It’s Narcissist Friday!
Maybe someday the professional counselors will break narcissism into several parts. If so, I have a suggestion for one aspect of narcissism: Attention Obsessive Disorder. Of the nine clinical characteristics of narcissism (which you can find here) seven of them have something to do with the narcissistic need for attention. I think it would be hard to overstate this characteristic.
Now, this is obvious with the overt narcissists, right? They jump in front of the camera, in front of the stage, so others will notice them. They will be loud, or funny, or sarcastic, or cruel, or whatever it takes to bring the light on themselves. For some, all attention is good attention. Politicians, preachers, sports heros, “reality stars,” and others often seem to live for the attention.
But we have to make sure we understand this in the right way. Attention does not mean just the limelight. It means focus. The narcissist wants you to focus on him/her. It means that the narcissist wants your life.
A commenter recently noted something many have experienced. The narcissist often pulls people into intense personal relationships quickly. Many people relate a feeling of “love at first sight.” Narcissists talk of marriage much earlier in the relationship than expected. They demand exclusivity. They know how to attract and keep the focus of a person they want. Once the hook is set, they keep the pressure up until the victim is reeled in. That means focus. The young lady is overwhelmed by the attention the narcissist seems to give. Then she is told what to wear and how to eat and what to buy and who her friends should be. She is so smitten by the intensity of the relationship that she doesn’t sense the dangers. She loses herself in his need for her attention or focus.
Someone might wonder about the more covert narcissist, the one who seems to avoid the spotlight, but still manipulates all of her relationships. Again, this is a need for attention/focus. Your mother might be nearly unknown in the community or church, but your father does whatever she says, and you live in dreadful anticipation of her phone calls. Do you see what she wants and gets? Your focus. She is supposed to be the center of her family. Anything less than concentrated focus from her victims will be met with anger. Even if you are constantly looking over your shoulder in case she shows up or worried about what she will say next, she has your attention.
Remember Captain Jack Sparrow? The officer says, “You are without doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of!” And Sparrow answers, “But you have heard of me.” Even the person at church who takes every job and succeeds at none of them might be doing so just for the attention. The failure doesn’t matter, in fact it could draw even more attention to the narcissist, especially if the narcissist is the victim of some other person who failed. The person at work who never really works but knows everything about everyone, including the boss, might thrive on the attention of others who are both angry that she doesn’t carry her load and worried that she might tell what she knows. In either case, you are watching her.
And that friend who has no other friends besides you, but seems to expect—even demand—your constant availability and sympathy, may well be a narcissist who loves the focus you give to her. She is sick. She is out of money. She is being picked on by others. She is misunderstood. You care until you realize it never ends. When you stop, you move so quickly from friend to enemy that you really don’t understand what happened. You are demonized simply because you no longer provide the focus she wants.
The narcissist walks into a room full of people and immediately separates them into three categories. A certain number are instant friends. Another number are instant enemies. The rest might as well be invisible. On what basis does he make these assessments? By whether he thinks he will become the center of their focus. Some will give him what he wants. They will oooh and aaaah at whatever he says or does. Friends. Others will expect attention for themselves. Competitors. Enemies. The rest are too stupid to notice his specialness, or of such little value that it wouldn’t lift him up if they did.
Never underestimate the value of attention for narcissist. And, of course, we understand that this is not really attention for the narcissist, but for the image the narcissist has put up for himself. You are required to worship the image. Everything the narcissist does is for the purpose of lifting up that image. He wants you to believe in his superiority.
Attention. The drug of the narcissist. Your attention. Your focus. Your life. The narcissist is obsessed with getting as much of it as he/she can.