December 29, 2006

If This Is One of The Sexiest Things You've Ever Seen, You May Be a Narcissist

white heels


A quick primer on the new Narcissism.

I don't mean the traditional Kernberg, Kohut, or even Freudian descriptions.  In the modern times, I think narcissism has evolved.

A narcissist isn't necessarily an egotist, someone who thinks they are the best.  A quick screen is an inability to appreciate that other people exist, and have thoughts, feelings, and actions unrelated to the narcissist.  These thoughts don't have to be good ones, but they have to be linked to the narcissist. ("I'm going to get some gas-- because that jerk never fills the car.")

The narcissist believes he is the main character in his own movie.  Everyone else has a supporting role-- everyone around him becomes a "type."  You know how in every romantic comedy, there's always the funny friend who helpes the main character figure out her relationship?  In the movie, her whole existence is to be there fore the main character.  But in real life, that funny friend has her own life; she might even be the main character in her own movie, right?  Well the narcissist wouldn't be able to grasp that.  Her friends are always supporting characters, that can be called at any hour of the night, that will always be interested in what she is wearing, or what she did.  That funny friend isn't just being kind, she doesn't just want to help-- she's personally interested in the narcissist's life.  Of course she is.

A comedian I can't remember made a joke about actors in LA, but it's applicable to narcissists: when two narcissists go out, they just wait for the other person's mouth to stop moving so they can talk about themselves.

So on the one hand, the narcissist reduces everyone else to a type, as it relates to himself; on the other hand, the narcissist, as the main character in his movie, has an identity that he wants (i.e. he made it up) and requires all others to supplement that identity.

A narcissist looks the same every day; he has a "look" with a defining characteristic: a certain haircut; a mustache; a type of clothing, a tatoo.  He used these to create an identity in his mind that he will spend a lot of energy keeping up.

Consider the narcissist who wants his wife to wear only white, high heeled pumps.  The narcissist wants this not because he himself likes white high heel pumps-- which he might-- but because the type of person he thinks he is would only be with the type of woman who wears white high heeled pumps.  Or, in other terms, other people would expect someone like himself to be with a woman who wears those shoes.  What he likes isn't the relevant factor, and certainly what she likes is irrelevant.  What matters is that she (and her shoes) are accessories to him.

Never mind that the woman is obese, or 65, or the shoes out of style, or impractical-- the shoes represent something to him, and he is trying to reinforce his identity through that object.

Narcissists typically focus on specific things as proxies for their identity.  As in the example above, that the woman might be obese or a paraplegic could be ignored if the footwear was the proxy for identity.  These proxies are also easy to describe but loaded with implication: "I'm married to a blonde."  Saying "blonde" implies something-- e.g.  she's hot-- that might not be true.  But the narcissist has so fetishized "blondeness" that it is disconnected from reality.  The connotations, not the reality, are what matters (especially if other people can't check.)

This explains why narcissists feel personally sleighted when the fetishized object disappears.  "My wife stopped dying her hair blonde; but when she used to date her other boyfriends, she was in the salon every month.  Bitch."  He doesn't see the obvious passage of time, what he sees is part of his identity being taken from him, on purpose.  Here's the final insult: "she obviously doesn't care about me as much as her old boyfriends."

As a paradigm, the narcissist is the first born (or only) child, aged 2-3.  Everything is about him, and everything is binary.  His, or not his.  Satisfied, or not satisfied.  Hungry, or not hungry.  Mom and Dad are talking to each other and not me?  "Hello!  Focus on me!"  Youngest children don't typicaly become narcissists because from the moment of their birth, they know there are other characters in the movie.  (Youngest more easily becomes borderline.) Control, of course, is important to a narcissist. If you can imagine a 40 year old man with the ego of a 2 year old, you've got a narcissist.

Obviously, not all first borns go on to be narcissists.  Part of their development comes from not learning that there is a right and wrong that exists outside them.  This may come from inconsistent parenting:


Dad says, "you stupid kid, don't watch TV, TV is bad, it'll make you stupid!"  Ok.  Lesson learned.  But then one day Dad has to do some work: "stop making so much noise!  Here, sit down and watch TV."  What's the learned message?  It isn't that TV is sometimes good and sometimes bad.  It's that good and bad are decided by the person with the most power. 


So the goal in development is to become the one with the most power.  Hence, narcissists can be dogmatic ("adultery is immoral!") and hypocrites ("well, she came on to me, and you were ignoring me at home")  at the same time.  There is no right and wrong-- only right and wrong for them.  He's an exaggerated example: if they have to kill someone to get what they want, then so be it.  But when they murder, they don't actually think what they're doing is wrong--they're saying, "I know it's illegal, but if you understood the whole situation, you'd understand..."

Narcissists never feel guilt.  Only shame.