In the American culture of mass media, we see more people rising to stardom overnight in a phenomena that can be summed up as “All About Me.” We can flip through the channels and find a reality show where the “star” allows America to see into their “fabulous and exciting” world. A few years ago I would have thought, “TMI” (too much information) but now I’m used to peeping in at people’s personal lives. It seems like everyone wants to do a show all about their life and it’s not American Biography material. T.O., the NFL superstar, even tried his hand at a reality show about himself. But the show that broke all the rules is The Kardashians. When did we switch from admiring an actor or actresses’ charisma on the screen to having people who have virtually no acting skills showing and telling it all on weeknight television? As a culture, we are supporting and encouraging narcissistic tendencies in people.
Is that Confidence or just Pride?
Many of us innocently mistake the aloof coolness of pride as confidence. Only to find that this confidence so admired is really a proud vanity and self-absorption in oneself. I have often experienced these “confident” people as being very charismatic, well dressed and standing tall. It’s easy to fall for them but the shine doesn’t stay. There is a lot of maintenance that goes into keeping the confidence going…a never-ending game of “Your great!”,”Your wonderful!”,”There’s no one as special as you.” Over time, we feel drained and empty…tapped-out. The story of Narcissus and Echo provides a good metaphor for the dynamics that can be involved when relating to someone who is so self-absorbed.
The term “narcissistic” comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus and Echo. Narcissus was a very vain and attractive young hunter. There were many who vied for his affections but he turned them all away with disdain. By the age of 16, there was a long list of heart-broken lovers, whose overtures for romance were rejected. One day the wood nymph, Echo, saw him hunting a stag in the woods. He heard her and called out, “Who is there?” Echo replied back to Narcissus, “Who is there?” She was unable to respond in her own words for she had been cursed. Hera had punished the talkative Echo by making her mute and only able to repeat the words of others. So the calling back and forth continued for a while until Echo finally rushed out to embrace Narcissus. Just like all the other potential lovers, of both sexes, Narcissus rejected her embrace. Heartbroken, Echo wandered into the forest eventually disappearing except for her voice which became know as an echo.
Another potential lover came along by the name of Ameinius. He was a very ardent admirer and vied for Narcissus’ attention on many occasions. The conceited and arrogant Narcissus asked Ameinius to prove his love. He brought a sword and told the suitor to prove how much he loved him. Ameinius stabbed himself in the heart, hoping to finally win Narcissus’ affection. Before dying, he called upon the gods to punish Narcissus.
One of the goddesses was listening and responded to the unrequited lover’s plea for punishment. Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, made Narcissus fall in love-with himself. While bending over a pool of water he saw the most beautiful and handsome person he had ever seen. At that moment, he fell hopelessly in love. When he realized he was looking at his own reflection, he became tormented by unrequited love just like all his rejected lovers. The agony eventually drove Narcissus to kill himself with a dagger to the heart. A flower grew out of the blood soaked ground that was white with a little red dot in the center.
While this story is tragic, it gets across an important point; being egotistical makes us blind to the love and affection being offered. We believe ourselves to be too special to even bother caring about another person. Vanity and arrogance can become so pervasive that everyone around feels neglected and used. Many people feel they must ingratiate the narcissistic person who may become very patronizing if their ego is not constantly stroked. Relationships become very one-sided where the attention inevitably will become focused around only one person.
While reality shows and other shows similar to them offer a cheap form of weeknight entertainment, in reality it is not a fulfilling way to live. For the narcissistic person, at the root of it all, there is a very deep insecurity. Many of us experience some narcissistic tendencies and understand the basic need to mask our insecurity. But for some, this insecurity runs so deep that it feels utterly unbearable to admit it to another let alone oneself. There is a spectrum of narcissism that on one end is normal to experience and fairly mild. The other end of the spectrum manifests as more extreme and pathological in nature. This is where we get into Narcissistic Personality Disorder which the DSMIV reports occurs in 1% of the general population.
Some of the traits of narcissism are: self-absorption, critical of others, controlling, unable to accept wrongdoing, outbursts of anger, lack of empathy. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist some helpful tips are to keep clear boundaries, don’t engage in conflict and set goals. Getting some professional help and support would also be a good idea because these types of relationships can get confusing, hurtful and destructive.