It’s Narcissist Friday!
(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers. With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material. The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for. Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website. So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years. Please feel free to comment.)
I am about to finish “The Mirror Effect” by Dr. Drew Pinsky. This book and “The Narcissism Epidemic” by Twenge and Campbell present a culture that is increasingly focused on the antics and philosophies of self-centered people. Both books have something important to say, if for no other reason than to present the reality of the lives of the people Hollywood seems to find entertaining. But, in my opinion, both books somewhat misrepresent narcissism and get it mixed up with a couple of other concepts.
The first is egotism. Egotism is defined as excessively talking about oneself. It reminds me of the country song, “I Wanna Talk About Me” by Toby Keith. Egotists are focused on themselves and can hardly take the time to listen or care about others. Now, I think someone taught them that this was the way life was. The children of Hollywood often learn that they are the center of attention wherever they go. People watch to see what hair style they choose, what clothes they wear, or what music they enjoy. They are surrounded by admirers and sycophants all their lives. Add to that the drug culture and the suggestion that drug use causes a stoppage of emotional growth at whatever age it begins and you have Martin Sheen saying that his son, Charlie, is still emotionally a child. Children are supposed to grow out of egotism and into community. In our culture, many do not.
Not all egotists are in Hollywood, but most are simply what we used to call spoiled children. They need to be taught that life isn’t centered on them, no one really cares about their bodily functions, and the world doesn’t owe them either financial or psychological care. If it wasn’t politically incorrect, I would suggest that many of them simply need a good spanking and an introduction to the real world.
The second word is very similar—egoism. Egoism (note the loss of the letter “t”) is a philosophy that believes all personal action is fundamentally from self-interest. Egoists believe that self-interest is the only valid reason for anyone doing anything. So, according to this philosophy, those who go to war voluntarily do so for selfish reasons. They may want recognition and are willing to take the risk or they may see a significant positive even in some kind of martyrdom. Those who give generously to causes would have expectations of some kind of payback. Those who are kind actually serve themselves.
Egoists have determined their philosophy after a certain jaded look at the world around them. They see kindness and sacrifice and notice that many of those who do these things have self-interests. They conclude that self-interest is the primary cause of all such actions and they accept that conclusion as valid. A change of thinking may be as simple as meeting someone who actually knows how to love.
But narcissism is something quite different. The narcissist is afraid and is driven to control, to manipulate, to abuse others, by his fear. Whereas the egotist barely has any idea that there could be something about him that you would dislike, the narcissist is convinced that you would reject him completely if he ever let you close enough to know the truth. The narcissist needs more than constant attention, he needs constant approval, and he will do almost anything to get it.
Of course, there are overlaps in these definitions. The egotist may well be betraying a core of narcissistic need. The narcissist would be the epitome, the ideal, of some form of egoism. But it is generally helpful to remember that there are distinctions between the concepts.