Meeting Narcissus

‘He’s a complete narcissist, of course!’

Narcissism. It’s an accusation thrown around a lot these days; a go-to label for unsatisfactory people.

So what are the signs of a narcissist and what are this condition’s origins?

There is no narcissistic gene; that we know. If narcissism is there in the personality, it is the result of brain formation outside the womb; of neural pathways forming, or blocking, in response to unfolding events in childhood.

In particular, narcissism is the offspring of shame in the child; the sense not being good enough in some manner – though this birthing in their psyche will neither be known nor remembered by the narcissist themselves. Indeed, it will be strongly denied.

And while it is a popular label, narcissism isn’t an either/or. It isn’t ‘You either are narcissistic or you aren’t’.

Rather, like most conditions, it is a continuum of behaviour, with each of us somewhere on the spectrum. We will each recognise some of the traits in ourselves. But some are a great deal further along the spectrum than others.

So, let’s meet a narcissist. They may be charming company, when things are rolling well. But hang around, and there are obvious behaviours you will begin to notice. And most of these will feature an excessive interest in themselves.

This shouldn’t surprise obviously. The clue is in the name and the original Narcissus, from Greek mythology, was a man who fell in love with his reflection in the water. (It didn’t end well.)

So, here are some things you may notice:

  • Every conversation is about them or returned to them as soon as possible. They may mimic empathy, if it suits their own ends, but cannot do it for long. Other people’s lives are an irrelevance.
  • With a need for control, they will have a low tolerance level if things are not as they wish them to be. They become frustrated , irritable and liable to mood swings.
  • The narcissist will find feedback difficult and be prickly in response.
  • They are never to blame. Blame is terrifying; it brings up difficult memories. They will shift blame quickly in gas lighting manoeuvres.
  • Brutalised emotionally, they not only lack self-awareness; they actively oppose it. Consequently, they have no capacity for self-reflection. It would, for them, be like jumping into a fire.
  • Entitlement. The narcissist believes the best is due to them.
  • Narcissists, in time, suck the life out of you.

To summarise, humans are cause and effect.

For the narcissist, the cause is the early sense of shame; of being declared to be, or perceiving themselves as, ‘not good enough’. The effect, as they seek to escape this psychological fracture, is the fragile but controlling promotion of their own worth and existence at the expense of all others, who exist only to make them feel better.

They’d hate me for saying it, but they fall in love with themselves because when they were young, no one else did.