Can Psychedelics Treat Narcissism?
The advent of social media has given everyone with a smartphone the “illusion of celebrity”. For many, the number of likes and followers has become the be-all and end-all. Whatever your point of view, this self-absorption has led older generations to label digital natives as “narcissists”.
Contrary to popular belief, a true narcissist — or a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (or NPD) — isn’t just someone who is self-absorbed.
(So, constant posing on social media doesn’t prove narcissism…at least not clinically.)
Now, psychedelics have been found to be a real alternative for treating NPD— the clinical kind— based on new research findings. So, can psychedelics treat narcissism?
A New Study Finds A Link
A recent study published in Psychopharmacology has linked feelings of awe — created by psychedelic experiences—to reduced levels of exploitative-entitled narcissism. According to the researchers, feelings of social connectedness, empathy, and awe from a trip may affect narcissistic personalities in a huge way.
These experiences of awe were found to link to improved mental well-being. But, this study is yet to explain the extent of how it influences narcissism as a clinical disorder. However, the link found with narcissism is a big deal, since most psychedelic therapy studies have focused on other mental health issues such as depression or PTSD.
Study authors Valerie van Mulukom and Ruairi Patterson explained:
“We read… that use of some classic psychedelic drugs can boost levels of empathy. Lower empathy is implicated in…so-called maladaptive, or exploitative-entitled, narcissism.”
More and more research has proved the therapeutic value of psychedelics. However, there has so far been little focus on how these could affect people with extreme narcissism.
“Research has focused on depression primarily, and has not been extended to narcissistic personality disorder… We have set the first steps in this direction, by exploring the association between psychedelic drug experiences and narcissistic personality traits.”
What is True Narcissism?
True narcissists are exploitative, which means that they are “selfish at the extreme expense of others”. They are not able to consider the feelings of those around them.
Here are some key traits of a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (or NPD):
- fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- need for excessive admiration
- takes advantage of others
- lack of empathy
- envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them.
Some may argue that NPD is not a clinical condition that needs medicine -—that it’s merely a personality trait. Similar to kindness or generosity, for example. However, the traits of narcissism (whether or not classified as a “mental illness”) can still cause problems for the person and their peers in the long run.
Therapy, therefore, is an option worth considering for those willing to adjust their behaviour. But this is often done in conjunction with medication: and it rarely comes cheap.
Which begs the question— how do psychedelic experiences begin to treat narcissism? Does it have something to do with that most mysterious of journeys— “ego death”?
Brief Review of Ego Death
Ego death — or transcendence of the self — can occur during a psychedelic trip. Timothy Leary once described the process as:
“…complete transcendence – beyond words, beyond space-time, beyond self. There are no visions, no sense of self, not thoughts. There [is] only pure awareness and ecstatic freedom.”
If we follow Leary’s logic, then ego death is simply incompatible with narcissism — which is mainly concerned with glorifying the self.
(For a more in-depth exploration of this fascinating topic, check out “The Truth About Ego Death” )
Ego Death vs. Feelings of Awe
Using an online survey platform, the researchers surveyed 414 individuals who have used popular psychedelics, such as magic mushrooms and LSD.
The participants answered questions about their most intense psychedelic trip during the past 5 years — along with questions on empathy and narcissism.
What came up next was a surprise.
Ego death itself (or the sense of “losing oneself” while tripping) — actually does not influence narcissism levels, the researchers found. Instead, the feeling of awe while tripping was found to increase feelings of connectedness… which is linked to reduced levels of narcissism. It’s worth noting, however, that the study cannot claim this fully since it was not a controlled scenario (i.e. a clinical setting).
“We found that people who had a recent, highly significant experience while using psychedelic drugs, scored lower on maladaptive narcissism.
Recent awe-inducing experiences…led to stronger connections to nature and humanity.”
Since the survey data was gathered only once, the researchers cannot identify causal relationships between psychedelics, awe, empathy, and narcissism.
“We do not advise that people self-medicate with psychedelic drugs. They need to be administered in a carefully controlled environment, in sessions led by medical professionals.”
Mulukom and Patterson now plan on investigating the link between awe experiences and narcissism, beyond the context of psychedelics.
Hopefully, the survey will encourage clinical research into how feelings of awe are linked to lower levels of narcissism.
What do you think? Is it truly possible to reduce narcissism with drugs -—psychedelic or otherwise? Share your thoughts down below!