The media is jampacked with people who suffer from what psychoanalysts call Narcissistic Personality Disorder. These are the manic self-lovers, people who act as if they are permanently on cocaine - which, of course, some of them are.
Their only basis for relating to others is solipsistic. They create social or professional cliques based on the unconscious dictum: 'I am perfect. You are perfect too, but you are part of me.' The late Paula Yates, with whom I worked in the 80s on a TV series, was a sad example.
'Paula flirts with everyone,' said her friend Sue Godley; and the first time I met Paula, she came over and sat on my lap. Doubtless this partly expressed her desire to shock and live up to a sexpot image. But it also reflected a toddler-like longing to be physically held, mothered even.
Studies of narcissists show them to be more prone to infidelity, on a misguided search for love and self-esteem through sex. Of her sexpot persona, Paula said, 'My image in the media as a Mata Hari has nothing to do with reality.' She objected to her tabloid image, despite deliberately seeking publicity. In fact, she was addicted to it, desperate for the next fix of attention to override her rock-bottom self-esteem.
Her sense of worthlessness was matched by a need to be recognised. Strangers saying, 'You're that Paula Yates' conferred identity and temporarily compensated for her sense of invisibility as an infant. For it is in very early infancy - the first six months - that narcissists are formed. Their needs are subordinated to those of their carer, leaving an abiding sense of injury at being deemed unimportant.
Studies of adults who were neglected in infancy, before being taken into care or adopted, show that they are at greater risk of the disorder. And when large samples of people are followed from infancy to adulthood, maltreatment before the age of two is a stronger predictor of this disorder than anything else.
However, it is not all down to care in infancy, which only creates a vulnerability. If there is subsequent abuse - physical or sexual - narcissism is far more likely.
Likewise, cultural context can be important. An infant in Tokyo is far less likely to become disordered in this way than one in New York, partly because early care in Japan is much better. Also, America's individualist ethos makes it far easier to become like Woody Allen than does Far Eastern collectivism.
Paula's childhood was a real stinker. She described herself as a 'whining, whingeing, clinging child' in a home 'permeated with the scent of melodrama'. Her selfish and whimsical actress mother was rarely there, in every sense, and her father was manic-depressive.
Paula recalled, 'I hated being a child. I couldn't wait to grow up.' In fact, typical of people with this kind of background, she never did, trapped in a state of permanent emotional deprivation, barely more advanced than a toddler.
· For more on the causes of personality disorder, see Oliver James's new book, They F*** You Up (£16.99, Bloomsbury). Oliver James is unable to enter into any personal correspondence.