply from their intelligence or academic achievements) – or “Somatic” (derive their narcissistic supply from their physique, exercise, physical or sexual prowess and “conquests”).

Going back to pop culture’s definition, most of people who are branded narcissists are not of the pathological type. They simply are people who succumb to vanity and society’s pressure to look good, achieve as much, or conquer as many possible mate as one can obtain.


Since most narcissists are men, 75 per cent, the best places to study them are in areas like gym and beauty salons where mirrors abound, an important aspect of the metaphor of Narcissus. As an example, the gym where I go to every afternoon right after my class has mirrors on all its walls. Although most of the men that go there to work out do look at their reflections on the mirrors in a subtle, non-obvious manner, some go beyond and do it in a very conspicuous way, sometimes even bordering to exhibitionism.

For in the modern society, body-building, which used to be done for health reasons, is now morphing into a capitalistic endeavor that thrives on the market’s demand for bulging muscles in men who breed hidden narcissist in all of them. I do not say I am immune from it; in fact I sometimes have hidden pleasures in marveling on the reflections of my body on the mirrors in the place where I work out. But I just reason that I worked hard to achieve the definition I see.

We humans are such subtle narcissists.