Tag Archives: instability of character

Where Does Narcissism Come from? Part III

Two recent small studies have indicated that narcissists suffer from a lack of grey matter in the cerebral cortex; as one of them (Altered Brain Structure in Pathological Narcissism) says, there are “structural abnormalities in precisely that region of the brain which is involved in the processing and generation of compassion” (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/1306/19101434.htm). The other study, which I found at psychcentral.com>News>Research News indicates a very similar result. In a nutshell, these studies, through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, indicated that the brains of the narcissists studied are underdeveloped in the areas that control empathy, compassion and selflessness.

So, finally, there is scientific evidence that narcissists have a definitive problem with their brains. This is something that I have instinctively believed right from the beginning of my investigation into the causes and effects of narcissism.

It felt to me, and still feels, that to espouse the notion that narcissism is caused by poor parenting from the mother is totally simplistic and completely lacking in a recognition of the complexity of the human brain; it’s reductionist, to say the least. To say the worst, it just seems to be another attempt to arbitrarily throw responsibility for a societal problem onto the shoulders of women, again.

Yes, there are mothers who are responsible for having perpetrated the narcissistic wound in their children. But there are also fathers, other caretakers, and perhaps anyone else who came into contact with the child who later develops Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

However, I’m getting off-track a little here.

I see these two studies as having a couple of serious problems.

Firstly, there’s no way that the MRI can determine if the damage inflicted was the result of childhood experiential trauma to the tender developing brain or if the child was born with it.  The damage could also be a combination of both brain chemistry and  experience.

Secondly, the studies are both very small. Less than 50 partcipants. What can those small numbers tell us about anything? Well, as for most things in life, researchers have to start somewhere, and so it was that they started with two small groups. There other thing the small numbers tell me is that the researchers had trouble finding narcissists who would participate. In fact, in one of the studies, the participants were incarcerated.

Narcissists, by their very nature, can’t abide any kind of recognition that they might be less than perfect. To participate in a study where you might be confirmed as having a brain development issue – well, that’s just not on their radar.

To me, it’s perfectly understandable why the researchers turned to a, er, captive audience, so to speak. It must be frustrating to try to study a group that refuses to be studied, that in fact refuses to believe there’s anything wrong.

What would happen if, for instance, diabetics refused to be studied? If they refused to acknowledge that their pancreases aren’t functioning properly? I can easily see researchers turning to a prison population to try to get information.

However, I can also see something else, too: the probable, eventual dismissal of any attention to the issue from the society at large. This would be completely normal, really. What to do with a population that refuses to even recognize that there’s a life – threatening health problem?

Conversation on the matter would likely go something like this: Well, we’ve tried everything. If they won’t recognize the problem then there’s nothing we can do. We just have to let them go. It’s too bad when they go into shock, but that’s their own fault, isn’t it? Just wheel them out of the road when that happens. That’s all we can do.

Eventually, the only people who might care about those with diabetes would be those who have some sort of personal connection. Most others would likely just melt away. Research would become a niche area reserved for eccentrics. Really, there would be little reason for most people to remain involved.

Of course, this is not how we feel about diabetics. Behaving that way would be cruel and bordering on psychopathic, even if it were true that diabetics are unable to recognize their own illness.

Why is narcissism an exception, then?  It’s starting to take on the same proportions; it’s beginning to become a very serious, international mental health issue. We are suffering from it personally, economically, and politically. It is widespread and is spreading further. All any of us has to do is Google “narcissism” and look at the results. An awful lot of people have been victims of it: it infects our work lives, our home lives, and every level of government and finance. There are also serious concerns about what’s happening to our children and young adults in this atmosphere of helicopter parents and societal fear of failure.

But it’s not perceived as a problem. Or if it is, it’s someone else’s, or it’s the narcissist’s own. Just wheel them out of the road. Or more correctly, wheel the carnage they cause out of the road.

Yes, these scientists seem to be very alone and out in the weeds with their research, but in my opinion they should be supported and encouraged in every way possible. We need the information. Our world needs this information.

What is your opinion? Should narcissism research receive more support? Should we  begin treating narcissism as a serious mental health issue that society needs to work on?

And I’m Pleased to Introduce … Narcissistic Instability!

He’s a fence-sitter. He’s a waffler. He’s a flip-flopper. He’s inconsistent. He’s unstable. I’ll never forget the day that I realized that. The day that I stopped making excuses and stopped trying to soften the impact that his behaviour was having when I used euphemistic descriptors. It was an important turning point because I began to see what, exactly, I was dealing with instead of trying to minimize, rationalize and cope. I didn’t know it then, but that was when I started to get my life back.

The narcissist is a curious mixture of nothing. My former narcissist projects a charming act that hides an abyss – its only contents are things that he manufactures. He’s completely stuck there, as frozen as an amber bug. The most startling and contradictory thing about him, however, was that he occasionally had glimpses of insight into himself – there were very brief moments of self-awareness. One of these moments especially stands out.

Long before I met him, Harry had launched a lawsuit for defamation, depression and loss of professional earnings against two women: one was a former colleague and quite clearly a narcissist herself while the other one was a former girlfriend who had suffered some brain injury after a car crash.

Mary, the former colleague, took a dislike to Harry after a professional disagreement and proceeded to try to have Harry’s license as an engineer revoked. In the meantime, Harry broke up with his girlfriend, Danielle, as a result of the ongoing issues with her mental health. To make a very long, very soapy story short, Mary and Danielle eventually became friends and colluded to have Harry charged for stalking and threatening their lives; he was ultimately arrested but the charges were dropped five days later because of a lack of evidence. Harry then started his lawsuit.

This lawsuit took ten years to come to its conclusion because Harry changed lawyers a couple of times and during its course Harry also continued an on-again, off-again relationship with Danielle which the trial judge noted in his reasons for judgement. The judge sided with Harry and concluded that he was the subject of a false, hate-fuelled, vengeful plot. However, it’s also clear that the judge to some extent saw the situation as being the product of Harry’s own behaviour and that there was also an attempt on Harry’s part to make the situation appear worse than it actually was. As a result, the monetary settlement that Harry received was only a token and was quickly consumed by his legal costs.

It’s true that Harry was wronged. There is no question of it, either legally or morally. However, the personality defects that define the narcissist lead him or her to having some very odd reactions to things, especially conflict.  For instance, neither I, nor most people I know, would continue to have a relationship with a mentally ill person against whom they have an ongoing, bitter and protracted lawsuit that’s designed to relieve her of any money that she might have because of the damage that she’s done. It became obvious to me that during the course of  his relationship with Danielle, he flopped around like a mop and never did come to any firm conclusions or positions about his feelings for her.  His issue was that as a very beautiful, well-dressed woman – and she was, undeniably – she made the perfect trophy. She was able to present well for short periods of time and he could bask in the reflected, surface glory as he squired her around. This was irresistible to him, and he continued to take advantage of her mental shortcomings so that he could wring as much from her as possible.

Behind the scenes, however, he harboured a pathological, misogynistic dislike. Remember, Harry has profound issues with women and is also a homosexual who hates himself for it. This is a cauldron of discord; instability would be a natural result. What to do? How to be? He’s all about display and artifice and charm but at the same time reacts with an instinctive hatred toward women that he tries to bury but that unexpectedly leaks out.

This situation is incredibly difficult for anyone to deal with, but for someone who is mentally handicapped, it’s impossible. In my opinion Danielle was also taken advantage of by the other narcissist in her life, Mary. This is reflected in the judge’s ruling who verbally chastised Danielle’s behaviour as reprehensible but did not otherwise punish her in any way. The token monetary amount was adjudicated against Mary alone.

Then there were Harry’s interactions with Mary. Two narcissists having a row. Lovely. The lying, the misrepresentation and the one-upmanship was spectacular. I admire the trial judge’s fortitude in picking his way through this mess, if also feeling rather miffed that a couple of narcissists could manage to clog up the court system for so long with this dreck.

The upshot, as I’ve already indicated, is that while Harry won, he also lost. He claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars in missed earnings because of the damage the two women inflicted on his reputation. However, the judge noted that Harry’s career as an engineer had historically been spotty and punctuated by periods of unemployment and poor relationships with superiors, employers and colleagues. He had always earned much less than the average and already had a questionable professional reputation. Without directly saying so, the judge intimated that Harry was exaggerating and that he was also taking advantage of the situation in order to score a significant cash infusion; Mary was a very wealthy woman with significant financial resources.

Narcissus
Narcissus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember well the question Harry asked me after I had read the judgement for the first time and we had discussed it: “I’m partly to blame for this, aren’t I?” I agreed that he was; that he could have let the whole thing go after the police determined that there had been no basis for the charges, that he could have avoided the financial hardship and depression that came with the lawsuit.

It was only months later, when I was in the process of divorcing him, that I realized that he liked all this drama; he loved legal scrambling and being on the financial brink and using those situations to claim depression and heartache and victimhood. He craved the instability of this situation because it’s what he’s comfortable with. He could wallow in it and get lots of attention from it. For him, instability is stability.

I later learned that during the lawsuit against Mary and Danielle, he had no less than three other lawsuits (not including a law-suit that had been brought against him) in various stages: a countersuit against a lawyer whom he had refused to pay when Harry disagreed with his handling of Mary and Danielle; a lawsuit against another woman who had broken off her romantic relationship with him, and a lawsuit against a former employer who had fired him. Indeed, there were two other lawsuits that he contemplated but did not pursue; the commonality among all of them was that they were frivolous and unwinnable.

Into this mix was the fact that he had become well-known to the local police long before the arrest that precipitated the suit against Mary and Danielle – he had a long history of warnings and an arrest and conviction for assault. When he realized that he finally had a lawsuit that could go all the way, he must have been in absolute narcissistic heaven.

He can’t stand stability for very long. He’s got to have something boiling in his pot so that he can feel comfortable and so that his attention can be diverted from the boring, stultifying reality of living with an empty self.  Hence the nasty comments that are designed to provoke a fight; the constant changing of opinion and direction, the neverending motion that accomplishes little. He is compelled to generate instability because otherwise, he won’t feel “normal”. The only constant is the inconstant, the only reality is the unreal, the only stability is the unstable.

However, if there’s one thing that causes me to feel any pity for this man at all, it’s the fact that during these very rare, very brief moments, I saw what he could have been. I saw illumination and intelligence. I saw humility and reality. And then it was gone.  The act was back, and it was very sad.

You’re So Vain; You Probably Think This Song Is About You

Why (Carly Simon song)
Why (Carly Simon song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Carly Simon probably never imagined that this song would grow to represent the narcissists of the world, even though it’s clear that she was dealing with one of her own. Its irony stands as a paean over the adversity and pain wrought by those whose only concern is themselves, who lead you down a path of false trust and love so that they have you before they reveal themselves.

I’ve already discussed how they feel completely empty except for the negative emotions they have about themselves and that they are compelled to drop on others. I believe that the narcissist I was married to was also gay, and that this compounded his self-hatred and his intense feelings of shame.

The conversations that I have had with my counsellor and the reading I have done inform me that growing up with some kind of shame is pretty normal. My interpretation is that unless we feel shame, we will be unable to regulate unacceptable behaviours and internalize a notion of what empathy is and how it functions. Like most things in life, shame is good for us in small doses. Let it get out of control, however, and it becomes a serious impediment that, in the case of the narcissist, can lead to self-hatred and what I call instability of character. In other words, they don’t know who they are.

In “As Gertrude Stein Said, ‘There’s No There There,'”  I discussed how the narcissist will exploit anything that provides an advantage, that they will “become” anything in order to get ahead or to be seen in a flattering light. They also do this so that they can “manufacture” a character. If they are at a party and the small talk turns to food dislikes, they will invent a dislike just so that they will fit in, so that they will have something to say and can have the spotlight focussed on them, even if they have never really thought about it before. Thereafter, for this particular group of people, the narcissist will  insist on a dislike of pomegranates, with accompanying dramatic and illustrated story, such as snorting pomegranate seeds through his nose while driving full-tilt down the highway. Piece by piece, then, the narcissist will concoct what he or she sees as “character.”

The problem with this and where the instability starts to come in is two-fold. First, it starts to become difficult to keep track of “who” you are when there are numerous groups, and perhaps sub-groups, of people. And what about these groups mingling with each other? If the lady from your quilting class suddenly starts also attending your wine-tasting class, then things might get dicey. Yikes! She knows that pomegranate story … or maybe it was that other story, the one about being slung into prison in Angola, left there to rot and stuck listening to that drip, drip, drip on the stone cold floor while great brutes of cockroaches scuttled around looking for a place to build a new bedroom.

Well, the narcissist has an answer for this – one of these classes is going to get the boot. And for good measure, she may never talk to the quilting lady again because that lady has introduced fear into the narcissist’s life and has to be blamed, punished and excised. The fact is that unless the narcissist has settled on a group of “reliable” stories that are told and re-told, none of which are likely to be true, mind you, he or she will compartmentalize.

In other words, no one group of people in the narcissist’s life can mingle with another. There just might be too great an exchange of information, and the narcissist’s construct as a superior and special being might be found out. People might learn that he’s, well, that he’s just ordinary! One of the great ironies about this scenario that the narcissist is just too self-absorbed to get is that unless he forces it, he likely will not be the center of attention; people might have other things to talk about besides him.

It’s also interesting to note that despite the fears that narcissists have of being found out, they can be completely blase if they are found out. They will quickly invent an explanatory lie that on the surface sounds plausible, but on closer examination reveals major faults. They may laugh at you or be aggressively confrontational as  diversionary tactics. They may also just stare and not respond at all, leaving the recipients to believe that there’s something wrong with them. I experienced all of these responses from my former narcissist husband.

The second part of this instability is the narcissist’s profound misunderstanding that having a collection of dramatic/heroic/tragic stories to tell does not constitute character, nor does “acquiring” someone else’s belief system. They absolutely fail to get that the development of a set of principles and beliefs requires years of honing, of examining, of molding and of casting off, and that it is fluid and responsive over time. It is as if they see a shelf of labelled characteristics from which they can choose, like deciding on an outfit for the day. As in Alice in Wonderland, “drink me” comes with a set of  literal and surface results that for the narcissist, are completely “predictable”. “This is what I am” – today.

But underneath all this bullshit is shame. Shame because they believe that everyone else is better than them. Self-hatred because they are incapable of getting past the shame. Makes you want to feel sorry for them, doesn’t it? Don’t. Because if they remember what it was that made them hate themselves and feel ashamed, its reality is only a dim memory – likely it’s been replaced with a story. They may not even recognize that the hate and the shame exist, and if they do, they will certainly deny it. All they know is a frenetic need to fill up that vast nothingness, that vanity, by stealing the very being, the very core, of those who are unfortunate enough to come into contact with them.