Thursday, August 09, 2007

It's All About Attention

A false image is, of course, a work of art, an idol. And a lie. A narcissist identifies with this image, not his true inner self. So, all he cares about is his image, not what kind of person he really is. Indeed, the latter has no real existence in his world.

In identifying with his image, he's identifying with an ephemeral figment that has but virtual reality, a purely immanent existence as a reflection in the attention shone on him by others. No attention, no image. No image, no self!

So, no normal person can imagine what it's like living in the mind of a narcissist. But we can take what we do know and apply logic to it for drawing conclusions. For example, what would it be like if you weren't always there for yourself? If your experience of your own existence was limited to seeing yourself reflected in mirrors?

You'd be forever posing before a mirror, wouldn't you? In fact, if you looked around and saw all the people/mirrors around you reflecting someone else (i.e., paying attention to someone else) and none reflecting you, you'd experience an existential crisis.

This phenomenon is strangely reminiscent of what happens when game birds hatch and "imprint" on their human caretakers instead of Mother Bird. Something essential never happens in the formation of their "bird mind."

So, it's all about attention. Narcissus' life is a game of monopoly for it all. And people are just mirrors to him.

He won't listen to you: you must listen to him. He won't look at you: you must look at him. Because you are just his mirror. This is no exaggeration: if you grew up in a home with a narcissistic parent, you grew up in a home with a parent whom you never had a conversation with.

There are two things to keep in mind about being someone's mirror.

One is that a mirror is just an object, not a person in its own right. It's there for his sake, like the rest of the furniture, to reflect his image by shining attention on him. In other words, he is the center of his universe and the world revolves around him.

As every mother knows, this is the mentality of an infant. It's natural in infants, who have not yet acquired a personality. We see it throughout nature. It's what makes baby birdies erupt in loud chirping, stick their heads up out of the nest, and stretch their gaping mouths wide — each struggling to chirp louder, stick his head up higher, and stretch his gaping mouth wider than everybody else — every time Mother comes near. This mentality is adaptive in infants. It makes them behave in a way that stimulates Mother's instincts to forget her own needs and see entirely to theirs. And it makes the biggest attention-getter in the nest most likely to survive.

The other thing to keep in mind is that mirrors are all pretty much the same. Narcissus doesn't notice anything particular about any of them because he's too busy maneuvering to get and hold their attention and too busy admiring the important image of him they're reflecting in the inordinate amount of attention he gets from them. Since people are just mirrors to him, he has no more interest in them than you or I have in a mirror we are studying our image in.

And since he has no interest in them, a narcissist has a knee-jerk reflex that tunes people out as background noise. He's too busy thinking of what to say next and too busy admiring how he sounds to hear them. This means that what Narcissus doesn't know about the significant others in his life is both amazing and diagnostic.

And so, narcissism is a mental dis-ease that can run its course to bizarre extremes of self absorption.

Now let's pause a moment and reflect on what that mirror of attention is. Consider what "attentions" come packaged in it:

moral support

This is the stuff of human relations, isn't it? All people hunger for these things, especially from those they love. These things are a human being's principle source of gratification and one nobody can thrive without. They are just forms of attention. And Narcissus' life is a game of monopoly for it all.

So he begrudges any to anyone but himself and competes with others for these things.

For example, he compulsively does his best to make sure that others get no attention in the form of consideration. He must get it all, and others must be treated inconsiderately.

You can run right down the list: Narcissus does likewise with everything on it, every form of attention. All regard must be for his rights and feelings; others' rights and feelings must be disregarded. He must get all appreciation; others must be taken for granted. Everyone must be faithful to him and betray all others. He must get all the credit for everything, others none. He must get all sympathy, others none.

He acts as though every ounce of this stuff were the last loaf of bread in a starving world that he has just gotta out-compete you for.

This is the essence of narcissistic abuse. And when you take a second look at what he's doing, you see that he is denying others their right to be treated as human beings.

Ask any addict: He doesn't care how bad you need a fix. He has no regard for the fact that you will die in withdrawal because he's gotta be a pig that has just gotta have it all. Narcissus is like that with his drug, attention. He deprives his own children of it.

Doubtless you're aware of how retrograde into childishness this behavior is. Indeed, like a three-year-old, Narcissus is the center of the universe and absolutely certain that he has a right to whatever he wants.

Individuals with NPD assume that other people will submerge their desires in favor of the comfort and welfare of those with NPD. They believe that just because they want something — that is reason enough for them to have it. They assume that others are as consumed by concern for those with NPD as the individuals themselves are; they believe they deserve special consideration from others (DSM IV™, 1994, p. 659) (Millon & Davis, 1996, p. 394).
— Sharon C. Ekleberry, Dual Diagnosis and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder

This "I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now" mentality is normal for three-year-olds, because they have not yet developed a proper relationship with themselves and have not yet come to see others as persons in their own right, with rights and feelings and needs that count.

But your narcissist is willfully forever three. All attention/gratification should go to him because he is dying for it and can't get enough, and everyone therefore just has to let him have it. Indeed, he feels that others are depriving him and stealing from him if they try to get any of it.

This attitude reminds one of the scriptural verse that proclaims that all glory, laud, honor, credit, and gratification belong to God alone. Whom Narcissus obviously has himself confused with.

Think what it means to demand no end of attention/gratification and refuse to let anyone else have any. Showing our regard for others in these ways is the essence of relating to others humanly, not as one would relate to some insignificant bug.

Even if he is fifty years old, inside is a child so immature it would kill him to share this stuff: He's just gotta have it all.

No matter what. No matter how desperately someone needs it, he can't let them have any. Praise someone before Narcissus, and he must tear that person down to deny them any praise. Do Narcissus a favor, and he must deny you gratitude. Need comfort, and he must find you contemptible and therefore unworthy of it. And so on. All to deny others one bit of regard.


Attention is a value judgment. We pay it only to things we deem worthy of it. So, by treating others as unworthy of any regard, Narcissus is acting as though they are beneath notice, insignificant and infinitely less important than all-important him. He pays no more regard to them in what he does than you pay to bug you step on while crossing the street. They are nothing; he is everything.

This is how he compensates for that demeaning value judgment his narcissistic parent imprinted on his soul. This is how he edits the shameful image of himself he saw reflected in that parent's contemptuous eye. In other words, he does to others what that parent did to him. Since that's what made that parent a god, that's what makes him a god.

How does he enact this fiction? By treating you like dirt. And by maligning you behind your back. You could define a narcissist as someone who likes to treat others like dirt and ruin their reputations.

This is the game a narcissist plays, in a nutshell. Because he is an emotional imbecile (i.e., mentally of pre-school-age maturity).

The only people he doesn't abuse this way are those he doesn't dare abuse. Or those he can aggrandize himself by association with. Or those he can con and is setting up for a con job. Like psychopaths, narcissists view others as but objects, material to exploit for their own aggrandizement.

Kathleen Krajco