Brian Blackwell and Narcissistic Personality Disorder

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Brian BlackwellThis week the
teenager who received a life sentence for murdering his parents, turned media
attention to a little known psychiatric diagnosis called narcissistic
personality disorder. One of the most shocking things about the case seems to
be that Blackwell had no trace of a ‘troubled background’, and the media were
left searching for reasons for an unreasonable act.
In The Times Minette Marin
wondered whether Blackwell was at the mercy of his genes. Ultimately this is a
question of free will – do we really have the power to make our own decisions
or do we simply carry out the bidding of our genes and environment?
It’s easy and very common to
set up this ‘either’, ‘or’ question, despite the fact it doesn’t help work out
what is going on here. A more useful thought is to imagine a sliding scale of
free will, where perhaps some people have more free will than others.
Along similar lines, The
Observer discussed how parents may feel they have little control over how their
children turn out. This, however, is something that psychologists have
recognised already – finding that it is a child’s peers who have the largest
effect on personality development.
The Telegraph pointed out that
narcissistic personality disorder is more of an American construct than a
British one – along with the suggestion everyone is narcissistic to a certain
This point brings out the most
important problem with so-called personality disorders and their diagnosis. The
categories are often fairly arbitrary, culturally defined and not widely agreed
upon. Personality disorders are sliding scales, not on or off categories, and
many of the categories themselves have very fuzzy boundaries.
In addition, most of the
personality disorders recognised by psychiatrists in the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders show high levels of comorbidity. In other words if
you’re diagnosed with one, then you’re likely to be diagnosed with others as
well. It all comes down to the convenience of giving someone a label.
the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD
is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from
University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about
scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book
“Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.
Bear that in mind as you read
BBC News’ description of narcissistic personality disorder.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.