It’s Narcissist Friday!
The last NF post caused some confusion and consternation, but there were great comments. I have been thinking about this idea of functional narcissists. The idea stemmed from the realization that so many are surprised to discover that a spouse or friend is a narcissist. Something was odd, but they couldn’t quite put a finger on it. (Others, of course, only needed to learn that there was a personality disorder that described their abuser. They saw that person as cruel and awful, not just odd.)
So I began to think that there may be narcissists among us who have learned to function in society to the point where their narcissism slips out only occasionally. This would primarily focus on the narcissistic tendency to depersonalize others. Under stress, when life isn’t working, their narcissistic characteristics would come out.
It is certainly possible that these people were just covert narcissists, which I have written about here. That would mean that they were not outgoing and overbearing, but manipulating from behind the scenes. However, that still isn’t quite what I meant. In my mind, the functional narcissist would be someone who normally does not exhibit destructive narcissistic characteristics, because he has learned how to function in society. He would still lack empathy and still find relationships difficult. (Of course, as I said, this person may exist only in my mind.)
Now, I would like to continue that general thought by suggesting that it may be possible for some people to compartmentalize their narcissism. That would mean that it would be channeled somehow. Is it possible that a narcissist could see one person as real and depersonalize others?
These may be people whose narcissism is primarily seen in a certain environment, like work. For them, narcissistic perspectives on people are useful, especially if their job requires them to see people as assets or burdens. Military leaders sometimes refer to “casualties” rather than soldiers who have been killed. Managers speak of “staff” as something that can be cut, rather than co-workers. Perhaps we could call this phenomenon, “vocational narcissism.” It would be defined as the inability or unwillingness to see people as persons in the job environment.
Talk about a useful and prevalent trait of upper management today! Companies seem to want people who can do this. But are there people who can keep this at work? I am not asking if all are able, just wondering if there may be some. Those will be the ones who surprise us.
There is another factor in this, perhaps an outlet for the narcissistic abuse in a controlled context. We live in an increasingly fictional world. Television and the internet bring us people who are somehow less than people. From the starving child we so easily ignore on the commercial during our TV show, to the murderer on the run from the police, we are almost forced to think of television people as fictional. How is the news murderer different from the TV show murderer? For some people there is little difference. (Just recently CNN commentators almost cheered the former police officer who was on the run after killing three people. One of the commentators compared him to the lead character on Django.)
For years we have known that watching family and marriage conflict on television can make a person feel better about themselves and their situation. Watching Erica Kane get her twelfth divorce to remarry her fifth husband makes people feel that their life isn’t so crazy after all. At least they aren’t that bad! (Don’t ask me how I know that name.) Narcissism isn’t just about depersonalizing others. Maybe a narcissist feels better by such a comparison. Comparisons are a common part of the narcissist lifestyle.
Many people believe that the ability of young people to kill easily and without care in video games moves them to do the same in real life. The suggestion is that the video games desensitize them to the reality of others and the horror of killing. But could it also be that narcissists are drawn to these games as an outlet for their anger, an outlet that allows them to hold in their anger at other times? Narcissists are angry people. Many young people play these games with no apparent negative social effect.
Part of the motivation for my thinking in these things is that we seem to be seeing more and more narcissism. Are we cultivating narcissism? That could be true. Are normal outlets for those who have narcissistic characteristics breaking down? That may also be possible. Is there an increase in competition and stress that can’t be handled by fiction or sports or other indirect means? Narcissists don’t handle competition well.
As you can tell, this post is more contemplative and philosophical than most of my Narcissist Friday posts. I would really like to hear some of your thoughts on these things. I am wide open to your challenges and questions and ideas.