Friday, October 9, 2009

Narcissim and the Decade of Dorian Gray

Dorian faces his portrait in the 1945 The Pict...

Every few years it seems we have at least one popular version of psychopathology. In the 1990s it was Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality
Disorder) followed by ADHD (Attention-Deficit HyperactivityDisorder). In yesterday's post, I mentioned the current discussion about self-centeredness and social networking websites. This leads me to wonder if the next ten years will be something like the decade of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde's character who sold his soul in exchange for perpetual youth and beauty. But we'll call it the decade of narcissism.

Narcissists would love it, of course, for all the attention they might rec
eive, but ironically, they couldn't enjoy it because they wouldn't realize it relates to them. As with the person about whom Carly Simon sings, "You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you," the narcissist would delight in thinking they were the reason for the song, but they'd never get the point of it. 

Outward appearances notwithstanding, narcissists are plagued by a tremendous sense of inner worthlessness. It might even be argued they lack any meaningful sense of self at all. So, where do you begin to give someone a core of self-hood? Anyone who's lived with a narcissist knows first-hand, it's not a matter of giving, because they've given everything over and over, and it's never, ever enough. And how do you develop something that is so essential to life that most of us take it completely for granted, in someone who denies it's absence in the first place? How do you persuade them to face what lies within, when they've spent most of their lives trying to avoid precisely that?

It's hard for most of us to imagine what it's like, being narcissistic, because we're not. We're accustomed to feeling empathy for others, to admitting our mistakes and assuming responsibility. Because we have the inner wherewithal that enables us to be truthful, modest, and real, it's incredibly difficult to believe someone can seem so appealing on the surface and still be as empty as the hollow tree trunk that came crashing down on my power lines two days ago. Yet, they are, and it scares them to death. And they don't even realize the reason why.

(You're So Vain words and music by Carly Simon, copyright 1972)
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