What The **^ Is A Narcissist?
There is much written about narcissism, but since most people haven’t had any actual experience with a living, breathing narcissist – or may have had without knowing it – they probably don’t realize how dangerous and how ubiquitous they are. I mean, they’re everywhere!
If you haven’t had enough already of talking heads discussing Trump ad infinitum, I’ll add my little footnote to the controversy.
You can find all the information you want on the Internet if you want to know more about narcissism. I am drawing from my own experience, because I grew up with a narcissist.
Thanks To Trump!
One good thing about having Trump in the limelight all this time is that there’s no excuse for anyone now to plead complete ignorance on the subject of narcissism.
The word has become ubiquitous everywhere, and suddenly all of the wise heads in the media are repeating that word, over and over, and by now Narcissism should have been embedded in just about everyone’s brain. But still, people don’t really know what that means, what it entails, exactly.
It isn’t just the superficial things, the obvious posturing, the constant self-preening and what people think of as “love of self,” when actually it isn’t anything of the kind. Narcissists are not in love with themselves, they are in love with their image.
It goes a lot deeper. How deep, I have no idea, but psychiatrists say that narcissists hate themselves, but love their image.
Being in love with your own image, like the Narcissus of Greek mythology, is not the same as being in love with yourself. If you look at the image of Narcissus staring at his own image in the pool of water, you can see his adoring look; it’s like he’s found someone there, who’s like him but so much better. The image in the pool is a mirage, it’s also an ideal. It’s the narcissist’s ideal and doesn’t have a lot to do with the reality. And the reality is that narcissists are incapable of empathy, and although we seem to know this now, as a society, we generally apply this knowledge to criminals, to serial killers, but we often don’t recognize the signs in people we work with, or people we elect as President, or maybe people we marry without knowing the consequences.
People – some people, not all of us – tend to get obsessive about good-looking individuals, of the same or opposite sex. Celebrity adulation is a part of our narcissistic culture: we don’t care what that person is inside, all we care about is the packaging! Worse than that, we know nothing about the people we follow in the media, because they live in a different world and we will never really know them, not really know them, unless we strike up a personal relationship.
My mother was a narcissist.
My mother, against all logic, would claim that horizontal stripes in clothing, such as sweaters, made a person look thinner than vertical stripes. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when confronted with the truth, most people accept their error and move on. She maintained this fiction, about clothing, and proclaimed herself the best possible judge of all things to do with style. Contradicting her, you would risk her displeasure and possibly her fury, at times, if you persisted in your train of thought.
This example is harmless enough, if terribly annoying. But worse things occurred.
It may seem as if I’m badmouthing my mother, and it isn’t nice to talk about one’s parents that way, but the truth is always painful.
If you’re coming from a well-balanced, generally happy family background, you probably have had no such experience yourself. I would have loved my mother, really I would, only I couldn’t because she just didn’t let me.
Over the last few years, I’ve done a lot or research on this subject, and the one thing that truck me as strange is that they actually hate themselves. They hate themselves but they love their image.
I can attest to the truth in this because, as the son of a narcissistic mother, I went through it myself: hating myself but loving my image. Everywhere I went, in my youth and later in life, I felt as if I were on parade and people were watching and rating me. I was painfully aware of my physical appearance, my “good looks.” I was good-looking, but that only made me feel worse. My entire life hinged on whether I was really exceptional, or just a buffoon. The simple reason for that was that I had no “me” inside me – only my other resided in me.
My mother’s eye was always on me, but with a critical, biased stare. She would invariably find things wrong with me.
Narcissists do things you’d never expect a normal person to do. They feel entitled, because they’re “above” ordinary humanity. My mother once disinvited people my wife and I had invited for a visit. Never mind the reason, it doesn’t matter.
But what does matter is that she felt entitled to carry on in such a high-handed manner that she alienated family members – we weren’t many – and created an atmosphere of constant tension. Tiring of us all, she would begin to pick at us, one by one. Once when my daughter and her mother (my ex-wife) showed up at her apartment despite being sick with a bad cold, she berated them for lounging inappropriately on the divan, where they were both just trying to maintain a minimum of decorum while tending to their aches and pains. She accused them of being slovenly, ungrateful, and they had completely spoiled her evening, after all she’d done to set things up just so.
She would always draw attention away from whatever was going on around her, and bug people – me especially – to get noticed. Because if she couldn’t understand what was being discussed, or something about the circumstances didn’t appeal to her for some reason, she would become insular, and then she would expect family to defer to her and treat her nicely, as she was a very sensitive person, which in fact she wasn’t. Not even close. She had the trappings of emotion, on the surface, but underneath I never knew what was happening!
I had a very low self-image, growing up. My mother was a flighty person, like one of those butterflies that alights on a flower for a second or two and then flies off again. Butterflies are wonderful, colorful, and useful; my mother wasn’t.
Can you imagine growing up and never hearing the word, “I love you,” from you parents? Never being hugged? My parents didn’t hate me, they just ignored me, except when I got in the way. It is hard to believe, but that was my childhood. Not only did I never hear those three words, I got no support, no encouragement, and no love of course, from either of them. My father was what is called an “enabler,” the one who runs interference for the narcissist.
If you take a good look at Trump’s legacy, in the White House, it’s easy to see how a number of his associates who were close to him were cast aside with impunity and personal prejudice. Narcissists require a supply of individuals around him, or her, who will never criticize, only applaud their every move and pronouncement, on any subject. They need their victims, people who are close to them and who are essentially no more than chess pieces on their board.
Witness the exit of so many of Trump’s advisors, several if whom have now been charged with crimes.
You can see a great example of this in the film, Born To Kill (1947), directed by Robert Wise. The main character (played by Lawrence Tierney) is a narcissistic killer. His main supply comes from his erstwhile sidekick, Marty (Elisha Cook, Jr), who follows him around like a nurse with a bedpan, utterly devoted to this service, which proves his undoing: trusting a narcissist is always a bad idea; he is murdered.
Narcissists are encased in their own little cocoon, like spiders constantly making little alterations to their web, to catch the unwary.
Left To Die On The Vine
It was quite late in my life when I learned these things about myself, why I couldn’t grasp the essentials, in the workaday world, of any kind of occupation. I didn’t know how to do anything.
Though in appearance I seemed “all right,” inside I was dead and empty. Fortunately, I’ve come to terms with my past, after much meditating and help from therapists.
I urge anyone who has had a relationship with a narcissist, or anyone who has worked with one, or has a relative who is one, to get help immediately if their lives have been affected, as mine was. Don’t wait, like I did, because when I was growing up, there weren’t that many aides like there are now!
Born in Tel Aviv, Israel (when it was still Palestine, a British protectorate. I was 1 year old when we moved to England, where I grew up. At age 12, we left for Canada and I’ve lived here ever since.