December 29, 2008

Heidi's Real Problem On The Hills: She's In The Wrong Movie

I can no longer find the link, but someone-- Us Magazine?  Entertainment Weekly?-- did a Most Memorable TV Moments, and the season 3 finale of The Hills was one of them.

They were right.

I realize this is a scripted show, not "real" (whatever that means anymore) but for illustration's sake let's pretend it''s a documentary.

By the end of Season 3, Spencer and Heidi have had a series of fights, while simultaneously she gets a job offer from casino mogul Sam Nazarian in Las Vegas to be a project director (of something.)   She packs up and leaves in two days flat, and doesn't tell Spencer.

Spencer, meanwhile gets kicked out of his apartment for being controlling (and dirty), and slithers over to Heidi's.  She's gone.  He waits all night-- nothing.  He freaks out, and finally his sister (Stephanie) discloses Heidi moved to Vegas.  What?!  He goes after her.

When Spencer learns she's at the Palazzo working over drinks, he speeds toward the posh hotel.

Abandoning Stephanie at the valet, Spencer strolls into the club and straight to Heidi's table. Interrupting her business dinner, he tells Heidi he needs a moment outside and walks away. Clearly mortified, Heidi begins to lay into Spencer and reams him out for disrupting her during what is clearly an important meeting with her employers.
I've so far seen a season and a half of The Hills (it is strangely compelling television), which I mention as support for my opinion that Spencer is a classic narcissist (though some leeway allowed because he is young.)

In the argument that ensues, Heidi identifies many of the traits: it's always about him, he wants to be with her when he wants, and then leave when he wants, etc.

And he inadvertently lists some of his character flaws himself, though of course he thinks he is being romantic:

I can't have you living in Las Vegas with how we ended things...
If it was really about missing her, it would be living in Vegas that would bother him, but it's not.  The second part is the one that matters: the way they ended didn't involve him.  She up and left, in two days, no warning, no message.  She didn't break up with him (so that in his mind: cue music, cue dramatic long distance shot, and then pan back to his reaction); she simply dropped right out of his movie.  That's what hurts a narcissist.

(What you're looking for here is not evidence that Spencer thinks he is the greatest guy on earth, but evidence that he thinks everyone is merely supporting cast in his movie.)

Spencer thinks nothing of interrupting her important meeting, in front of her bosses, making her publicly have to choose him over them.   That it's her job he's messing with, that this conversation can very easily wait until tomorrow or an hour from now never occurs to him, not because he is stupid but because it's important to him now, so it must be objectively important period.

Narcissism is not egomania: he isn't sure this is going to work.  It is entirely possible that she might reject him-- he isn't in denial about this.  But that she wouldn't be compelled to talk to him, or yell at him-- to have an interaction with him-- that's impossible.  After all we've been through...

Pay attention, I'm going to give you gold: don't get fooled, like so many women do, that this has anything to do with getting her back.  There is only one reason he made this trip:

"This (meeting) is really important, and obviously you don't care enough to respect that," Heidi says.  "What are you doing?"

"I need to talk to you...."

That's not a lead in, that's the whole reason.

For narcissists, outcomes are irrelevant-- process is what matters.  Getting her back is way less important than being connected to her-- sorry, her being connected to him-- whatever the form: love, hate, fear.  It's all good.

I sense you are drifting to sleep.  I'll repeat it: getting her back isn't the goal.  He doesn't really love you, he just wants you in his movie.

We could ask, what would happen if Heidi didn't get up from the table to talk to him?  He'd make a scene, of course.  He'd yell and scream he loves her as the cops drag him away and taser him.  If he makes a scene and gets taken out, he still wins, because he reactivated their "connection."  And if nothing else, he's the one who gets to decide how it ends.  He decides what emotions she leaves with, he decides how she remembers him.

NB: this is why suicide is the narcissist's trump card.

It's helpful to look at the relationship from the perspective of neutral observers.  What do her bosses think while this is going on?  Not, "I know this is important, go ahead, talk to him."  Not, "this guy is extremely destructive, evil, get away from him."  They think this, and only this: "umm, can this nonsense wait?"

That's the limits on narcissism's power: it only has the potential to work on those you aim it at.  Other people don't share the worldview that they are simply bit players in your universe-- and so their attitude is to dismiss you.  You don't count.  Letterman once did an interview with Spencer that can be summarized: "who is this dope, again?"  Spencer can't con Letterman into thinking he is who he wants to be.

(Hence the popular narcissist mantra:  when I make it big, when I get discovered, then all these people will acknowledge me.) 

And since he can't, he doesn't try to.  Letterman isn't going to be in Spencer's movie, so Spencer doesn't really build a role for him.

But the direct target of a narcissist's powers can't do that, once the narcissist lures them into his movie, they're stuck because they become convinced that his movie is the only movie.  Again, they don't have to play the part the narcissist wants, they don't have to like the guy, but they must operate within his movie that they now accept as their own. 

It's easy and popular to blame Heidi for being vapid, but she can't be entirely stupid-- three men thought her at least capable enough to fly her out to Vegas and make her the project director.  Nor is she necessarily a needy, empty, gullible girl who falls for this kind of crap: she doesn't fall for this with every guy, right?  If you tried this on her, you'd fail, agreed? 

Narcissism doesn't exist in a vacuum, no personality does, it is always a dialogue, a dialectic, with other personalities.  God included.  He pursues her not because he loves her, but because it worked.  Not worked meaning she liked him; worked meaning she allowed herself to be a part of his movie.
And now she can't get out, she's always operating under the premise that it's his movie.  As evidence for this, consider that Spencer had no insight about the importance of the meeting to her, in his mind him talking to her is way more important, it can't wait-- and she agreed.  She eventually gets fired-- actually left in Vegas by her bosses-- but it doesn't even register. She's completely bought into Spencer's urgency, timetable, needs.

That's what makes narcissism dangerous to other people.  The force of personality preys, or warps, weaker personalities-- I don't mean weak in an absolute sense, I mean weak in comparison to the steroid fueled bodybuilder who spends every moment on his identity and nothing else at all-- the narcissist wears these other people down, whether through outright seduction or relentless, manipulative, soft sells ("oh, so you only like people your friends approve of?"  or "I know the real you...")

Every girl in the world has been down this road.  Every guy in the world has at least attempted to pull this off.

Stop.  Just stop.  It's that simple, start looking at other people as people with their own movies and backstories and don't try to bring them into yours.  It is destructive, you will never be happy, you will never be at peace, you'll always be thinking about how she might one day get tricked by some bad guy (read:  awaken from her trance) or get caught up in material things, external things, that aren't as important as love, as commitment (read: succeed on her own, discover she doesn't need you.)  And if you're a woman you'll always be wondering how you'll survive if he leaves you.

None of this is real.  At best, it is a huge waste of years of your life.   If you manage to break out of this cycle then one day, when you try to look back on it, it will all be hard to remember, like lost time, or it will seem unreal-- not like you're remembering your life, but like you're remembering a movie you saw, or a movie you were in.  Bits and pieces, maybe some scenes, but that wasn't really me, that was a character I played...


"I've so far seen a season ... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2008 12:28 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"I've so far seen a season and a half of The Hills (it is strangely compelling television)"

wait...wha? you're kidding right. i think this is the first thing you've written that has made me question your credibility...maybe i should've been tipped off by Wanted and Fool's Gold

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Do you think Spencer is abl... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2008 12:29 PM | Posted by Brennan: | Reply

Do you think Spencer is able to see his behavior this way?

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I don't know the series (do... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2008 1:14 PM | Posted by Marian : | Reply

I don't know the series (don't live in the U.S., and no bell rings), so i can't tell if you're right on in regard to this particular plot. - And, btw, I don't think it matters whether you are or not. As I see it this entry isn't that much about a character in a TV-series as it is about narcissists in general. - What I can tell is that you're right on in regard to "movies". I've been a part in someone else's movie all my life. Guess where that brought me. It also provided me with an outstanding ability to create my own movies and drag others into them.

By now I think, it isn't about living one's own movie, and let others live theirs. When you become aware that what is going on is nothing but a movie, you can stop acting, just be, and let others be.

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i don't know this show, don... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2008 2:50 PM | Posted by the0ther: | Reply

i don't know this show, don't know who spencer pratt is. but i googled his name and lo and behold he has a blog. with nothing on it! truly narcissistic.

can't wait to look at this letterman interview. it should be good!

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I think you should limit th... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2008 5:00 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I think you should limit these sorts of forays to movies. The trend line seems to be heading towards more and more popular culture straw men which can only be understood if you channel surf in an O/C sort of way.

Does Emmy (or her boundless aspirants) really need an analyst ... sort of a Dr. Phil of the serials?

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Oh, dude, awesome. Awesome.... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2008 6:30 PM | Posted by Rob: | Reply

Oh, dude, awesome. Awesome. Absolutely what I needed. Thankyou!

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cringe..... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2008 9:52 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply


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I think you misunderstan... (Below threshold)

December 30, 2008 12:07 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Alone: | Reply

I think you misunderstand me, or, I suck at writing, both are possible.

The Hills and Spencer are completely besides the point; I'd hoped that I had written clearly enough that the post would speak to people who didn't watch the show. I'm operating under the (false) premise that the show is a documentary-- so "here is what Spencer did." And I had hoped my explaining what he did would be enough to make my points, but...

That said, the reason I pick pop culture is because it is often more base, raw, and I don't have to peel back six layers to get at what really happened. If I were to try and deconstruct Gran Torino, for example, I couldn't just use the plot, alone, to make a point, I'd have to explain how the movie requires the viewer's participation, their knowledge that Eastwood is playing Dirty Harry when he ages...

too hard

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ABSOLUTELY NOT. that's ... (Below threshold)

December 30, 2008 12:11 AM | Posted, in reply to Brennan's comment, by Alone: | Reply

ABSOLUTELY NOT. that's what makes him actually a narcissist. That's what makes him dangerous. To those of you reading these posts and saying, hey, wait, I think that might be me-- then it's not. If you have the insight to see it, you're not it. You may have some traits, you may now have a target for self-improvement and growth, but you are not lost.

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"For narcissists, outcomes ... (Below threshold)

December 30, 2008 1:31 AM | Posted by Aaron Davies: | Reply

"For narcissists, outcomes are irrelevant-- process is what matters."

This says so much about modern government....

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Brilliant. Couldn't have be... (Below threshold)

January 2, 2009 4:04 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Brilliant. Couldn't have been said better. I love this blog.

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Agreed. I don't know the sh... (Below threshold)

January 2, 2009 4:08 AM | Posted by Ronaldo: | Reply

Agreed. I don't know the show either but I got the gist of the message. And that's all that matters. Thanks.

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Thanks for pointing out tha... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2009 2:15 PM | Posted by Mary: | Reply

Thanks for pointing out that if I think I might be a narcissist then I ain't one. I have been worrying about that ever since I started reading your fabulous blog because I'm told by mental health professionals that my father is one. Living alone and having only myself to look after, I thought I might have learned it from him. I'm relieved. Thanks so much.

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It's called a reality show.... (Below threshold)

January 6, 2009 12:32 AM | Posted by Harold Perry Dahl: | Reply

It's called a reality show. There is no story. There are no scripts. Every viewer of the Hills knows better. Heidi and Spencer don't. Heidi and Spencer are never out of character, they don't even know they are characters. This is the truman show.

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Yeah, it's a movie, and it ... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2009 12:31 PM | Posted by La BellaDonna: | Reply

Yeah, it's a movie, and it sucks. I spent too many years in one, and I HATED the way my part was written. The narcissist made numerous attempts to re-engage me, and it was just ... amazing. I would read his efforts, and they all revolved around HIM, the great HIM; there was no actual interest in ME, at all. Everything he wrote had to do with HIM, what HE was feeling, what HIS circumstances were. There wasn't a single word to indicate that he saw me as a separate person, or that he had any interest in my life. It was (unsurprisingly) all about HIM.

I spent too many decades living my life that way. No more.

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This was absolutely fascina... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2009 5:40 PM | Posted by Billy: | Reply

This was absolutely fascinating. I don't watch The Hills but I learned a lot in reading this. I started getting worried that I was a narcissist as well, but thanks to some comments, I feel better about myself! Still, I think something like this would be useful to many people just to open their minds and bring some awareness to the dangerous personalities that one may have or encounter.


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Just want to say, thank you... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2013 5:01 PM | Posted by Just Gained More Insight: | Reply

Just want to say, thank you for this blog and your sagacity. This is better than Tuesdays With Morrie.

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The result of what you're a... (Below threshold)

May 12, 2013 11:50 AM | Posted by Greg Magarshak: | Reply

The result of what you're advocating is basically extreme individualism and self interest. No one should be seduced into anything, or make an empathic connection with anyone, because then they are getting sucked into a mocie that's not about themselves? Well, look at American society today, and how it's become about "what's in it for me"... the marriage rate, the divorce rate, the parents that dump their kids in public school so they can both work, and the kids who dump their parents in nursing homea for the same reason ... this is a different society from the traditional ones people lived in for centuries. Is it better? Well, it can definitely be more lonely. Then again there's "social" media and porn...

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It's clear that Alone is no... (Below threshold)

April 11, 2014 10:30 PM | Posted, in reply to Greg Magarshak's comment, by johnnycoconut: | Reply

It's clear that Alone is not advocating unhealthy self-absorption--that is the narcissism he decries. But he does not advocate unhealthy other-absorption either. But the rest of your issues are valid, even if they are not necessarily due to selfishness by the actors

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Really fascinating article.... (Below threshold)

March 22, 2015 11:47 AM | Posted by Sparky: | Reply

Really fascinating article. I agree with nearly everything, except that "every guy in the world has attempted to pull this off.". This is akin to saying that every guy has narcissistic tendencies, which I would disagree with. The script from your movie is clichéd in this regard ;)

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