Advertisers have been playing on our need to be liked for years. They bombard us with the narcissistic message, so much so, that narcissism must be the concern of the modern era.
The message is simple, you aren’t good enough.
Of course, this message comes in many forms, often subtle, hidden behind the mask of success. Here are some common themes:
- “If you don’t buy this time saving device, then you are not using your intelligence to make life easier.”
- “Beauty is what makes you attractive to others, and thus worth more.”
- “Successful people don’t have to work hard. They eat at nice restaurants, they shop at all the spending clothing stores, and they can hire others to do the things that they don’t like to do.”
- “Maybe someday, if you work hard enough, you could be a professional athlete, doctor, etc., and then you will be successful.”
- “Smart kids get put in the gifted program, where they can reach their true potential.”
- “He’s such a good kid. He’s always doing the right thing.”
Notice how subtle it can be. Some of these statements may be harmless and even healthy at times, and yet each seems to measure worth in a potentially unhealthy way.
So, let’s take a deeper look at narcissism.
The name comes from Greek mythology, where the hunter, Narcissus, fell in love with the reflection of his face in a pool of water. He loved his reflection so much that he could not leave it, and eventually he died.
Much like Narcissus, the Narcissist must always appear on the surface to be better than others. They work hard to keep up their image so they can look down on others. If they can measurably say they are better than someone else, they begin to think that they are beginning to achieve worth. Deep down, however, they fear the achievement of others. They are afraid that they don’t measure up.
It is this fear that causes them to develop a unique set of beliefs:
1) They think that only the elite can understand them;
2) They worry about their appearance and always try to look better than others;
3) They put others down and criticize incessantly to build themselves up;
4) They brag;
5) They demand special treatment and entitlements to show that they are better than others;
6) They have contempt for others;
7) They spend their resources putting on the masks of Narcissus—beauty, wealth, achievement and worldly ideals.
Typically, a mask is worn to hide what’s underneath, and to a narcissist, anything that gives the illusion of worth can be a mask. Narcissists worry that without their masks they are worthless. Most are very smart and use their intelligence to hide what they are doing and who they think they are. Simply put, narcissism is denial of real self. The Narcissist doesn’t understand when Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true.” They don’t realize that the true worth of a soul isn’t found in their talents, beauty, titles or possessions.
Psychologists and therapists have found that once narcissism is fully developed, it is nearly impossible to treat because it can affect the subconscious. The Narcissist is also extremely guarded, and is afraid of honest feedback as it may reflect poorly on their fake beauty. Consequently, they dodge all forms of criticism, including accountability.
Unfortunately, most narcissists have no idea what it is. They live in denial believing that they just need a little more money, fame, power, time, or something else. The closer people get to them, the more they protect their fake images. It is impossible to live with, especially for those who try to love them.
One of the main reasons I was so concerned with my daughter and her desire to fit in with her friends, is that narcissism can destroy healthy self-image. Children are especially vulnerable, since their identity is not yet fully developed. It is perfectly normal for children and teenagers to have these thoughts; however, the real danger lies in leaving these behaviors unchecked, which can lead to a permanent change in identity.
Narcissism creates the false idea that you must be famous or wealthy or something grand in order to be of “worth.” Worth is also part of the word “worthiness.” A common misperception in religious cultures is that worthiness is a fleeting concept, only achieved by those who never make mistakes. Those that struggle to resolve their own sense of worthiness may also struggle with their own identity. Thus, narcissism can be of particular danger to religious cultures. Indeed, how can one be an imperfect person and still be of worth?
Now, for the good news: Narcissism only becomes a disorder when it becomes part of the permanent personality. In next week’s article we will discuss a few things that we can do to help.