Narcissism Week, Day 4
Other consequences of narcissism
There come times in every narcissist’s life when, despite the withdrawal from or changing of reality, the real world does intrude into the self. The reaction is rage, founded in intense, existential frustration.
So much anger and violence comes from puncturing unreal, narcissistic bubbles. When such an event occurs, the frustration felt at the threat or threatened change to the narcissist’s world is experienced in terms of anger. Rage is the consequence of the truth, of reality circumventing the narcissist’s self-deception. Such threats to the narcissist’s mental model require a strong emotional reaction to convey frustration at reality trying to change – even to deny and thus deconstruct – that mental model.
It’s not all carpet-biting fury however. One alternative to rage, for example if the narcissist finds emotion difficult to express, or cannot confront the source of their rage, is revenge. All revenge has its source in narcissism. For the narcissist, revenge is the great leveller, the mechanism by which real or imagined insults are reversed or neutralised. In the mind of the narcissist any personal slight, any criticism or remark, or any perceived attack on the narcissist or their group or world must have a response. To leave be or turn the other cheek is to experience an unwelcome truth. Any insult, remark or comment which seems to lessen the narcissist, to make them unworthy or inferior, has to have a reversing response, a vengeance. In revenging themselves the narcissist changes the perceived alteration of self and reality, returning, in their own mind, the sense of importance that previously existed. To turn away from vengeance is for the narcissist to mentally collapse.
As a corollary of this, narcissistic people are hyper-sensitive to the possibility of insult. Frequently such slights exist only in their imagination; or the narcissist will twist what really happened to make it an insult in order that their self be confirmed as important. Over-sensitivity to criticism and the inability to accept that something wrong has been done are two of the more obvious signs of narcissism. In severe cases, for example at the top of the American political hierarchy, a person will be unable to admit that anything they have done might have been wrong.
As Frank Herbert observed: “Revenge is for children.”
Another classic symptom of narcissism is voyeurism; vicarious experience through the actions of others. Narcissism and voyeurism are related because of the narcissist’s inability to participate fully in the real world. This inability, the felt abyss between the self and the real world, combined with the realisation that events do happen in the world, means that vicarious experience is the only option. Salvador Dali is a good example of the voyeuristic narcissist.
Sexual voyeurism is far from being the only form. Emotional voyeurs feel there is something wrong with being emotional because this is what they have grown up to believe. The huge popularity of soap operas reflects the inability of some modern societies in a mass-media age to express and to accept emotions – the classic patriarchal dilemma. Soap operas are undiluted emotional voyeurism. Their exceptionally high emotional content exists because television people know how attractive, how compulsive it is to experience the emotions and turmoil of others when often so little can be expressed and accepted in reality. It is through the lives of these screen others that an essential part of being human can vicariously be experienced. Related too is the American use (and increasing British use) of emotional manipulation in television. For the reserved British, this sometimes has to be seen to be believed! The reuniting of people long sundered on screen, people confessing to things on screen, people telling their terrible life-stories on screen, the confrontation of opposite sides on screen, the vicarious screening of court proceedings, Jeremy Kyle and Jerry Springer… all these variations have the common purpose of deliberately creating emotional scenes for viewers to voyeuristically consume.
Voyeurism is the result of an inability to fully participate in the real world owing to narcissism. Many of the most narcissistic of individuals were voyeurs: Josef Stalin for example. It was the rejection of reality, alongside the simultaneous control of and withdrawal from the real world that made them voyeuristic.
So far this week’s posts have been concerned with individual narcissism, but in many ways narcissists can form groups, and these groups have similar characteristics to individuals.
Group narcissism is like individual narcissism, but directed at a collection of people. A common consensus is substituted for reality – often taken on faith – however unlike reality that consensus happens to be. In the narcissistic group an individual can be even more extreme than otherwise possible, since so many other people share their point of view. The idea that the group’s dogma, ideas, or religion is the most fabulous and perfect in the world does not seem even slightly strange, since it is shared by so many others.
Various characteristics appear in typical narcissistic groups. Like the individual narcissist, their understanding of reality and their connection to it is tenuous. Thus, other groups will always seem external, unrelated, different and strange – often perceived as enemies. In group narcissism much of the world’s violence can be found. Because of the fractures separating narcissistic groups they are not averse to fanaticism as a means of compensating for their inner emptiness; and since the narcissistic group is separate, often fanatical, and with little or no root in the real world, a complete lack of empathy with others is another commonly found symptom.
As with individuals, the tiniest slight or insult, imagined or not, will be enough to provoke the narcissistic group into violence, for, like the individual, the group must wreak revenge to retain its precarious sense of self-worth and coherence. To leave be would be to invite the disaster of disintegration. Such reasons lie behind the elevation and glorification of the group and the utter dismissal on the basis of no evidence of all other groups.