Four hundred and thirty articles later…
If you write about narcissism as much as I do, sooner or later, it takes on a life of its own. The more you sink your teeth into the topic, the more the term “narcissist” conjures up a mental image of two horns and a forked tail.
That’s just not right.
That’s why I’ve wanted to write this “Back to Basics” article for quite some time. To try to dispel the caricature narcissism has taken on while boiling down narcissism to the most succinct summary possible. The “lowest common denominator,” if you will.
Summarizing one person is impossible. Boiling down a large swath of humanity is also futile. I’ve known narcissists who were tremendously caring, generous, even compassionate…and very engulfing. I’ve also known narcissists who couldn’t get any lower. They were consistently on the side of bad, evil and wrong in every situation and supported others who were similarly bad, evil and wrong…but they weren’t quite all bad. No one is all bad. I will go to my grave believing that in every soul glows a Spark of Divine Fire and the sure knowledge of good vs evil.
The great thing about narcissists is that, somehow, they all manage to think, speak and behave similarly to each other. It’s not even a learned thing. They do it naturally. Organically.
They’re incredibly logical people. It’s just that their logic is a bit, ahem, off.
Even isolated, introverted, home-grown narcissists like mine are eerily similar to social, extroverted narcissists though they’ve never crossed paths …and they’d probably judge and despise each other if they did. “Two of a trade never agree” as the old adage goes.
So, how would I define narcissism in ten words or less, if I were forced to do so?
An altered state of reality
I don’t mean narcissists are insane, incapable of grasping truth or even out-of-touch with real reality. Not at all! Rather, they’ve simply chosen to draft a particular storyline for their lives.
There is a hero/heroine/heroic victim: Them.
There may be a co-star: The Golden Child.
There is a villain/scapegoat: You.
Oh, I realize we all want to be the hero of our own life story. I certainly do! That’s pretty natural but reality and truth have a way of humbling all of us. Facing unpleasant truths about our defects can be unbearably painful which just goes to show how fervently we know and believe in right and good.
Narcissists don’t have the moral courage, the inner foundation to countenance “inconvenient truths” about themselves. So they create an alternative reality in which they star, they shine, they surpass. It’s the reality they need for survival. All events, situations, people and facts are then molded to their alternative reality.
That’s how I’d summarize narcissism.
If we’ve learned anything in the past four years of American politics, it is that many people define truth as whatever they want it to be, whatever they need it to be. They play fast-and-loose with truth. As Joseph Goebbels reportedly said, “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.”
Only it doesn’t.
Narcissists dearly held, oft repeated version of reality isn’t truth either. It may feel that we’ve been browbeaten with their “truth” so long that we’ve gone soft in the head…but that still doesn’t make their altered version of reality really real.
When I first stumbled on the concept of narcissism in 2013, I came to realize that if you have to talk about “truth” a lot…then it isn’t truth.
Falsehood takes a lot of explaining and convincing. Lots of words.
Truth just sits there. Short, sweet and unchangeable. It doesn’t need to be talked about. It just is.
Of course, to some extent, we all create our own version of reality or perhaps “worldview” is a better word.
For example, Michael’s reality is vastly different from mine. Having been abused from the time he was toddling around in plastic pants, for him the worst things that can possibly happen in life are not only possible, but may actually happen. They actually occurred in his life. Basic Training made even more terrible things, like biological warfare, “on the cards” for Michael.
The unspeakable, the unmentionable, the worst possibilities in human life are, for Michael, distinct possibilities. You name it, he’s been blind-sided by it and survived it. Thus, he expects the worst in life to protect himself from ever being blindsided again. That is his stark, raw reality.
My reality is totally different. My mother gave me a fairytale childhood. Oh, narcissistic abuse reared its ugly head occasionally but I passed it off as I’m-the-kid-and-I-need-discipline. So the sun shone and fairies danced in the willow trees for the first fifteen years of my life. I know just how sweet, pleasant and beautiful life can be. My reality is just as real as Michael’s, and I believe, just as valid. Beauty and good are just as real as evil, danger and sadness.
Narcissists version of reality is different. It’s role-oriented. There are villains (Scapegoats) and there are saints (them and the Golden Child.) Roles are assigned, not earned. No matter what happens, every event is defined by those roles. They are the saint, the hero, the poor, poor long-suffering victim. They can do no wrong. They are never to blame. The Scapegoat(s) is/are always to blame. The narcissist will torture the facts to fit their paradigm, to twist them to fit their so-called “reality.”
But that doesn’t make it real or true and I bet they know it. Given a short, sharp shock, I bet they’d reveal that they know what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s true pretty darn fast. NPD is no excuse in a court of law. It’s not insanity. Many would disagree, but I still believe it’s a choice.
That’s how I define narcissism: an altered state of reality. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
Thanks for reading!