Tag Archives: Gertrude Stein

As Gertrude Stein Said, “There’s No There There”

Gertrude Stein at "Les Charwelles," ...
Gertrude Stein at “Les Charwelles,” June 12, 1934. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The life of the narcissist is also defined by his or her ability live a chameleon-like existence of on-going change. They adopt whatever they find pleasing and claim it as their own, particularly if there is any kind of mileage or attention to be gained from it. They will exploit anything that they deem to be useful. If, for some reason, they suddenly find it helpful to be Buddhist, then they will “become” Buddhist. If they can absorb extra attention from it, they will make a show of their “religious beliefs.”

They are “special” in other ways, too, and because of this, are deserving of notice and admiration. They may be related to a royal family. They may have survived an airplane crash. They may have received an award for bravery. Their parents may have been (choose one)saints/alcoholics/impoverished/abusive/scorned/wealthy/inspirational … the list goes on. Whatever it is they say their parents were, you can depend on it that it’s unlikely to be true. It is, however, likely to be grandiose and dramatic and either the best or worst of its kind. Narcissists don’t ever do, according to them, anything small. They just choose descriptors in that moment to suit the audience they have so that they can accomplish their agenda. And the agenda is always the same: compensation for the emptiness they feel and a cover for the fear that they have of having that emptiness found out.

An extension of the construct that they live is the fact that they carry very little with them, either concretely or emotionally. They often have little or nothing at all in the way of family contacts. Because their family members know them and their history, they will certainly not be able to pass themselves off as Buddhist, will they? So it often occurs that narcissists will eliminate family contact, either because they are constantly inventing  new personas to go with the new people in their lives or their family members are of no further use to them. Sometimes family members themselves will cut off contact because they can no longer tolerate the narcissistic behaviours.  There might not be much in the way of friends, either. If there are, the contact will be decidedly infrequent and not really of the quality that most of us would describe as friendship.

Another symptom of their rootlessness is the fact that often, they don’t own much in the way of material possessions; any major assets are likely to be fully encumbered by debt. I know of one situation where the narcissist showed up at his significant other’s home with only a single cardboard box of possessions; he didn’t even own a suitcase. Because of the constant need for re-invention, they are frequently on the move and therefore can’t manage much in the way of possessions; it becomes easier for them to own as little as possible. At most, there will be a storage locker somewhere containing old, cheap, worn furniture that the narcissist has fixated on as being valuable and special because he has good taste and is never wrong. These items will not even have sentimental value, only the value that he has assigned to them because he chose them.

So, as Ms. Stein said, “There’s no there there.”  They have no sense of themselves. They do not do their own thinking. They are incapable of self-examination. They constantly take from others – beliefs, possessions, money, hope, faith, charity, whatever they need in the moment to exploit the person or people with whom they are currently interacting. They give absolutely nothing in return. They are parasites who are always searching for a new situation, and once there, will attempt to consume all available resources before either moving on or being forced to move on. They are a plague that the rest of us have to endure; it’s up to us to be vigilant so that we can minimize the damage as much as possible.

Peekaboo, I See Me

Portrait: 73/365 "N is for Narcissism"
Portrait: 73/365 “N is for Narcissism” (Photo credit: Twaize)

Last time in “I See Myself, Therefore I am” I discussed how the narcissist generates a sense of self through an often invented mirror image and also through unremitting attention-seeking. They believe themselves to be completely empty or at best shallow and although they are afraid that others might discover this about them, they also believe that everyone else is just like themselves. This metastasizes into one of the worst evils about narcissism: the notion that all others operate in the same way that they do. Although this sounds contradictory, given that they’re worried that others will learn about their emptiness, they cannot abide the fact that most people do have an interior being and are, to some degree or another, concerned about the impact they may have on others. Narcissists just don’t accept this.

This type of projection is poisonous and crazy-making. Because narcissists at some point in their lives were damaged (or perhaps were even born that way) and had their ability to feel empathy turned off,  they all come to the conclusion that everyone else has had the same thing happen and that no one is capable of feeling  for another. The narcissist believes that essentially, we are all walking around lying about our feelings for others; at best we are pretending. Even though they have an inkling that this might not be true, as evidenced by their fear of having their emptiness found out, they behave as if it is true. The result is this then: every relationship they enter into is nothing more than a battle ground where they fight to inflict damage before it can be inflicted on them, where everyone is an enemy to be controlled and defeated, and where no one is to be trusted unless he or she can be absolutely subdued and mastered. All must be viewed with suspicion, because remember, we’re all waiting to do the same to them.

You might be wondering, then, why with this level of projection going on, they might ever enter into a relationship in the first place. Don’t forget that they’re empty and need attention to feel that they actually exist; therefore, they must have someone to provide that for them, so then the search begins. Their method of choice for winning people over is what I call a charm offensive. They can charm the birds right out of the trees. They compliment excessively, especially in areas where you might feel a little weak, they do little things for you, they buy you thoughtful presents; they make you feel valued and appreciated. They will walk over burning coals, hike through deserts or scale glaciers for you. They are charismatic and winning. They will make you feel like you are the only person who matters to them because you are the only person who matters to them. You are a target, a mark, a trophy, and they have a lot invested in you. And once you start to believe them, then, well, then everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world starts to tilt, because then the projection starts.

Very slowly, they begin to point out the things that are wrong with you, and because you have decided to trust them and also because you relate to others with thoughtfulness and empathy, you seriously consider what they have to say even though these negatives may be completely foreign to you. It might start with a suggestion to change your hair colour, or alter the brand of perfume you use. These “suggestions” are initially subtle and insidious but they continue to grow, both in volume and degree of importance. The next thing you know, your best friend whom you have known for 20 years is a pathetic a**hole who makes your life completely miserable. You have no taste in clothes or furniture and completely lack any sense of style. Your new car is a cheap piece of crap. Your new home has all sorts of things wrong with it. You have never worked hard in your life and you chose your career in order to be paid as much as possible for doing as little as possible. Your neighbours are a bunch of yelping harpies. You’re a miserable, fat lazy whiner who does nothing except sleep. You’re a tight fisted cheap skate. You have absolutely no idea what hardships are and would fail if you ever had to face any of them. You achieve your happiness at the expense of everyone around you. You’re a sexual adolescent who is clueless about intimacy. You don’t appreciate me.  You refuse to share. You’re stupid. You’re cruel to me. You’re a vindictive liar. You have no idea how to love anyone except yourself. You’re worthless, useless and a complete waste of skin. It would solve a lot of problems if you didn’t exist.

Do you see the projection? This is what they think of themselves. They swim in a vast cistern of jealousy-inspired hatred – hatred for themselves and hatred for all those people out there who seem to be better than they are, so they set out to prove that no one is superior to them, and they tear apart anyone with whom they become involved. Apart from stealing whatever they can from you, that is their raison d’être. The upshot is that unless you extricate yourself from this downward spiral, you wind up in a completely isolated deathtrap of a relationship with only a dim awareness of the fact that once upon a time, you had a perfectly good life.

For part three of this very lengthy definition, I am going to quote Gertrude Stein, who famously said, “There’s no there there.” She wasn’t referring to narcissists at the time, but as a succinct description of what they are, or perhaps I should say what they aren’t, truer words were never spoken.