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.