What do you call a Group of Narcissists?
What do you call a group of narcissists?
I made that up myself. My son, who’s a comedian, cracked the tiniest flicker of a smile when I told him – micro-tiny, it was. He’ll do the jokes, thank you very much.
I’ve posted a few things lately about narcissism; they always get a lot of comments, the most common of which is “so you’ve met my ex then”.
I’ve learned a lot the last few years about this intriguing topic – not least about my own narcissism because let’s admit it, we all have some.
But the full-on sorts, those are the ones we all need to learn to recognise and avoid. And very importantly we have to learn how to recover from the damage caused by the full-on narcissist. And here’s the big challenge, mostly we do that by recognising our own narcissism.
Along with my own experience with a narcissist/sociopath/egotist, I’ve recently been able to observe two other situations that I wasn’t directly involved with and these have confirmed for me the trap of our own lesser narcissism – more to do with low self-esteem and need for external validation – and how this draws us into the web of the dangerous.
The relationship where I learned the most was a romantic affair that ended five years ago, causing me deep and crushing hurt, a hurt that had been present since soon after that relationship had begun two years previously. To cut a long, painful story short, I fell for the archetypal charming liar. To this day, I will still occasionally recollect some moment from then and realise “oh, that was a lie too!” There were seemingly hundreds of lies a day, some extraordinarily complex, and they were often accompanied by apparent honesty that was just a cover for deeper deceit.
I’d tried desperately to leave the relationship but was always drawn back in. It was at the very end of this particular black hole in my life that a personal and professional development undertaking brought me to the awareness of the fairly deeply hidden self-esteem issues that allowed me to be taken in by such a dangerous charmer.
I say “hidden” because there wouldn’t have been too many recognised these tendencies in me – I was to all intents and purposes very successful, but I’ve come to see that’s no guarantee of an absence of “issues” in any of us.
That experience, and everything I’ve reflected on since, has stood me in good stead. I have a powerful in-built “crazy detector” now that picks up all manner of sociopaths and sets off a number of responses, not the least of which is to stay away.
Ultimately I’ve been extremely grateful for that experience; it was arguably one of the most formative for me in provoking a new level of personal growth, awareness and maturity that would probably not otherwise have occurred. I’ve faced my own narcissism, my own deceit, my own shame, and I’ve long since forgiven and let go of the person involved.
Let’s look at some more accurate definitions though. There are several related terms in psychology and psychiatry, some of which have been not so correctly adapted into everyday usage, including by me – generally we know the kinds of personalities we’re referring to in our everyday language, but it’s a good idea to cover this off nonetheless.
Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes. The term originated from Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. Narcissism is a concept in psychoanalytic theory, which was introduced in Sigmund Freud’s essay On Narcissism (1914). The American Psychiatric Association has had the classification narcissistic personality disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 1968, drawing on the historical concept of megalomania. Except in the sense of primary narcissism or healthy self-love, narcissism is usually considered a problem in a person’s or group’s relationships with self and others. Narcissism is not the same as egocentrism.
Egocentrism is the inability to differentiate between self and other. More specifically, it is the inability to untangle subjective schemas from objective reality; an inability to understand or assume any perspective other than their own. Although egocentrism and narcissism appear similar, they are not the same. A person who is egocentric believes they are the centre of attention, like a narcissist, but does not receive gratification by one’s own admiration. An egotist is a person whose ego is greatly influenced by the approval of others while a narcissist is not.
Egotism is the drive to maintain and enhance favourable views of oneself, and generally features an inflated opinion of one’s personal features and importance. It often includes intellectual, physical, social and other overestimations. The egotist has an overwhelming sense of the centrality of the ‘Me’, that is to say of their personal qualities. Egotism means placing oneself at the core of one’s world with no concern for others, including those loved or considered as “close,” in any other terms except those set by the egotist.
Psychopathy, also known as—though sometimes distinguished from—sociopathy, is traditionally defined as a personality disorder characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, diminished empathy and remorse, and disinhibited or bold behavior. It may also be defined as a continuous aspect of personality, representing scores on different personality dimensions found throughout the population in varying combinations. The definition of psychopathy has varied significantly throughout the history of the concept; different definitions continue to be used that are only partly overlapping and sometimes appear contradictory.
Sociopathy – There are various contemporary usages of the term. They are often used interchangeably, but in some cases the term sociopathy is preferred because it is less likely than is psychopathy to be confused with psychosis, whereas in other cases which term is used may “reflect the user’s views on the origins and determinates of the disorder”. The term sociopathy may be preferred by those that see the causes as due to social factors and early environment, and the term psychopathy preferred by those who believe that there are psychological, biological, and genetic factors involved in addition to environmental factors. Psychopathy can be defined as not having a sense of empathy or morality, whereas sociopathy only differs in the sense of right and wrong from the average person.
My two recent observations have been quite different. One has involved my 17yo daughter and a girl in her main high school friend group; the other involved many, many people I know, who were taken in online by someone who set off my radar three years ago and who I’ve avoided since. In this latter instance I had mentioned to others that she was someone to avoid and it was just very recently that I discovered not only had loads of people not avoided her, but they’d become victims of a fairly gargantuan and almost unbelievable set of lies.
Possibly at this point I should explain that this radar of mine isn’t about making judgements, especially those that may be considered unfair by some, nor is it about ignoring the reality of the narcissist’s own deep pain. It’s simply a recognition that someone is not good for one, and making a choice to walk away. Of course, that’s not always possible when one is in daily contact – in one’s work or family – with the sociopathic. Loving them from a distance is one useful tactic, but it is the rare person who can remain engaged with the sociopath and not be taken in. The degree of emotional maturity this requires is not where most of us are at.
It may seem a contradiction in terms to say this is not about ‘judgement’ – there is a fine line sometimes in how we define the negative action of judging others, that’s true. In this sense, I’m suggesting that discerning danger – much as I’d discern the danger at the edge of the train track – is an acceptable level of judgement to make.
What has been most intriguing for me about the situation with my daughter has been the recognition most of the other kids have had about the narcissist in their midst. Teenagers almost by definition are pretty narcissistic – it really is a lot about them. But this particular young girl has attempted to bring the group’s attention to her and her personal problems more than most, and this at a time when the whole group are under a great deal of stress coming up to their end of high school exams and everything that that implies about their futures. The group don’t have the time or energy for the extent of this girl’s neediness – there’s nothing cruel about it, I know these kids to be an intelligent and caring group. When my daughter conveyed to her the sentiment “it’s not always about you”, things escalated. One evening recently my daughter expressed what she believed was the outcome this friend was needling at her for: “she’s not going to be happy until I get down on my hands and knees and beg forgiveness”. To which I responded, “actually from what I can tell she’ll be happy when she’s managed to convince all your friends to dump you”, such was the obvious behaviour of this girl since. “Oh my god, you’re right!” was my daughter’s uh-huh recognition.
Despite her pain and hurt, and my typical mother’s unexpressed desire to at least cry all her tears for her, if not jump in and give her nemesis a good shake, I’m proud of my daughter’s ability to rise above and avoid the drama to the extent she can. This experience will stand her in good stead in her life and hopefully she won’t be making the stupid mistakes into her forties that her own mother made! And of course, I’ve noted quietly to myself that clearly my daughter’s self-esteem is relatively intact to be able to resist much of this girl’s behaviour, and that’s been reassuring.
The other recent incident has been enlightening. Clearly the person involved in this deception (which involved masquerading as other people – some of them non-existent, some of them semi-famous – on social media) has her own issues. What’s intrigued me most hasn’t been the extent to which so many other seemingly intelligent women fell foul of this, nor the fact that as friends of mine also they ignored my advice three years ago, nor even that the response of some has been extreme anger; but that those most taken in do not seem to have recognised an ounce of responsibility for their own gullibility. To have fallen for it as these women have is a huge indicator of their own narcissistic tendencies and self-esteem issues, and it is precisely at this point that we can all really begin to heal and grow. The majority operated out of relatively simple and humane concern for someone suffering various illness, etc (whether those were real or not, who knows), but a few others were in boots and all and seriously lost their grip on reality, despite the extent of the deceits that took them in.
I have mixed views on that particular Law of the Universe that says we create our own reality. I appreciate the arguments about how, for example, does a starving child in Africa create its own reality. But I have certainly come to see and accept – for myself – that everything that happens in my life is teaching me something. And in this instance it’s not simply that I need to avoid certain people; it’s much, much deeper than that, and I have a far greater responsibility to myself than just that, especially if this isn’t the first time something like this has occurred. We are most definitely doomed to repeat the mistakes we haven’t learned from.
We are living in an extremely contradictory and dichotomous era. This is both the Age of Self and the Age of Other. It is both the Age of Division and the Age of Unity, an era of black-and-white thinking and an era of the value of the well thought-out grey, an era of extremism and an era of moderation, an era where bigotry and prejudice is at an extreme but has never been under so much pressure to change. This is the reality of our lives. It’s easier than ever to blame someone else, but it’s never been so vital to accept responsibility for one’s self and one’s own actions.
It’s no wonder that our youth are so challenged; life has never been more complex. What’s right and what’s wrong has never been more difficult to navigate. In the end we can only challenge ourselves, our own thinking, our own reactions, and take responsibility for our own behaviour and our own feelings, and look for our own Truth, and if that’s not difficult you’re not doing it right. Figuring out what’s real – finding the Truth – is never easy, and the one who proclaims most loudly about it is probably the one best avoided.
Still I believe if we are to regain the power and self-belief we lose to the narcissist’s ways, we must look to ourselves. It was after all we that gave it up.