Tag Archives: self-absorption

Where Does Narcissism Come From? Part II

From what I experienced with my ex-husband, narcissism, and by that I mean the extreme narcissism that produces narcissistic personality disorder, is a result of a combination of personality and environmental factors.

Harry, my ex-narcissist, seems to me to have been born with a personality – in other words, the basic personality that was the result of his genetic inheritance – that left him unable to cope with much in the way of emotional upheaval. As a child, he was was probably much more emotional and sensitive than most people.

That was in the 1940s. And being an “emotional” boy would not have been an accepted trait during that time. He likely would have been castigated for any displays of emotion. “Boys don’t cry.” “Act like a man.” “Toughen up.” And so on.

Then, from what I’ve been able to piece together, the perfect confluence of long-term emotional upheaval began: his mother developed a drinking problem and was sent away by Harry’s father to get treatment. She was gone for a long period of time, possibly more than a year. Then, Harry’s father, distant to begin with, exposed Harry to a sort of uninvolved neglect. It could also be that at about this time, Harry became nascently aware that he’s gay – he was around ten.

As a result of these nurturing deficiencies, Harry became locked into childhood behaviour. He developed a love/hate relationship with women. He was in awe of his distant father. As he became older, he enacted repeatedly the wounding that he suffered from his parents, spreading it to others like a plague, hoping, on a subconscious level, to eliminate it from his life, or worse yet, dropping it on others so that they could feel the same way that he does. After all, it isn’t “fair” for others to feel better than he does.

Because he was a child when this occurred, with a child’s sense of understanding and logic, the narcissistic wounding was perceived through a child’s eyes. A childlike reaction resulted: in particular, narcissists react to criticism in very childlike ways. They are hypersensitive to any kind of perceived negativity that might be directed at them. One cliche certainly applies to narcissists and criticism: they can dish it out but they can’t take it. Eventually, the original wounding is forgotten and buried, and the narcissist can no longer make any kind of connection between event and  behaviour, if a connection had ever consciously been made in the first place.

Although Harry is a grown man physically, he relates to the world through the brain of a sensitive child who was damaged beyond repair. He has developed coping mechanisms and armour to protect himself from further injury. He has objectified others so that they can’t hurt him; since others are to be viewed with mistrust and suspicion, they become tools. Despite this, he is aware that others function better than he does, so he frequently copies them, masquerading what he interprets as “normal” behaviour. The fact that others seem to function better than him also causes frustration and rage. He thinks, “I’m doing what they’re doing. I’m saying what they’re saying. And I still can’t get it right.” He has completely lost himself in a confused morass of borrowed behaviours, opinions and habits, looking for the right fit, as if buying a new suit.

The sensitive child still lives within him, so there is a further impetus to over-react to criticism, or, he might perceive as criticism an action or comment that is completely innocuous. His bewilderment has continued to grow as he sees others handling criticism in a much healthier way, even as he sees them as objects of suspicion.

He doesn’t understand others or himself. He doesn’t understand life. He just emulates it. And he’s built such a ferocious, defensive fortress for himself, and has such mistrust of others, that he’s never going to admit that anything is wrong, let alone allow someone to help him.

He has wound up with no self of his own. He doesn’t know what he thinks or believes about anything. He might say that he believes or thinks this or that, but it’s only temporary. He will change his mind ten seconds later.

He is constantly on the hunt for some sort of satisfaction, idealizing, devaluing and discarding as he goes. He tries to soothe himself with the acquisition of things and money and people.

He doesn’t know love. He doesn’t know comfort. He doesn’t know empathy. He’s completely empty except for that infected, weeping wound and the fear and anger that it generates.

And the worst part is that he has come to the conclusion that everyone else operates in the same way. We’re all like him – without scruples, without principles, without truth.

There are times when I feel very sorry for Harry. He didn’t have the best childhood. He grew up during a time when it was expected that men be “tough.” A younger brother died in a tragic accident. He went on to face other life difficulties.

But then I stop to remember that there are many, many people who have it much, much worse than Harry, but who treat others with genuine courtesy and respect.

Is Harry, and are narcissists in general, more to be pitied than blamed? In many ways, they don’t know what they’re doing. Or should they be held to account, even if they don’t fully understand what that means? What do you think?

In my next installment on narcissism, I plan to look at the emerging theory that narcissism is the result of abnormal brain structure.

A Plague of Narcissists

  

English: The Plague of Flies, c. 1896-1902, by...
English: The Plague of Flies, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902), gouache on board, 6 15/16 x 7 3/8 in. (17.6 x 18.7 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m really not sure why this didn’t come up as one of the ten plagues of Egypt. I mean, it would have been a really good one to have.  These people look perfectly normal but are harbouring some of the worst characteristics there are. They could have been a sort of fifth column or Typhoid Mary. Good use could have been made of their natural talents.

They love drama and could have been fomenting plots.

Since everyone wishes they were them, they could have exercised some tenacious mind-control.

They seriously hate themselves and then they project it. So, there could have been a lot of tooth-nashing, mind-controlled followers who were constantly looking over their shoulders for back-stabbers, and therefore completely distracted.

Their constant re-invention would have made them difficult to track down.

Even if they were tracked down, their sense of superiority and ability to fly into a rage would have been very intimidating, crushing any attempts at bringing them under control.

They could have charmed all the kings, pharaohs, despots, crackpots, and so on into giving themselves bankrupt.

 Since they’re mostly a bunch of misogynists, they certainly would have had those women where they belong.

Their natural gift for instability would have had them organizing newer and better wars.

Their lack of gratitude, respect or humility for anyone but themselves would have made them impervious to tampering, tinkering or cajoling.

The shame they feel would have lead the populace to feel sorry for them instead of taking them down.

English: The Plague of Frogs, engraving publis...
English: The Plague of Frogs, engraving published in “La Saincte Bible, Contenant le Vieil and la Nouveau Testament, Enrichie de plusieurs belles figures/Sacra Biblia, nouo et vetere testamento constantia eximiis que sculpturis et imaginibus illustrata, De Limprimerie de Gerard Jollain” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A plague of narcissists? Yikes! Forget the frogs and flies and meteorites and boils and sores. Those Old Testament guys would have been in real trouble. Or maybe that is what they had to contend with. The pharaohs weren’t exactly a bunch of diffident, self-effacing humanists.

Maybe that’s what a lot of us have to contend with on a basis that’s much more frequent than we realize.

The person in the cubicle next to you who is jealous and envious.

The “friend” who likes to complain about your other friends.

The neighbour who sets two other neighbours against each other.

The boss who smiles at you one second and rips you apart the next.

I don’t know how much narcissism most of us have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, but it seems to be awfully widespread and at the root of a lot of the crap that goes on in the world.

So, if I wish anything for this new year, it’s that we start to realize how much egoism and self-absorption there is and that we all start to work on it in our own little ways and maybe start a cultural shift away from the selfishness that causes so much pain.

I See Myself, Therefore I am

Narcissus
Narcissus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my first entry I discussed the fear that can permeate life and how it is often viewed in a negative light. Like most things in life, however, it is both good and bad. Fear and a lack of trust in my own judgement lead me to an entanglement with a narcissist, but before I got there, the groundwork had to be laid. People don’t become the targets of narcissists overnight. There is a long apprenticeship program that precedes it; there is a softening up which allows the object of a narcissist to rationalize, to make excuses, to minimalize the behaviours that define the narcissist. I have come to realize that there were at least three people in my life and one in particular who exposed me to the normalizing of narcissistic behaviours.

Before I get to a discussion of them, however, I need to start going over the definition of what a narcissist is. I’ll caution you that this is my definition, borne out of experience, reading, thinking and discussion, and involves multiple parts. It is very personal, but because narcissists are such a “type”, you will be able to decide if this describes someone who is either already in your life, or whom you have reservations about admitting to your life.

That statement leads me to a digression, but an important one – if you suspect that a narcissist is trying to become a part of your life, slow down now. Even if you have only the tiniest suspicion, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of taking your time to determine if this person is someone whom you can ultimately trust. If the person is opposed to slowing down, beware, because that’s enough of a reason to question the speed with which this person is trying to enter your life, and frankly, if you’re reading this because you’re worried about a possible involvement with a narcissist, then there’s a good chance that you probably are.

The original Greek story from which we derive the term narcissist concerns a young man named Narcissus who falls in love with his own reflection. Because he cannot stop looking at himself, he eventually dies and turns into a narcissus flower, the name of those same beautiful blooms that we see around every spring. It’s important to note, however, that he falls in love with his reflection, not with himself.  Narcissists do not feel that they have an inner core; they essentially see themselves as completely empty inside. This is why they focus so intently on exteriors. To them, if it looks good, then it is good.

They devote huge amounts of time to “assessing” the perceptions of others; their conclusions are that others see them in the most positive of lights: they are handsome/beautiful, they are smart, they dress well, they are cool, they drive the most interesting cars, their homes are showplaces, they are smart, their partners are good-looking and also dress well; did I mention that they are smart?

For the narcissist, there are two types of people: himself, and everyone else who wishes they were him. When narcissists return from outings, they report numerous examples of people gazing admiringly at them and their partners, of people approaching them for dates or complimenting them about their looks or clothes, of people hanging on their every golden word and opinion. It’s unlikely that any of this is true; the problem is that they often convince themselves and attempt to convince others that it’s true.

When kissing a partner in public they put on a show worthy of Hollywood. The act of sending flowers must be concluded in some forum such as the workplace so that colleagues and associates can see how expensive the flowers are and can comment about what a great guy he is for sending them.

They are so self-absorbed that in short, unless someone is looking at them, paying attention to them, complimenting them, they don’t exist. Thinking is useless.

The serious Darth Vaderesque dark side to all this is that for them, constant attention validates their existence, and the worst part is that they project this belief; for them, everyone else operates the same way that they do.