Sunday, March 18, 2007

Keeping Up Appearances

In identifying with a false image of himself — a work of art he's carved out — Narcissus isn't just telling and believing a lie, he is becoming a lie.

His life is a hectic exercise in keeping up appearances. He must seem greater than you. He must seem smarter than you. He must seem prettier than you. He must seem holier than you. He must always win. All glory, honor, praise, and thanksgiving belong to him forever and ever amen.

Therefore, he aggrandizes himself and everything he says and does. But that isn't all. When others shine, they diminish the glow of his glory. So Narcissus has the mentality of a rapist, who goes around tearing people "down off that pedestal." In other words, he devalues others and everything they say and do.

That's pathological envy.

Individuals with NPD are often envious of others and believe others to be envious of them. They begrudge others their possessions or successes. They believe that they are so important that others should defer to them; their sense of entitlement is apparent in their lack of sensitivity toward and arrogant exploitation of others (DSM-IV™, 1994, pp. 658-659).

— Sharon C. Ekleberry, Dual Diagnosis and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The narcissist is constantly envious of people. He begrudges others their success, or brilliance, or happiness, or good fortune. ...From scratching the paint of new cars and flattening their tyres, to spreading vicious gossip, to media-hyped arrests of successful and rich businessmen, to wars against advantaged neighbours.

The stifling, condensed vapours of envy cannot be dispersed. They invade their victims, their rageful eyes, their calculating souls, they guide their hands in evil doings and dip their tongues in vitriol… (The envious narcissist's existence is) a constant hiss, a tangible malice, the piercing of a thousand eyes. The imminence and immanence of violence. The poisoned joy of depriving the other of that which you don't or cannot have."

Sam Vaknin

This envy is most evident in the workplace. And it's amazing how blind people can be to it. They never notice that the day after someone gets praise or recognition before the group, or gets into the local news through great success with, say, a program or an athletic team, Narcissus starts in on that person. It's as predictable as sunrise and sunset.

So Narcissus hates excellence like a rapist hates women and purity. He wants to trample and destroy it to play "Let's Pretend They're Not So Great After All." Those who've had experience with narcissists nearly always warn that a narcissist will say anything about someone to bring that person down. ANYTHING. With absolutely no regard for the pain and suffering it will cause that person and those near and dear. Narcissus destroys lives and careers and marriages and families as lightly as you'd brush a crumb from your sleeve. Narcissus is just behaving like anyone at his maturity level behaves: when he doesn't like one of his toys anymore, when it displeases him, he busts it. That's all there is to it. And that's all other human beings are to this mental child.

Anthony Fremont is a six-year-old with extraordinary powers to control the little town where he lives by simply wishing away people and things that anger or bore him.... Other than his powerful wishing, Anthony has the mind and imagination of a typical little boy. He amuses himself with his special ability by giving a gopher three heads and then wishing the animal dead when the game becomes boring. The people in Peaksville have to smile all the time, think happy thoughts, and say happy things, because that's what Anthony commands and, if they disobey, he can wish them into a cornfield or change them into grotesque versions of themselves....

— from "It's a Good Life," a story by Jerome Bixby dramatized by Rod Serling for The Twilight Zone, as quoted here.

But Narcissus doesn't need supernatural powers to exile people from society and change them into grotesque versions of themselves: he does it all with nothing but his assault-weapon mouth. His slandering, calumniating, assault-weapon mouth. The people he destroys are of no account, mere extras on stage in a story that's all about him. We disregard the agony of a half-squashed bug we pass on the sidewalk, but we immediately run to the aid and comfort of an injured human being. Why? Because the suffering of a human being matters to us. We relate to human beings. Because we are human beings. We recognize our image and likeness in others and identify with our common humanity in them. We must respect it, show regard for it, and appreciate its value, or we commit an indignity against our own kind. Even the heat of battle doesn't extinguish the light of humanity in human eyes. One minute soldiers can be ferociously fighting and the next minute tending the defeated enemy's wounds. In fact, it goes further than humanity. If the injured were a dog instead of a bug, we'd run to its aid. Because we recognize and identify with the living soul in this sentient animal. But narcissists (and psychopaths) just don't do that. They don't relate. They don't treat people like human beings because they don't relate to people as human beings. They don't even relate to themselves as human beings. They identify with their image — smoke and mirrors — instead of the real person inside. They don't consider themselves as of our kind. They consider themselves special. Inherently superior to the rest of us. As far above us as we are above that bug. In fact, NPD was first described in the literature as the God Complex. Here are couple analogies to how narcissists and psychopaths relate to you — no matter who you are:

  • We don't care about all the worms we kill and maim when we break ground for a new building. Their lives and suffering are insignificant in our eyes. Your life is just as insignificant in a narcissist's eyes.

  • Again, you may take a perfectly good screw driver and abuse it to pry something open, knowing full well that you're probably going to break it. So what? It's just an object. It exists for your sake, not its own. It's there for you to exploit, to use and abuse in whatever way makes you happy. There are plenty more screw drivers where that one came from.

If you live or work with a narcissist, get used to being treated like that screw driver. That's what you are to him, nothing. That's what your pain and suffering mean to him, nothing. If his stomach growls and there will be no groceries till tomorrow, he'll cook and eat you without a second thought.

Because it's all about attention to his needs, his needs, his needs. I...I...I...I...I. I is his favorite word, and he hates to hear you use it. He is a god, so his merest breath of a desire is infinitely more important than whatever fulfilling it at your expense costs you.

And with childish Magical Thinking, he makes it so simply by acting as though it is. By playing 'Pretend.' Understanding that it's all about attention/regard and the inherent value judgment in it explains the perplexing aspects of narcissistic behavior.

More important, it reconciles seeming incongruities. For example, narcissists want positive attention, but if they can't get it, they pursue negative attention with just as much vigor. They will annoy, abuse, and even commit crimes for attention (e.g., Lee Harvey Oswald. Understanding that their need for attention is avaricious explains why they prefer being alone to being with others in a setting where they can't control or hijack all the attention.

Kathleen Krajco