Narcissism Week, Day 2

by stephenpalmersf

Consequences of narcissism

The main consequence of narcissism is the inability to understand that reality is independent and autonomous. For the narcissist, stimuli from the external world are filtered through the self until they become twisted, i.e. accommodating the narcissist’s needs, desires or thoughts. The real world is not experienced as an objective, independent entity, rather as a construct of the narcissist’s mind. The force holding together the fragmented and inauthentic self, narcissism, like the gravity holding together mutually repelling parts, directs all experience toward the self at the expense of reality.

Narkissos himself can be understood from this wider perspective. It was not so much that he thought he was lovely and wonderful, though he surely did, rather that he was only able to experience the real world through his reflection. He could experience it only in terms of himself. In his mental model of reality there existed one solid, real person: Narkissos. All others were ghosts, shadows of no importance, with the rest of the world merely a construction of his own thoughts and feelings. Thus he was never able to interact with the real world on its own terms, nor even through human terms. The real world contained many other people, but he was unable to tear his gaze away from the reflection.

So the prophesy of Teiresias implies this meaning: when Narkissos first experienced himself as an actual entity – in the myth analogy when he first saw himself – he cut short his life. It is almost as if in the myth his youth represented his pre-conscious life, with his first experience of consciousness arriving at the age of sixteen, by the lake. The analogy is that Narkissos was unable to understand the real world around him, remaining in a stupor because his own self had become the one and all of existence. As such, this Greek myth shows tremendous insight and has great relevance today.

This inability to comprehend reality, along with the overpowering need to place the self above all else, means that the narcissist, existing in reality and with no choice but to interact with it, must reach out to control reality. Since for the narcissist reality cannot be felt to be independent, it must come under their control in order that it fall into line with what they need. In other words, narcissism is the fundamental source of irrational human desire for power over reality: the fuel for control, for manipulation, for exploitation, for deceit.

The use of power – that is, the control of others and of the external world – is the main method of changing an independent reality to suit the desires of the narcissist. Through the mechanism of power (eg colonisation in patriarchal society) individual narcissists or narcissistic groups can try to mould reality according to their own wishes. But they all feel that they must do this. If reality is continually experienced as independent of the narcissist then the mechanism of keeping the fragmented self together, by ranking it above reality, is destroyed, and self-annihilation results. Control must therefore be exerted.

Forms of power-wielding at the expense of others and of reality are rooted in narcissism: dominion, colonialism, exploitation of others, exploitation of the environment. These are forms of therapy for the narcissist, required activities, keeping the fragile, incoherent self in one piece.

But, ultimately, reality can never be permanently changed. It is independent of the narcissist. Though it can be controlled by human action to a small extent, to a useful extent, it is in the main autonomous. We live in a world of chance whether we like it or not. So the narcissist will come up with all sorts of rationalisations and reactive behaviours to hide the truth. Again, this is essential therapy. Not lying or rationalising would expose the self to reality’s truth, and thus destroy the mechanism of narcissism. In other words, narcissism always acts to preserve itself by self-deception.

Another consequence of narcissism also derives from the inability to test, understand and accept reality, and this is the certainty in the self and the self’s schemes which all narcissists feel. Such a conviction is required. Since reality is filtered through the self, in the process becoming unreal and twisted to the narcissist’s desires, all actions and schemes acquire an overpowering sense of certainty. Without this certainty objective truth in relation to the world would become apparent, and the narcissist would be forced to see their own true character – an impossibility for the self-deceiver.

One aspect of narcissistic certainty which sets it aside from ‘normal’ certainty – eg that acquired via the scientific method of testing reality – is lack of an origin in the real world. A typical scientist will test their hypothesis in real world. The narcissist never tests reality. Narcissistic certainties can occupy the full range from real to unreal, but since they have no basis in reality they always tend to the unrealistic. Superstitious faith is one example of such certainties.

To protect themselves from reality, narcissists must deny truth. Internal certainty at the expense of reality means twisting what is experienced to suit personal needs. This is second nature to the narcissist.

There are other forms of self-directed behaviour. Because the narcissist has to put self above all else, selfishness follows; and grandiosity, arrogance, and the most commonly imagined type of narcissism (with its source in the Greek legend) that of obsession with appearance: vanity. Over-concern for the self, in whatever form, compensates for the inauthentic self held together in a fragile clump by the glue of narcissism. No narcissist can afford to be ordinary.

There is one other interesting concept illustrating the way narcissism puts the self at the centre of reality as a compensating mechanism, one that has existed for as long as civilisation, and that is the idea of destiny. Destiny is the ultimate in self-centred thinking. By imagining that some unique destiny awaits in the future, the narcissist reverses reality until it becomes a servant of the self. Without displacing the self from the centre of reality, destiny becomes the way narcissists account for the fact that the real world exists and consists of events. The narcissist imagines that the real world has some special place reserved for them. It is imagined that events revolve around them, small parts of some great plan in which the narcissist plays the chief role. Yet the opposite is true. To have any sense of personal destiny is to deny the real world’s autonomy.