Thursday, July 05, 2007

Why are we in love with ourselves? - Part 2

Dark lords of love

Is your man an emotional vampire? In the second extract from his book on narcissism, Simon Crompton explains why good girls fall for bad guys.

Why do some women always go for bounders? Because they’re programmed to fall in love with narcissists – men who are glamorous, self-centred, difficult, intensely vulnerable . . . and who push all the right romantic buttons.

Narcissism is a personality type – recognised by psychiatrists and psychoanalysts – that goes far beyond vanity. In America the word is now commonly used to describe men who might, 20 years ago, have simply been called “bastards”. But the idea of narcissism describes something about human nature far more specific and interesting than that.

True narcissists could be described as emotional vampires – they have a sense of self-importance that depends on the admiration of others but, at the same time, are often incapable of understanding how other people feel. Their innate uncertainty about their worth gives rise to them concocting a self-protective aura of grandiosity and arrogance, often weaving a fantasy world to prop it up.

Psychiatrists believe there could be 600,000 people in the UK who are narcissistic to such as degree that they are a problem to society, but lesser narcissists surround us every day. It’s a potentially destructive combination for those around them. But the irony is that narcissists, just like all those sexy vampires in the movies, are often very successful at attracting women. That’s because the aura they give off conforms to some of our stereotypes of the dark leading man. Who, for example, could be more of a romantic hero than Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy?

The qualities that have made him the object of feminine drooling are also the qualities that psychiatrists define as being characteristic of narcissistic personality disorder. Here’s Darcy as described by Jane Austen: handsome and conscious of his appearance; proud, giving the appearance of being above everyone else; emotionally self-contained. Now let’s look at some of the characteristics of the narcissistic personality, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association: “grandiose sense of self-importance”, “requires excessive admiration”, “shows arrogant, haughty behaviour”. A resemblance?

And what is it about Darcy that makes Elizabeth Bennet fall in love with him? It’s a side that no one else can see – a sensitivity and vulnerability. It’s part of the thrill of romance. “You do not know what he really is; pray do not pain me by speaking of him in such terms,” says Elizabeth. All this is characteristic of falling in love with a narcissist. The accounts of modern women who’ve fallen for these narcissistic types show that the relationship often ends in tears.

Read more here

All About Me: Loving a Narcissist (Collins, £8.99), is published on July 2
ISBN-10: 0007247958
ISBN-13: 978-0007247950