Are you or someone close to you a narcissist? If you are not a narcissist, I’m sure you’ve had interactions with people who are. Despite their initial charm, you likely remember your interactions as marked by excessively selfish and arrogant behavior that may have caused you emotional, social, even physical harm .
Narcissistic traits occur along a spectrum from mild to severe and can include:
- Inflated sense of self-importance
- Preoccupation with unrealistic fantasies of success, power, beauty, or love
- Excessive need for admiration
- Excessive sense of entitlement
- Exploitation of other people
- Absence of empathy
- Arrogant and selfish behaviors and attitudes
Perhaps you’ve had relationships (love, family, coworkers, etc.) with someone who tended towards narcissistic behavior, someone who habitually put their own interests first, ignored your feelings, viewed the world only from the perspective of their own ambitions.
At the extreme, narcissism can be experienced as narcissistic personality disorder, the most severe form that can cause considerable turmoil for the people around them. Like other forms of personality disorder, there is no effective treatment although counseling that increases self-awareness and educates about better social strategies. Medications are often prescribed for associated phenomena such as depression or anxiety.
Why am I bringing this topic up? Well, it has relevance to our experience in cultivating oxytocin with our L. reuteri yogurt. Recall that L. reuteri, lost by the majority of Americans due to antibiotics and other factors, when restored sends a signal via the myenteric nervous system and vagal nerve to the hypothalamus and pituitary glands to release oxytocin into the brain and bloodstream. Oxytocin, in turn, increases empathy, tolerance for other people’s opinions, cooperation, generosity, desire for human connection, and concern for the welfare of others. As I have often said, I believe that a restoration of oxytocin makes us better human beings. (Can the loss of L reuteri and thereby oxytocin be at least partial explanation for the apparent uptick in social friction? I’ll bet it is.)
Emerging research from the world of neuropsychology is uncovering a connection between narcissism, as well as psychopathy, and traits of callousness and lack of emotion with dysfunction of the oxytocin system. It could be due to low oxytocin release from the hypothalamus and pituitary, it could be due to a variant of the oxytocin receptor, it could involve epigenetic changes to the oxytocin receptor that are acquired. Regardless, defects in the oxytocin system appear to be associated with these serious defects in personality including narcissistic tendencies.
While I would not claim that L. reuteri and oxytocin is a cure for narcissistic personality disorder, I do believe that this strategy of enhancing endogenous oxytocin production can indeed reduce narcissistic tendencies. It makes people more social, makes meeting someone’s gaze easier, makes you more accepting, allows you to “read” someone else’s reactions, makes you more cooperative, more likely to be generous. Imagine what the world could be like if we got everyone to experience this boost in oxytocin?