July 12, 2009

i'm the piece of shit the world revolves around


The current cultural buzzword - in case you haven't been paying attention to the internets - is NARCISSIST. Specifically, Narcissist Personality Disorder... who has it, whether or not it's ruining your love life, whether it is viral, and of course, the hand-wringing about today's kids being the most self-obsessed twits since the Roman Senate.

You've got articles like this one from CNN, and this one from the Daily Beast, both featuring stock photos of a twentysomething chick looking at themselves in the mirror, and both getting some pretty basic things wrong about what narcissism really is.

Both blame "the Oprah school of thought", which states "you must love yourself before anyone else will," but in my book, true narcissists actually fucking hate themselves. This self-loathing may be deeply buried far too close to the core of their spinal column to ever visit, but this constant need for affirmation, the vampiric energy suck, and the inability to show empathy all come from a person with a humongous vacuum in their heart where their self-regard usually lies. People who truly love themselves, in an uncomplicated, calm way, would be at peace - the direct opposite of a narcissist, who destroys relationships, family reunions and other people's cars like Led Zeppelin destroyed hotel rooms.

The Daily Beast quotes a therapist saying "Everything from feminism to 12-step recovery to religion has become about 'I was weak, now I'm strong, go screw yourself'"... which has to be the most ill-conjured piece of buckshot conjecture I've ever heard on the subject. 12-step recovery, to take one example, is a diagnostic list of steps AWAY from narcissism and towards humility; as they say, "be a worker among workers."

And all of these articles (I've read them in Slate, Salon, the NYT, etc.) claim Twitter and Facebook as the gateway drug for Gen Y and Z's rampant self-involvement, as if millions of kids actually think their tweets are "Important". Didn't these Gen X writers learn anything from their bizarre peers? Twitter is actually the younger generations' foray into parallelism, the state of paradox where one can spend all day crafting little missives, putting intense man-hours into something meant to be constantly dismissed.

I've read many of your Twitter posts and Facebook updates, my friends, and I take them in the spirit they were written: not as narcissistic proclamations to the heavens, but as quixotic, casual, first drafts of a thought to be hammered out later - or not. I just don't buy Twitter, texting and online lugubriousness to be a portal for narcissism - I can't imagine any narcissist getting his money's worth.

True narcissism, like true sex or love addiction, is actually pretty disastrous - and thankfully, pretty rare. We've all read the descriptions of Narcissist Personality Disorder and thought "wow, that NAILS me!" but nobody with real narcissism has the ability to step outside themselves long enough to make that comment. Therapists have long said that there are two kinds of people in this world: those that tend towards being neurotic, and those that tend towards narcissism, and narcissists are fucking impossible to treat. In fact, they make the therapists themselves want to stop being therapists.

Narcissism is caused primarily by one's parents, typically by denying some basic sense of well-being to the child, forcing the kid to compensate in more and more destructive ways. Later in life, they are natural divorcers, pathological liars, and could be pitied if they didn't piss you off every goddamn day.

Look, I'd wager these articles are really trying to decipher these things: why younger people are waiting so long to get married, what's causing the overwhelming emphasis on beauty, and why most guys in America drift through their 20s and 30s in a state of retarded adolescence, constitutionally incapable of maintaining interest in relationships and living lives of bizarre self-satisfaction.

All of these things have explanations, but they aren't narcissism. We already misuse "nonplussed", "penultimate" and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle - it'd be a pity to waste such a great word like "narcissism" on things so utterly pedestrian.

Posted by Ian Williams at July 12, 2009 11:17 PM
Posted by: Anne at July 13, 2009 6:00 AM

I agree with everything you say here, Ian. Especially this:
"We've all read the descriptions of Narcissist Personality Disorder and thought "wow, that NAILS me!" but nobody with real narcissism has the ability to step outside themselves long enough to make that comment."

Submit this for publication somewhere... Salon, I dunno. It's a great antidote for all the popular pseudo-psychology out there.

Posted by: Megan at July 13, 2009 6:42 AM

True narcissism IS disastrous. My dad is a self-loathing narcissist, which is why he's been trying to drink and smoke himself to death alone in a squalid apartment for some time, now.

Posted by: wottop at July 13, 2009 7:36 AM

narcissism example number 1.

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Posted by: Caroline at July 13, 2009 7:38 AM

When I first started reading I thought this post was going to be about me. Zing! Seriously, I thought it was going to be about Sarah Palin. And thought it was a great post, I'm a little disappointed. I like any opportunity for anyone to rip on that woman.

Posted by: Annie H. at July 13, 2009 8:21 AM

I agree with everything you have said. I have recently experienced firsthand (not from a family member) the lying and destructiveness of a true narcissist, and it is not pretty. I especially agree with wanting to pity them but being too enraged.

Posted by: jenx67 at July 13, 2009 7:26 PM

Whew. That was a mouthful. Loved every word though. I get tired of the over-analysis of Twitter and Facebook. What I have observed are a few types of people 1) People who love to connect and relate 2) People who exploit the tools to their benefit to brand themselves (not necessarily ruthless in a bad way, just strategic in terms of creating career/money-making opportunities and 3) Lonely people, and 4) People who communicate best in writing (why there are so many writers, journalists and PR people on Twitter.)

Also, I have observed that Facebook and Twitter allow two-way communication that is more controlled. We can stop listening at any moment; unfriend people; ignore them, etc. Schramms feedback loop becomes very interesting when applied to social networking.

You're a really great writer. You cuss a lot, and for some odd reason it works quite well for you. Ha!

Posted by: Lisa at July 13, 2009 9:53 PM

Uh, yeah, anyway, back to me ...

Posted by: cullen at July 14, 2009 5:45 AM

Yeah, some folks curse or swear, but Ian, having been somewhat 'braised' in the south, can flat out CUSS with the best of 'em. Kudos and sharp entry today ('tho I'm a day late).

Posted by: block at July 14, 2009 8:02 PM

well said my man. love it.

Posted by: block at July 14, 2009 8:07 PM

what it the name of the phenomena in which the act of observing something changes it?

Posted by: Ian at July 15, 2009 12:33 AM

It's commonly referred to as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle - and in fact, it's used so often in that way, that will de facto become its definition eventually - but the REAL Uncertainty Principle is about subatomic particles. It states (if I remember this right) the more you know about ONE aspect of a particle - like velocity - the less you know about ANOTHER aspect - like weight. So you can never quite get a bead on it, so to speak.

We need a phrase that means what you said: "the phenomena in which the act of observing something changes it." How about Observer Interference? Viewer Contamination? Bjørn?

Posted by: kazoo at July 15, 2009 7:15 PM

hey there, so i'm late to the party, as i've been back east contemplating my navel on a lake in maine, but i wanted to weigh in. GREAT post.

and, as for heisenberg, it's actually only about two states of the atom - position and velocity. and, in doing what you must to measure one, you change the other. (weight is constant)

my friend, nathan, and i have our own version of this called the heisenflirt uncertainty principle, whereby you can accidentally change the outcome of whether or not someone might be interested romantically by trying to get the answer too soon...sigh...isn't there anything easy in this world???

keep up the great summer writing, ian!

Posted by: anon at July 21, 2009 10:43 PM

Ian, do you know any real narcissists? I had a brush with someone I considered the genuine article and I'm still in recovery from it (and it's been four years). Up until that experience I thought I'd met tons of narcissists, and then I really met a true, true narcissist, and I think they are damned dangerous. Scary stuff. I'd appreciate your take on it in person!

Posted by: A. Nonymous at September 22, 2009 5:51 PM

I don't feel I'll ever recover from my interaction with a narcissist. It ruined my life. Thanks dad and all the narcissists that followed.

Posted by: Brandon at September 23, 2010 12:42 AM

"Later in life, they are natural divorcers, pathological liars, and could be pitied if they didn't piss you off every goddamn day" Boy does that hit the mark. The way my N dad can ACT like a normal caring person with compassion and integrity is very eerie now that i know what narcissism is. Now I know I'm not crazy. It's like being in the twilight zone. Once i did my homework on narcissism I became much more relaxed and accepting of it. One day we were casually chatting and I could feel him sensing that i was seeing through the meticulous facade of his outward "personality". After awhile I remember my dad was looking at me with this COLD look i have NEVER seen before. As if i was talking to a differnet person. As if he had gotten comfortable and dropped the whole act (his guard) for like 15 seconds. The look is burned into my mind. It was like seeing the desolate emotional landscape kept more secret than area 51. I bet the Narcissist's inner child mirrors the ANTI-CHRIST

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Posted by: Paula at April 5, 2012 8:33 PM

Brandon you nailed it!! Once they know "you know who they are" every dynamic that existed in their little controlled world evaporates in a hot flash, and the gig is up. That look is about "exposure"!!!! If it's truly a narc you will get the feeling of anxiety from that moment onward..*nd they will either lie and manipulate you back or you will be discarded. It's as simple as that. If you are no longer able to be a supply of admiration you go into the fucking trash. I left a pig duche-bag like this in after I OBSERVED and INFORMED myself quietly, all the while taking great effort to keep his supply going witha smile. You have to leave!!! You have a snake in your home and you don't have to HATE a snake becuase it bites. It just fucking bites because it's a snake. Your narc is a sick fuck that can't see a need for help, and for me, the best thing to do is NO CONTACT, leave... And detox from a true predator. My life will never be the same. I did not know these pieces of shit who call themselves human really existed. They do!!! Don't doubt your God given instinct and feeling of insecurity. It's your biggest blessing. You can find LOVE, they can never. Peace of mind in forgiveness. They are sick people who will die alone.

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