February 18, 2010

The Other Ego Epidemic

voyager 1 looks back at earth from the edge.JPG
so what's behind the photographer?

Some articles sent by readers:

The Ego Epidemic: How more and more of us women have an inflated sense of our own fabulousness

Author: Narcissism is an epidemic in our society.

Newsweek: Generation Me

etc.


I.

"Looks like you were right, even the popular press is catching on to the increase in narcissism--"

Belay that.  These magazines are your enemy.  Do you think they exist to improve you?

These articles aren't saying narcissism is on the rise, they are saying grandiosity is on the rise.  They are conflating the two.  Even psychiatrists get this wrong, they are not the same.

Leave aside for now what is the distinction.  Look instead at the result: by focusing on the grandiosity, it leaves you, the reader, with an out.  "Look at these grandiose idiots.  That's not me."   By virtue of the fact that you aren't famous, important, grandiose, you must therefore not be a narcissist.  It creates a self-satisfied sense of importance because you're not like them.  That's narcissism.  These articles actually reinforce your narcissism.  They are the wrong kind of friend you've picked to assure you: "that stuck up bitch, what does she know, you're too good for her anyway."

If you're reading it, it's for you.

II.

How can a man who thinks "my wife is way smarter than me!"

or the guy who thinks, "I'm no  ladies' man, but I would never use a woman, even if I could!"

or the woman who thinks, "I know I'm not a model, but I'm an attractive,  intelligent, independent woman"

-- how can they all be narcissists? 

I. I. I. Me. I. Me. I. I. I. I. Me. Me. Me.   Enough, we get it, we all know who you are.

It's why happiness always seems out of reach, why love seems elusive or complicated.  And sometimes why other people get hurt.

III.

Grandiosity is only one possible manifestation of a psychic process that went awry.  The essence, the defining characteristic of narcissism is the isolated worldview, the one in which everyone else is not fully real, only part a person, and only the part the impacts you. 

Narcissism is self-protective.  It simultaneously allows for the reduction of the other to prop status, while reassuring you that this perspective is not wrong or dangerous because it's not about superiority. 

You went to Haiti to help the refugees; great.  You may have done it because you want to help; or you may have done it because it identifies you to yourself and others as a kind person, selfless, a helper.  Which was it?  The former comes from an external ethical structure that informs behavior.  The latter is an internal identity that demands validation. 

NB:  the Haitians don't care either way, just show up.

Narcissism is morally neutral.  Only the results can be judged.  But it usually predicts: if the boat starts sinking, identity first.


IV.

"I agree.  Just do what's right. Don't worry if it makes you suffer now, God will reward you later."

Really?  He can't see through that?  Which god did you pick out, that he can't see you from the outside, the sum totality of your existence past, present and future? 

Of course: you picked the god that thinks like you.

V.

A little egomania isn't a bad thing, especially if it spurs you to be better at whatever you're supposed to be better at.  Thinking your the best kid on the playground is not nearly as destructive as thinking you're the only kid the playground.  If you don't believe me, try it.

But you think you're the best?  Good.  Get to work.

VI.

"Help me, please, I think I'm a narcissist.  What do I do?"

There are a hundred correct answers, yet all of them useless, all of them will fail precisely because you want to hear them.

There's only one that's universally effective, I've said it before and no one liked it. This is step 1: fake it.

You'll say: but this isn't a treatment, this doesn't make a real change in me, this isn't going to make me less of a narcissist if I'm faking!

All of those answers are the narcissism talking.  All of those answers miss the point: your treatment isn't for you, it's for everyone else.

If you do not understand this, repeat step 1.





Comments

I’ve only read your blog a ... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2010 6:14 PM | Posted by Jesse R: | Reply

I’ve only read your blog a short time, but I enjoy it a great deal. One thing that’s struck me when you rage against narcissism is that you rarely discuss the individual solution for narcissism. Consequently, I could not have been happier when you it spelt it out in your final section of this piece.

It is odd that modern American society invites its participants to define themselves by their (narcissistic) hopes and dreams rather than by their deeds. Indeed, whole cottage industries of writer’s workshops and screenplay seminars have been built on catering to the fantasies of Americans: people who buy a one hundred and fifty dollar ticket to hear a writer speak and let themselves day-dream about how they could write a novel one day. These folks would be better off buying lottery tickets-- they are cheaper and have better odds paying out for do-nothing intellectual masturbators. How many people bought Steven King’s On Writing to imagine themselves becoming writers, only to ignore the most important lesson of that book: “write every day”?

To add salt to the wound, this comes from the nation that built the Hover Dam and put a man on the moon! Our can do attitude has become could do and our society is suffering for it.

In this modern world, it seems that we’ve lost sight of the adage that actions speak louder than words, even despite the endless parades of “Just Do It” from Nike marketing. Thank you for lighting at least one candle in the idle darkness.

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Alone: Can you give an exam... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2010 6:22 PM | Posted by Jbow: | Reply

Alone: Can you give an example of someone famous who is not a narcissist?

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EDIT: If we're trying to fa... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2010 6:27 PM | Posted by Jbow: | Reply

EDIT: If we're trying to fake it, who would be a good person to mimic?

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or the guy who thinks, "... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2010 6:34 PM | Posted by Joshua: | Reply

or the guy who thinks, "I'm no ladies' man, but I would never use a woman, even if I could!"

Too many young men I knew growing up were the nice guy. And you knew he was the nice guy, because he wouldn't shut up about how he was the nice guy. How women never opened up fully to him or stayed with him or would just love him even though he listened, or did things for them, or was just so damned nice! I used to think that women didn't want the nice guy, because they knew it couldn't last forever, and were waiting for the other shoe to drop, but now I like to think they knew better. They knew it was a built-up identity. Talk is talk and action is action, and anytime the other shoe does drop, he can always justify it so that he a) is the hero in his little story (and every hero needs a villain), or b) screwed up royally and learned a Valuable Lesson (while wrecking someone's life) and feels really sorry and you should be sympathetic for him now, thanks for listening to him vent like that, it hurts so much right now, wanna come over for coffee?

If you ever meet a self-described nice guy, run. Run like a freight train is chasing you. If he's attracted to you, he's already decided who you are in his little movie. And there is no way in hell you can or should live up to those expectations.

"Totally. I used to be that guy and figured out on my own how much of a jackass that made me." Good for you. You've graduated to wearing the guy-who-used-to-think-he-was-a-nice-guy-but-wised-up identity. You don't dig your way out of a hole. And by you I mean me.

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Our can do attitude has ... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2010 6:40 PM | Posted, in reply to Jesse R's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Our can do attitude has become could do and our society is suffering for it.

Could a decline into a more religiously fundamental society be causation? Magical thinking denotes inaction.

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If I didnt dream first of b... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2010 7:31 PM | Posted, in reply to Jesse R's comment, by Geraldine Jefferson: | Reply

If I didnt dream first of being a successful writer, I would never have become that successful writer, Jesse R. I have done all the things you listed, paid 150 to see a writer, bought Stephen King's book, and I now am a best-selling author under the pen name, Philip von Troggsterehein. Check me out, I write in Dutch and own the market for dimestore crime thrillers there.
Don't quit on your dreams.

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LP: I've been read... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2010 7:43 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

LP:

I've been reading your posts here for over a year and always found them very interesting and enlightening, and generally agree with your assessments. I have a question for you however:

Do you believe there is a pathological opposite to a narcissist? Would that be someone who thinks everyone *but* themselves is real?

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Except for when he discusse... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2010 8:18 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Except for when he discusses autobiographical details, I've never heard Carl Sagan use the word "I." Granted, I've seen a few of the Cosmos episodes and only read one of his books (Demon Haunted World), so perhaps I'm incorrect about that. Sagan never argues, at least in DHW, that "people" are the problem rather that their unclear thinking (making decisions in the absence of evidence) is the problem.

You could argue in "Pale Blue Dot" that he's saying that man is egotistical (I'm going extend this to mean TLP "narcissistic" def) and so he's pulling and "us" vs "them"... but this may not be the true message. Instead, it is "we need to work together and help each other to survive, life is precious." He seems to have a strong internal ethical structure

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Considering that Sagan was ... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2010 8:44 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Igor Botskafeck: | Reply

Considering that Sagan was raised by a close-knit pack of wild dogs in rural Transylvania, his strong internal ethical structure is very impressive. He rarely talks about his unique upbringing which I find very interesting. He is too modest in my opinion.

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Meh. I prefer viewing myse... (Below threshold)

February 18, 2010 9:57 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Meh. I prefer viewing myself in a fashion that validates my assumed identity. Its easier. What is the probability that I would actually succeed in any given endeavor? According to expert performance psychologist, Anders Ericsson, it takes roughly 10,000 hours to master any given skill. Screw that, it is easier to say I did it than to do it. And even better technology allows me to simulate doing it. Why take the time to skateboard like tony hawk when I can simulate skateboarding like in on a PS3?

Your claim that narcissism will lead to war is empirically false. The crime statistics are clear, narcissism up, and crime down. This is not causation, but the underlying cause for both stats is the same. Opportunity cost.

Income (in real terms) has increased to the point where for most people killing others is not worth it, even if it results in a loss of identity. With the internet, a person can simply reestablish their identities elsewhere forever. .

To rephrase. Sure a couple flakes will kill their borderlines when discovered. But most will just find a new borderlines. Its pure economics. Cost and benefit analysis.

Narcissism is the hallmark of wealth and prosperity.

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So basically a narcissist i... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 12:36 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

So basically a narcissist is anyone who cares only about their internal sense of identity/image, regardless of whether or not that image is grandiose or not? That doesn't make sense, by this definition many people are narcissists who have a low self concept.

I don't agree that narcissism is exclusively about a preoccupation with identity, I think a measure of grandiosity/entitlement/specialness must be also present for narcissism to be appropriately applied. Many individuals who are thoroughly preoccupied with image and identity are difficult to describe as narcissistic... I mean, a perfectionist, someone with anorexia nervosa... by your definition these are manifestations of narcissism.

The preoccupation with image in narcissism is secondary, not primary, to a sense of specialness/grandiosity. Image preoccupation results, does not cause, the grandiosity.

There are other reasons besides narcissism why someone would live in a shallow superficial way not fully interacting with the world except through a manufactured self image.

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In AA/NA, a group which see... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 4:02 AM | Posted by crescentdave: | Reply

In AA/NA, a group which seems to have more than its fair share of narcissists, a common slogan is "fake it til you make it." It advances the idea that action is more important than thinking when promoting personal change.

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I've been reading this blog... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 4:05 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I've been reading this blog appreciatively for about a year now, and have recommended it to friends. I agree with almost all of what you say, Alone -- but this post seems to take it too far. It sounds as though you're saying that thinking of oneself at all, having an identity, is somehow pathological. You say: "How can a man who thinks "my wife is way smarter than me!"

or the guy who thinks, "I'm no ladies' man, but I would never use a woman, even if I could!"

or the woman who thinks, "I know I'm not a model, but I'm an attractive, intelligent, independent woman"

-- how can they all be narcissists?

I. I. I. Me. I. Me. I. I. I. I. Me. Me. Me. Enough, we get it, we all know who you are."

What's wrong with having a "me", as long as you know that other people are equally real and that not everything in life revolves around you? Are you some sort of Buddhist, calling for the dissolution of the ego? I'm curious.

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Noticed that narcissism and... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 4:33 AM | Posted by Teija: | Reply

Noticed that narcissism and narcissistic people were discuessed as a one group. However, many therapists - espeicially psychodynamic ones - make a distinction between thick- and thin skinned narcissistic organizations. As I read your blog entry, it seemed to me that you were describing thick skinned narcissism.

For those who are interested, thin skinned - roughly speaking - are easily offended, tend to ruminate whatever-they-did-wrong, are overly nice and guilty, and have difficulties recognizing/dealing with anger and rejection. Thin skinned are torn in relationships because simultaneously they are looking for a perfect, full-filling other (due to which they are often drawn to thick skinned narcissists), and are afraid of losing themselves if do get too close (i.e. their identity is fragile as they have denied 'bad parts' of themselves in order to please others).

And I enjoy reading your blog!

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Yea, anon 4:05am this is re... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 5:38 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Yea, anon 4:05am this is really taking things too far.

TLP is starting to sound like a grad student trying to make a name for himself... this idea is so full of holes you can see the wall across the room man.

Narcissism is healthy and normal when taken to the degree he describes here. It is by no means pathological narcissism to have an idea of who you are, for christs sake.

In my life, I've discovered that the people who don't have a personal narrative are usually far more offensive, sloppy, ignorant, rude, interpersonally harmful than those with a certain measure of healthful narcissism. I think of the types of people who really don't give a shit who or what they are supposed to be, and this indifference to any sort of identity usually makes way for antisocial behavior. Why do the right thing, if you are not the sort of person who does the right thing?

Morality is just narcissism not fully fleshed out to the level of self image. We want to do the right thing, because we will be good if we do the right thing, and we will be the sort of person who is good and does the right thing. The feeling of feeling good about doing the right thing is not entirely a narcissistic one, but it is definitely RELATED to identity and self esteem/image. You can't feel good about doing the right thing without also considering yourself as having done the right thing (and feeling proud of that).

Think of all the antisocial, unsocialized slobs you know who drink and lie around not working - these are people who are usually deficient in a personal narrative. Their motto is "I don't give a shit about anything, who I am, where I fit in to society, how I measure up, and I don't care who knows it". This is the alternative to having zero narcissism - animal-like sloppy ass behavior.

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Americans can only think in... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 6:53 AM | Posted by okok: | Reply

Americans can only think in extremes. That's why your comments are so dumb.

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I think TLP is arguing here... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 7:48 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I think TLP is arguing here that there is no healthy level of narcisisism. This goes against what Heinz Kohut had argued when he made the distinction between healthy and pathological narcisissism.

Now, Kohut's ideas seem well-respected in contemporary psychoanalytic community. I would be very curious to hear TLP's thoughts on Kohut and his ideas.

-JJ

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Isn't this just the human c... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 8:52 AM | Posted by AB: | Reply

Isn't this just the human condition -- to be lonely, alone with your identity? You can escape loneliness for moments with concern for others. But it's not a lasting solution. Other people won't hold your identity for you. Children grow up, adults change. We are always alone. Is this a disorder? It seems simply true.

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"We want to do the right th... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 10:53 AM | Posted by Charles: | Reply

"We want to do the right thing, because we will be good if we do the right thing, and we will be the sort of person who is good and does the right thing."

Why not do "the right thing" because it helps out; because it's fair; because, on the whole, treating yourself as "one's self among others, equally real", the most number of people are helped? Or does "the right thing", the "good thing" for you come a priori, apart from considering the actual individuals involved?

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@ Geraldine Jefferson That’... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 11:02 AM | Posted by Jesse R: | Reply

@ Geraldine Jefferson That’s great! I am genuinely happy for you. However, consider how many people took those courses did so with the dream of being a writer but didn’t finish a second novel? Or finish editing a first? That’s really who I was railing against. I don’t want to diminish those sorts of seminars for people who actually do put in the work, but I think folks like you are in the minority.

@Anon 5:38 AM: If we accept that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a valid model then we must acknowledge people do need a level of individual identity, individual narrative, and what not. It is a critical part of us. However, this individual narrative should be subsumed by a drive to help the world just because it is the right thing to do when a person matures into a self-actualized adult. Regardless of the usefulness of one’s own personal narrative, regardless of how many good deeds comes as a result of that introspection, people who focus on themselves first remain incomplete people. What’s happening in America is that people are stuck in this adolescent need for esteem and seem unable to ascend into self-actualization. Without the motivation to move up Maslow’s Hierarchy, people instead focus their energy laterally, into themselves, or downward, thereby destroying their social ties.

“Morality is just narcissism not fully fleshed out to the level of self image.” - You have that backwards. Morality is a combination of social norms and the a priori awareness that doing the right thing is the right thing to do. Morality must come after self-awareness because morality comes from outside the self. If you do the right thing because it fulfills your self-image, or because it is intended to display a certain image to your peers, or because it gives you a tax break, then you’ve done it for selfish reasons, and if you are motivated selfishness, rather than by the drive to do good, then you always run the risk of acting selfish regardless of how good, or selfless, you have acted in the past.

Committing a good deed is a commendable action regardless of intention behind the action, but the intent still matters. Charles hit the nail on the head: you should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

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Jesse R - "Morality is a co... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 11:32 AM | Posted, in reply to Jesse R's comment, by brainchild: | Reply

Jesse R - "Morality is a combination of social norms and the a priori awareness that doing the right thing is the right thing to do. Morality must come after self-awareness because morality comes from outside the self. If you do the right thing because it fulfills your self-image, or because it is intended to display a certain image to your peers, or because it gives you a tax break, then you’ve done it for selfish reasons, and if you are motivated selfishness, rather than by the drive to do good, then you always run the risk of acting selfish regardless of how good, or selfless, you have acted in the past."

What if you simply act with compassion and kindness because you have empathy and creating harm or suffering for others is unpleasant for all involved and creating joy is pleasurable for all involved? What about actually feeling interconnected with others? Now, I recognize that people with NPD don't experience empathy so they can't use this as a guide or tool in their interactions or to guide their actions so need an external guide of some kind regarding doing the humane/kind/social thing. However, "the right thing" and simply conforming to external social norms isn't always equivalent to being kind or humane and can actually be antisocial (in the sense that it's harmful to others and the group) even if it is conforming to a social norm. Social conformity isn't always the same thing as being kind and humane, neither are societal morals always equivalent with being kind and humane and prosocial. (To me "morality" is related to religion while ethics aren't and arise out of and can be understood in an evolutionary context and as the behavior of social animals that are interdependent and have mirror neurons and empathy as a result of this.)

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@Okok: Why do you assume al... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 11:49 AM | Posted, in reply to okok's comment, by orazor1324: | Reply

@Okok: Why do you assume all those commenting are Americans?

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"How women never opened up ... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 6:44 PM | Posted, in reply to Joshua's comment, by Sfon: | Reply

"How women never opened up fully to him or stayed with him or would just love him even though he listened, or did things for them, or was just so damned nice!"

This falls into the general category of people not taking responsibility for destructive life habits. Often they sabotage their life can be hard to trace back to their behavior until you learn the pattern, but that is always what is going on or they would not keep having the same problem over and over.

For the 'nice guys' with bad relationship 'luck', even if they are truly nice then that just means they have other problems that are severe enough to make them bad partners. No matter how it is sliced, it is their own fault. And no, being diagnosed with something is no exception. Everyone has their reasons for what they do, having a reason is not special nor does it negate responsibility.

Children and others who are not allowed to make their own decisions can be an exception, but absolutely no-one else.

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Ain't recursion a bitch.</p... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 7:00 PM | Posted, in reply to Joshua's comment, by ryan : | Reply

Ain't recursion a bitch.

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Anon 5:38 here...I... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 7:24 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Anon 5:38 here...

I know it's the official party line to say that "advanced stage of moral reasoning supersedes an ego/image-based childish preoccupation with "being a right person" and "doing the right thing because it is right". I argue that this is bullshit, and ALL moral feelings are intrinsically rooted in self gratification as well as self esteem. Altruism does not exist, people behave altruistically because it makes them feel good to help others.

Developing complex moral reasoning merely allows people to form their own ethical code/moral principles, it does NOT fundamentally change the little hardware in our brains, the hits of neurotransmitters that make us feel good for helping others and feel good about OURSELF and OUR IDENTITY for having done so.

True, lower level (pre/adolescent-like) moral reasoning is much more about narcissism than higher-order reasoning, but ALL moral behavior is intrinisically narcissistic. We don't transcend narcissism, we just compound on to it (in addition to the narcissistic feeling of "doing the right hting" we also feel a genuine sense of empathy and real moral understanding, if we are at a complex stage of moral development).
Children lack a broader understanding of the world, no ability to form moral judgments, they do the right thing because it is right, because adults/authority tells them it is right. They never ever question whether or not right is ACTUALLY right, they cannot come to those sorts of thoughts. Self actualization, higher moral reasoning does not fundamentally change the narcissistic nature of morality , all it does is allow people to define their own morality. It's like an addition on an old house. Doesn't rebuild the house, just modifies it. All morality remains intrinsically narcissistic.

A child and a person with primitive moral reasoning will do the right thing without ever truly feeling/knowing whether or not it is right, they are living an image without feeling it... a person with stunted morality will spit on blacks marching for civil rights because they were raised to view that as right and they never developed the ability to truly FEEL AND KNOW right and wrong. They do the right thing because its right, and for no other reason (no obligation to do the right thing BECAUSE they understand/feel for the people on the other side of wrong... they exclusively do it because the robot rules say it is right and they are a right person therefore they do the right thing). For people with stunted moral reasoning, it's always about obeying authority and the rules blindly infused into their minds.

This does NOT mean that people at the highest level of moral reasoning get no narcissistic reward from their morality. They get the (primitive) narcissistic - ego gratification, and they also feel an empathetic sort of reward too.

The narcissistic "feeling good about yourself" thing doesn't go away, it is as natural of humanity to feel proud of onesself/esteem/ego as it is to have an impulse for food sex or sleep.
Many so called "narcissists" and antisocials/psychopaths and other pathological personalities actually have an absent/fractured ego, their self image doesn't really exist, and the excessive narcissism is a coping mechanism for that... this is how they are able to do what they do.

Narcissism (identity and ego) never stop figuring in morality, it just gets compounded and complicated. Empathy is not unrelated to narcissism, you know. Before you can feel for others, you first have to recognize and define and feel for yourself... and feeling for yourself never goes away, nor should it, as one cannot function in the world without an identity/image to navigate and separate self from nonself

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Heh... indeed. Walking arou... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 8:47 PM | Posted, in reply to ryan 's comment, by Joshua: | Reply

Heh... indeed. Walking around an Escher staircase, going nowhere.

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People who want to be seen ... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 9:30 PM | Posted by Lexi: | Reply

People who want to be seen as helping, whether they actually help are not, are dangerous. In part because they run the risk instead of helping, they're actually hurting, and then left wondering why the 'ungrateful idiot' they are helping is made at them. . .

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* which is why it's importa... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 9:31 PM | Posted by Lexi: | Reply

* which is why it's important to see the person you are helping as a person, and not a prop.

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O'doyle rules.... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 9:34 PM | Posted, in reply to Igor Botskafeck's comment, by O'doyle: | Reply

O'doyle rules.

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I think, and I could be wro... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 10:27 PM | Posted by caeia : | Reply

I think, and I could be wrong on this, that TLP means "fake it" as in have the deeds even if the feeling isn't there *yet*. It makes perfect sense to me -- the people who built hoover dam didn't sit around visualizing themselves as successful dam builders. Instead they *built the dam*. Van Gogh probably didn't buy a lot of books or attend lectures on "how to be a painter" he just ... painted.

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Anon 9:57 you scare me. You... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 10:44 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Anon 9:57 you scare me. You're the type of psychopath TLP is talking about.

PS, women are not "borderlines" you fucking freakshow.

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Anon 5:83 - "Altruism does ... (Below threshold)

February 20, 2010 10:33 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Anon 5:83 - "Altruism does not exist, people behave altruistically because it makes them feel good to help others."

Well yes, that was my point about being social animals and mirror neurons. By helping others we're helping the group/ourselves AND we get to experience the joy, comfort or positive emotions of the person we're helping. Feelings are contagious amongst social animals. Prosocial behavior benefits both ourselves and others (if we have functional empathy,it's also why we dehumanize those we do cruel or harmful things to and make the "other"). People with NPD, however, don't experience empathy so they don't actually feel what they're doing to others. That's why they need to "fake it" - they fake it anyway to get what they want otherwise but at least if they fake being prosocial in an effective way they're being prosocial and not harming others. If we're prosocial, we have a pretty hard time even imagining doing the kinds of antisocial things sociopaths or people with NPD can do without flinching. Why? Because we'd feel the pain we're inflicting on the other person, people with NPD don't.

anon - "Developing complex moral reasoning merely allows people to form their own ethical code/moral principles, it does NOT fundamentally change the little hardware in our brains, the hits of neurotransmitters that make us feel good for helping others and feel good about OURSELF and OUR IDENTITY for having done so."

Agreed - though the prosocial, mirror neuron aspect isn't about identity really, it's about inclusion in the group and belonging and feeling good - about emotions - not so much about looking good. The looking good bit is the intellectual aspect that may or may not be involved.

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Actually the 'nice guy' is ... (Below threshold)

February 20, 2010 10:43 AM | Posted, in reply to Joshua's comment, by Gil: | Reply

Actually the 'nice guy' is in fact a passive-aggressive bad boy. He just as bad the the bad boys in that he only wants women for cheap sex and nothing else however he uses (mostly unsuccessful) passive-aggressive actions, i.e. appearing nice, helpful, assuring her he's just nothing more than 'just a friend', etc. There are plenty of good, responsible men for whom women should and do hook up with however the 'nice guy' is most definitely not one of them and thankfully most women can spot them a mile away and treat them with the disdain they deserve.

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I don't treat them with dis... (Below threshold)

February 20, 2010 11:01 AM | Posted, in reply to Gil's comment, by Most Women: | Reply

I don't treat them with disdain. That is uncalled for.
Sometimes I'm in the mood for cheap sex...but I go with the bad boy in that case. They know what they are doing in bed.
Nice guys scream inexperience. And boring.

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Most Women - "Sometimes I'm... (Below threshold)

February 20, 2010 1:46 PM | Posted, in reply to Most Women's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Most Women - "Sometimes I'm in the mood for cheap sex...but I go with the bad boy in that case. They know what they are doing in bed.
Nice guys scream inexperience. And boring."

Really, I've found it's quite the opposite. The "bad boy" is usually a pretty selfish and narcissistic lover, I find that boring (might as well be having sex with an object). Of course, some people are turned on by using and being used - just not my thing. I like there to be an actual exchange - otherwise it's just masturbation with a human dildo really. I prefer to sleep with individual people I'm attracted to rather than some kind of stereotype that's being projected to either cover up the real person or the lack of a real personality.

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Great post, great comments.... (Below threshold)

February 20, 2010 1:51 PM | Posted by Meat Robot: | Reply

Great post, great comments. One question: the photo that leads the post. What is it, and what's its link to the post? Looks like spectral lines to me, but that's as far as I can get.

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Lexi - "* which is why it's... (Below threshold)

February 20, 2010 1:54 PM | Posted, in reply to Lexi's comment, by brainchild: | Reply

Lexi - "* which is why it's important to see the person you are helping as a person, and not a prop."

Nicely said, that's why compassion involves love AND understanding! You can't actually help someone unless you pay attention to them and understand what they need. It's about their needs, not your own need. Not that helping someone else out can't feel good for the person doing the helping or sharing. All we can ever really do is offer someone else helpful support or an opportunity (unless you're actually saving someone from a burning building, that's all your really doing anyway...beware those out to "save" others!)

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a wise man once said, "spen... (Below threshold)

February 21, 2010 4:44 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

a wise man once said, "spend the first 50 years of your life becoming somebody, and the last 50 years of your life becoming nobody."

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Meat Robot,<a href... (Below threshold)

February 21, 2010 6:13 PM | Posted, in reply to Meat Robot's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Meat Robot,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wupToqz1e2g

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You seem to forget that Ame... (Below threshold)

February 22, 2010 6:13 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Riley: | Reply

You seem to forget that America's history practically begins with religious fundamentalism.

Perhaps the argument could be made that it is the result of our decline FROM religious fundamentalism as the cause in that our society has taken their focus away from some higher power and instead on their own power?

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Thanks brainchild! :)... (Below threshold)

February 23, 2010 12:02 AM | Posted, in reply to brainchild's comment, by Lexi: | Reply

Thanks brainchild! :)

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Another article about narci... (Below threshold)

March 31, 2010 7:05 AM | Posted by Harman: | Reply

Another article about narcissism (esp reflecting the increasing stress on "self-esteem" in the modern world):

http://incharacter.org/features/theodore-dalrymple-on-self-esteem-vs-self-respect/

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This does not make any sens... (Below threshold)

July 9, 2010 12:23 PM | Posted by someone: | Reply

This does not make any sense at all:

"How can a man who thinks "my wife is way smarter than me!"

or the guy who thinks, "I'm no ladies' man, but I would never use a woman, even if I could!"

or the woman who thinks, "I know I'm not a model, but I'm an attractive, intelligent, independent woman"

-- how can they all be narcissists?

I. I. I. Me. I. Me. I. I. I. I. Me. Me. Me. Enough, we get it, we all know who you are.

It's why happiness always seems out of reach, why love seems elusive or complicated. And sometimes why other people get hurt."

Simply thinking about an aspect of your personality or making a statement involving yourself is narcissism that will sabotage your happiness? Do we all have to speak in third person or never, ever mention anything involving ourselves? What a load of bullshit.

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The essence, the d... (Below threshold)

July 10, 2010 1:45 AM | Posted by Matt P: | Reply

The essence, the defining characteristic of narcissism is the isolated worldview, the one in which everyone else is not fully real, only part a person, and only the part the impacts you.

So, Alone, something I've wondered since you first put this up: Is there a name for the complement to narcissism? For the condition in which one is equally isolated but one feels oneself is not quite real but one's friends and neighbors mostly are? Or is that just another, maybe less common, manifestation of narcissism?

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"Is there a name for the co... (Below threshold)

July 10, 2010 4:13 PM | Posted by Hannah: | Reply

"Is there a name for the complement to narcissism?" "For the condition in which one is equally isolated but one feels oneself is not quite real but one's friends and neighbors mostly are?"

Interesting question... I think there's a complement to narcissism but don't know if it has a technical name, but perhaps it's called mirroring. Some people serve as mirrors to narcissists and people in general though they get along with narcissists the best. They don't fully exist (or have not developed a core identity) but nicely mirror people around them. Perhaps it's a subtype of narcissism, or inverted narcissism or something.

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The complimentary or invers... (Below threshold)

July 10, 2010 6:20 PM | Posted, in reply to Hannah's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

The complimentary or inverse personality disorder to NPD is usually considered to be the Borderline Personality Disorder. Someone who is also unclear about personal boundaries but instead of seeing people as objects is overly empathetic and has difficultly discerning their own emotions from those of others. Like the narcissist they also don't have a stable sense of self. Healthy narcissism (or self love or self regard) is between these two extremes - you have empathy for others and can feel their feelings but don't mistake them for your own, you see others as separate human beings (not objects or extensions of yourself, which is the case in NPD and BPD respectively....both are a result of a parent using the child to serve their emotional or psychic needs instead of providing for the emotional and psychic needs of the child).

It's interesting how many people have an inaccurate nostalgia for the past. Childhood, as we think of it today, is actually a concept that arose with the increase in numbers of the middle class in the Victorian era (and is partly a result of industrialization and the increased wealth and free time that the expanding middle class had...the biggest push in modern history was with the expansion of the middle class in the US in the 50s and 60s, when being the "perfect mother" or a professional mother became a norm to be aspired to that was promoted by corporations who have been targeting women and mothers ever since to make them feel inadequate and insecure if they're not the ideal).

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Thank you for writing your ... (Below threshold)

November 28, 2010 12:20 PM | Posted by Andrew: | Reply

Thank you for writing your blog.

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Thank you. I will start fak... (Below threshold)

December 20, 2010 9:31 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Thank you. I will start faking it right now, no matter how "I" feel. Thank you so much.

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"These articles aren't sayi... (Below threshold)

December 20, 2010 10:02 PM | Posted by Jerry Manheim: | Reply

"These articles aren't saying narcissism is on the rise, they are saying grandiosity is on the rise. They are conflating the two. Even psychiatrists get this wrong, they are not the same."

Why are psychiatrists so dumb? I don't understand why supposedly brilliant psychiatrist types can be persuaded by these snakester journalist types trying to pull a fast one on us and on psychiatrists. I pay my psychiatrist good money to be of superior intelligence and listen to me and resolve certain conflicts in my life. If I ever knew that he subscribed to these publications mentioned above like Newsweek, the York Daily News, and the Daily Mail- if I ever found out that he read these publications for more than just fun, then I would fire my psychiatrist on the spot and tell him to go fly a kite and get with society because he ain't with it- he is being duped.

And if my psychiatrist is being duped by faceless snakester journalists then how can he tell if he isn't being duped by his own kids or his money manager or his priest/minister/preacher or his wife or his pet sitter or his congressman, or maybe his babysitter or his state comptroller or his sister or his mother or his sister-in-law...or....his fucking self. !!! How can I trust a man like that to help me resolve my conflicts in my life?

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The first psychiatrist I ev... (Below threshold)

December 20, 2010 10:13 PM | Posted, in reply to Jerry Manheim's comment, by Judy Sheishertine: | Reply

The first psychiatrist I ever went to had Newsweek magazine available for reading in the waiting room- I walked right out on him. Didn't even stay to meet the man. I knew from that magazine being there that he was not worth my money or even the paper it was printed on (this is the first time I've ever told anyone this!).

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My psychiatrist is a woman ... (Below threshold)

December 20, 2010 10:32 PM | Posted, in reply to Jerry Manheim's comment, by L. Randolph Milddleton: | Reply

My psychiatrist is a woman and so she likes to talk a lot- moreso than the male psychiatrist that I saw in the 90's. Anyway, so I told her that the reason I am depressed is because I desire to travel more and I secretly want to quit my job to do so. I make so much money that I really could do that with no problem.

So she said to me, "Randolph, let's set a goal for your first trip to take place in 2011. Start planning for it now." And so I said back to her jokingly because I like to joke with her and generally act like an adolescent any chance I get, I said "2011...uhh, I don't think that will work for me, doctor ______. I plan to work for the Palin presidential campaign then..." ahhahah.

We both started laughing LMAO style as we are both Northeast highly educated liberal types and we both would never work for someone like Palin. Anyway, so my psychiatrist got off track by my joke (which was my intention)- she then asked me if I had read the latest article on Palin in Newsweek and what did I think of her new show. And when I heard her say Newsweek and then have the gall to inquire if I had read it, well I just about wanted to spit out my drink (if I had been drinking a drink) and start laughing ROTFLMAO style, you know? like, did you just say you read Newsweek, you are joking darling? But she wasn't joking- she was expecting a serious reply from me. It was then that I knew I had to fire my psychiatrist ( and that it would take me six months to work up the courage to do so ! I still haven't fired her!).

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You are really a snob. Why... (Below threshold)

December 20, 2010 11:44 PM | Posted, in reply to L. Randolph Milddleton's comment, by Righteous Trailer Dweller: | Reply

You are really a snob. Why don't you get a life. You are the type that live near the coasts and have never in your life set foot in anyplace like Lincoln, Nebraska, yet swear to your holier than thou Christian God that only non descript hayseed community banker types live there and couldn't believe that someone like Yo Yo Ma, a world class classical instrument player, grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska. You know what, I only have three words for people like you: "Go Fry Ice." In the words of my beloved late grandmother (love you, nanna...am really missing your specialty Thanksgiving Day deviled eggs by the way!), go fry ice.

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"...yet swear to your holie... (Below threshold)

December 20, 2010 11:49 PM | Posted, in reply to Righteous Trailer Dweller's comment, by L. Randolph Middleton: | Reply

"...yet swear to your holier than thou Christian God that only non descript hayseed community banker types live there..."

Um, too bad that I am an athiest and therefore do not believe in this "holier than thou Christian God" concept that you are describing, Righteous Trailer Dweller, but thanks a lot for your comment- truly enlightening.

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Yo Yo Ma was actually born ... (Below threshold)

December 20, 2010 11:58 PM | Posted, in reply to Righteous Trailer Dweller's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Yo Yo Ma was actually born in Paris and raised in New York City. He's not from Lincoln, Nebraska.

Sorry, I'm a huge fan and I couldn't really let that one slip by (I was actually part of the 2006 Dan David Prize committee that selected him for that year's Dan David Prize and I have to say that as great a player as he is, he's an even better person)!

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This is my comment up there... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 12:00 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Jerry Manheim: | Reply

This is my comment up there- I was so excited to set the record straight that I forgot to type in my name ;)

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This is my comment up there... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 12:01 AM | Posted by Jerry Manheim: | Reply

This is my comment up there- I was so excited to set the record straight that I forgot to type in my name ;)

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"You are the type that live... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 1:44 AM | Posted, in reply to Righteous Trailer Dweller's comment, by Mac Davis III: | Reply

"You are the type that live near the coasts and have never in your life set foot in anyplace like Lincoln, Nebraska, yet swear to your holier than thou Christian God that only non descript hayseed community banker types live there..."

Doesn't Warren Buffett live in Omaha, Nebraska? I acknowledge that he looks as non-descript as a public elementary school building, but he is no community banker nor is he a hayseed. That man is a world class stock investor and one of the richest living human beings on the planet. I just read his biography- blew me away, I highly recommend it.

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"I don't understand why sup... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 12:32 PM | Posted, in reply to Jerry Manheim's comment, by A. Waskiwicz: | Reply

"I don't understand why supposedly brilliant psychiatrist types can be persuaded by these snakester journalist types trying to pull a fast one on us and on psychiatrists. I pay my psychiatrist good money to be of superior intelligence and listen to me and resolve certain conflicts in my life."

Jerry, just because a psychiatrist is intelligent, doesn't mean he is wise. Stop conflating the two- you are showing your undeveloped intellect and naive adolescent worldview when you do. I can understand why you are in therapy. You obviously are not equipped to deal with the real world.

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"I can understand why you a... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 12:41 PM | Posted, in reply to A. Waskiwicz's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"I can understand why you are in therapy. You obviously are not equipped to deal with the real world."

This is a horrible statement. If you do not know what is wrong with it, you should die.

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I second that. Death to ig... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 12:43 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I second that. Death to ignorance.

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I am sorry, you are right. ... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 1:31 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by A. Waskiwicz: | Reply

I am sorry, you are right. I was just so inflamed with Jerry's comment concerning the intelligence of his psychiatrist and Jerry's expectation that intelligence should include wisdom. That is wrong. I let my passion get the best of me. I apologize.

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Apology accepted. ... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 1:38 PM | Posted, in reply to A. Waskiwicz's comment, by Igor Bostkafeck: | Reply

Apology accepted.

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Apology accepted. Cool hea... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 1:42 PM | Posted, in reply to A. Waskiwicz's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Apology accepted. Cool heads prevail, remember that. Passion is great, but you need to learn balance between your heart and head. Don't be a woman.

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"Passion is great, but you ... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 1:43 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Geraldine Jefferson: | Reply

"Passion is great, but you need to learn balance between your heart and head. Don't be a woman."

Don't be a woman? What's that supposed to mean? I think I take offense to that (I am a woman).

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"Don't be a woman."<p... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 1:45 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"Don't be a woman."

You wish you were a woman. That statement is just so wrong. If YOU don't know what's wrong with it, then YOU need to die.

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Just ignore him. Don't fee... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 1:47 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Gandhi: | Reply

Just ignore him. Don't feed the troll.

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Just ignore him. Don't fee... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 1:52 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Gandhi: | Reply

Just ignore him. Don't feed the troll.

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you tell everyone who say s... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 2:28 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

you tell everyone who say something you don't like that he\she should die. If you don't know how wrong that is, YOU should die.

"bwah, bwah, you offended me, YOU SHOULD DIE"

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Yes, I do and if more peopl... (Below threshold)

December 21, 2010 3:55 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Yes, I do and if more people did the same, the world would be a better place. People need to start stating their true feelings more and, like me, I believe most people want those who don't agree with them to be dead or at least would live more freely if those who didn't agree with their beliefs were dead.

So, just say it, you know you want to. You will feel better after stating your true feelings and wants.

By the way, who laughs using a 'b' sound? "Bwah" - what is that? I've never heard that articulation in any conversation in my whole life (and I am 52 years old).

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I think the idea is to not ... (Below threshold)

January 16, 2011 2:17 AM | Posted, in reply to Jbow's comment, by Francis: | Reply

I think the idea is to not try and wrap another identity around yourself, but to fake a non narcisstic identity on your existing personality. Read the last paragraph again. Maybe I got it wrong...

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Thank you!I started ... (Below threshold)

February 13, 2011 12:01 PM | Posted by Michael: | Reply

Thank you!
I started reading the article then when i got to "It creates a self-satisfied sense of importance because you're not like them." i paused and got the wierd feeling-that i am better than others cause atleast i DO something about my problems ie reading this article..
Cheers

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Thank you!I started ... (Below threshold)

February 13, 2011 12:02 PM | Posted by Mischi: | Reply

Thank you!
I started reading the article then when i got to "It creates a self-satisfied sense of importance because you're not like them." i paused and got the wierd feeling-that i am better than others cause atleast i DO something about my problems ie reading this article..
Cheers

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oh. my. god. Alone... (Below threshold)

February 17, 2011 6:05 AM | Posted by jonny: | Reply

oh. my. god.

Alone is God.

My adoration for your writing style aside, isn't narcissism really just a by-product of our survivalist coding? It seems to me that the issue isn't really narcissism at all; we're all narcissistic by virtue of the fact we're the byproduct of millions of years of evolutionary process.

But we are uncomfortable with the reality. Why should we be? We had no say in it. We're merely the product of a process. In a dangerous environment (especially for the young), clearly narcissism is a beneficial trait. Is it no wonder we live in a world of narcissism and selfishness? Any other world would smack of fantasy.

Yet "any other world" is the one we pretend we're all living in. The problem isn't that we're (6 billion of us) are narcissistic.

The problem is that we don't like to admit it. So we lie to ourselves, to facilitate our manipulation of others. Whilst telling them they should care about us.

It's what intelligent narcissists would do.

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There are many approaches w... (Below threshold)

January 13, 2012 8:27 PM | Posted, in reply to crescentdave's comment, by David: | Reply

There are many approaches within AA, some of which are narcissistic in the fashion described here (as if one could entirely get rid of the ego), but the better approaches emphasize service to others in, and outside, of the group. "Fake it to you make" it usually applies to "belief in a Higher Power", but service to others is an action. It doesn't require any motivation other than a desire to stay sober and belief that service will help. Perhaps that is faking it because one is also waiting for altruistic motivation to emerge. The idea is that it will emerge and also that connecting to others via service changes one. Surrender to the fact that one cannot control one's alcoholism is also called, in some AA literature, a form of "ego deflation at depth".

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Are you saying that there i... (Below threshold)

March 22, 2013 7:23 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Atarii: | Reply

Are you saying that there is no difference between the person who says, "I will help everyone, even at dire inconvenience to myself, not necessarily because I want to help, but because helping is the right thing to do"; and the person who says, "I care about nothing and no one, not even myself"?

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I think TLP is wrong on thi... (Below threshold)

March 22, 2013 9:18 AM | Posted by Dovahkiin: | Reply

I think TLP is wrong on this one. The answer isn't "fake it", we're faking it now. It think there are two answers

Make a conscious effort to start thinking about what people are like when you aren't watching them. What does your boss do on vacation? What does your friend like when she isn't hanging around with you? What does Barack Obama do after work? Prop Obama, for example disappears, the real Obama goes home to his wife. The prop thing sounds a lot like the notion of object permanence, except that we're talking about people, not objects. If you don't have the concept of object permanence, things simply stop existing when you cannot see them. Eventually babies figure it out, which is why they know that the toys are in the toy box. Prop boss simply disappears (mentally) when you cannot see him. He's not here, on vacation, or at a meeting, or whatever. He still exists, and he still does things, and thinks and feels things that have nothing to do with you.

The other thing, and I still go back to the RPG thing, is stop "questing". In other words stop doing things to "be the hero" or "be the villian" or be "good employee" or "slacker". It's hard to do, but I find that the trick that works for me is "what if no one could ever find out?" That's the real you. If you want the real you, find out what you do when no one can possibly find out about it. Imagine that no one could find out about it. Would you still help Haitians if no one could ever find out? Then you're actually wanting to help them, you actually care about them. Would you work hard if your boss would never actually find out? Then you aren't really "super-worker", that's a hat you wear. Do you write even when it means no one would ever read it? You're a writer. Sometimes (as with working hard) you have to do that to survive, I get that, but at the same time, it's not the real you.

I actually ended up coming to the second bit kinda sideways. As asbolutely no one can tell by my username, I kinda like Skyrim. But there was one thing in Skyrim that bothered me and lots of other people who liked it. The game itself rarely if ever noticed what you did in the game. You kill the emperor, no one cares, not even the imperial army. If you save the city, so what? But it drove me crazy and it drove a lot of other people crazy as well. But why would such a thing be so annoying? Why would people be more annoyed that NPCs don't care that we rescued them when other unrealistic things don't get the same level of hate. I think it's the same thing TLP talks about here -- we expect the world to be about us, and when a world, even a fictional one, doesn't even recognize that we did something, we have a bit of a panic attack. Dovahkiin is narcissist because the guy at the controls is. We keep asking the world to tell us who we are, and when a fictional world somehow doesn't we get a bit miffed. Why would I care, I mean Rorick of Rorickstead is a bit of C++ code in a sea of code for trees and rocks and dragons, why do I need him to "remember" that I reopened his C++ code "mine"? But if TLP is right and narcissism is "other people as props", that actually makes a lot of sense. Rorick or Rorickstead serves the same purpose as my boss, or my buddies, or my pastor, or the bartender. They're NPCs in my life. Rorick only exists to allow me to be "Dovahkiin who saves the mine", the boss only exists so I can be "employee who works hard", friends only exist so I can be "friend who sticks by my friends", pastors only exist so I can be "good churchgoer". Quest Quest Quest. Do those Quests for NPCs who don't exist outside of the time when you can observe them, come back and get told how good you are. They don't exist outside, they're there for you.

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The most useful thing I've ... (Below threshold)

January 13, 2015 12:11 AM | Posted by Matt: | Reply

The most useful thing I've gotten from this blog is that I just need to act, in spite of negative emotion. Narcissism is a defense against action, because it is easier to pretend than to do. Action, coupled with humility and a sense of perspective, is the antidote to narcissism, because you no longer allow yourself to dwell in a fantasy world. HUMILITY I think is key, because it necessitates that you lower your estimation of your own worth, and forces you to consider your worth relative to other people's, and not just relative to a fantasy you contrived in your head.

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I AM THE PERSONIFICATION OF... (Below threshold)

January 13, 2015 8:16 PM | Posted, in reply to Matt's comment, by johnnycoconut: | Reply

I AM THE PERSONIFICATION OF HUMILITY.

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Speaking for myself, I actu... (Below threshold)

January 13, 2015 11:00 PM | Posted, in reply to johnnycoconut's comment, by johnnycoconut: | Reply

Speaking for myself, I actually oscillate between humility and arrogance.

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