Monday, October 22, 2007

Unnatural narcissism

Narcissism is a normal and inherent part of human nature. We are all narcissistic to a degree but some people have excessive levels of narcissism. A little narcissism might be a good thing but a lot is not. Narcissism, and from here on by narcissism I mean excessive rather than normal narcissism, is not a disease or insanity but a basic motivation and a way of life. It is an unconscious, primitive, protective impulse, a set of beliefs, instincts, and urges based upon the superiority of the self that influence all thought and action.

The narcissist has an idealized, superior, self-image, which is the exclusive centre of his or her world and life. This sense of superiority can be based on:

* a person’s body (appearance, health, sexual prowess, physical fitness, or sporting ability).

* their mind (intelligence and knowledge, real or imagined, or some talent or ability).

* their ‘spirituality’.

* Or their social being—their status, leadership skills, competitiveness, ability to control and dominate others, or on being a ‘people person’, ‘life of the party’, someone popular and loved by all.

Narcissists usually elevate the importance of the area upon which they base their superiority and dismiss or denigrate the others. The French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre for example, was so invested in the power of his mind that he was impatient with the requirements of his own body and even resented having to shave, clean his teeth, and bathe.

Some narcissists see themselves as superior in more than one area or even in all four. Still others don’t feel any need at all to have, be, or do anything out of the ordinary, or to prove or justify their superiority in any way. They believe they were simply born superior. They see themselves as special, different, above the everyday faults, afflictions, obligations, problems, and responsibilities of ‘ordinary’ people. But as with all self-enhancing illusions, believing oneself to be superior does not necessarily make it so. It is possible not only to have an inaccurate self-view but a highly inaccurate self-view. It is possible for a plain, overweight person, for example, to believe they are stunningly attractive, or for someone with a lower than average IQ and little education to believe they are a genius. Even narcissists who are attractive, talented, or intelligent are rarely as exceptional as they believe themselves to be. Unrealistic self-assessment is the essence of narcissism.

Highly narcissistic people exist among all cultures, social classes and races, in young and old, male and female, heterosexual and homosexual. People with highly narcissistic personalities are everywhere—the neighbour who talks non stop about the minutiae of her life and her opinions on everything without the slightest interest in yours, the employee taking credit for other’s work and ideas, bullies, drama queens and prima donnas, computer hackers, louts, hoons, vandals, graffitists, ill-mannered oafs, pushy sales people, corporate cowboys, and con artists. The narcissist is the road-rager who thinks everyone should get out of his way, the domineering mother-in-law who wages guerrilla warfare against her child’s spouse, or the ‘best friend’ who seduces your partner. They might be your parent, sibling, child, employer, co-worker, friend, spouse, or lover. Narcissism fuels racism, sexism, snobbery, and religious bigotry. It contributes to many disturbed and dysfunctional relationships, is the central problem of many addicts, and is the cause of much abusive and criminal behaviour.

Narcissists have always been around and have always been trouble. We have many names for them—spoilt brat, delinquent, braggart, egotist, love-rat, rogue, scoundrel, villain, femme fatale, philanderer. Jails are full of them, so are drug and alcohol treatment programs, divorce courts, corporate offices, and singles bars (even when they are not single). At best, narcissists exasperate, at worst, they can be dangerous, but mostly they are unidentified, undiagnosed, and underestimated. Narcissism is a personality disorder and a powerful psychological force that in effect says:

* I am better than you, more important than you.
* I deserve whatever I want or need because I am special.
* The world should defer to me, recognize my greatness, and shower me with attention and admiration.
* Only what I want, think, feel, and believe, matters.
* Nobody tells me what to do.
* I never have to do anything I don’t want to or do anything that doesn’t feel good. And if it feels good it must be good no matter who it hurts.
* How dare anyone get in my way, inconvenience, or disappoint me.
* No one has the right to make demands on me or expect anything from me.
* If you are hurt that’s your problem not mine.
* Other people don’t have the same rights as I do.

Ultimate Self

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