What happens when we first learn about Narcissism?

Or Gaslighting? Or Psychopathy? Or Rabies? Or Ebola? Or Bipolar Disorder?

Obviously, I cannot speak for anyone else on this one – but, with such disorders, diseases and behaviours increasingly well-known, and widely written about, it is, I think, a valid question and certainly contains hampers full of food for thought.

I may be atypical in my response to such matters. But, upon first being apprised of the reality of NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), and Gaslighting (a type of behaviour often associated with Narcissists), my immediate feelings were conflicting and painful: I recognised the signs intimately – and then became absolutely terrified that I was a Narcissist myself, but one who was so far in denial that I was madly projecting all the negative traits onto others! It is analogous to those people with a serious mental illness, part of which is such a grandiose view of themselves that they signally fail to recognise their lack of sanity!

Could I be such a one? I asked myself this question over and over again, took many online NPD quizzes, convinced that they would show me up as a raging psychopath, never mind a Narcissist!

They didn’t.

So – and this is very me – I tried a few Borderline Personality Disorder ‘tests’…

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want any of these disorders – but I am aware of the human capacity for self-delusion, and wanted to ensure that I had removed all the sequoias from my own eye before pointing out splinters in anyone else’s. I don’t want anyone I know to have them either – but I do want the knowledge to protect myself, and loved ones, against them!

But there is another aspect of this troubling process which I want to name outright today: The whole Chicken and Egg of naming conditions (whether they stem from the body or the personality). Does the act of naming something – particularly if it subsequently receives a lot of media and academic attention – create expectations and check lists in our minds which were not there before? Or do we, in researching an area of concern, come across the named syndrome and breathe a sigh of relief at recognising that we are not alone?

Without going into personal details, let me set out my own stall: Until three years ago, I had never heard of NPD – but, its manifestations were already present in my consciousness, my life; I just didn’t know what they meant, let alone that they had a name. In one of those chance conversations, a woman I knew slightly said, ‘What you are describing sounds like NPD…’

Going back to the title, there may well be a tendency to see Narcissistic traits in everyone once we learn about the condition. It is like cars: When you get a particular brand, suddenly you see the damn things everywhere (having never noticed them before). But, this acute noticing does not last long. We find other things to divert and absorb us!

Any condition affecting humanity, when brought to our attention, brings a rash of recognition – and, often, deep anxiety in its train – and I certainly have a long history of immediately jumping to the conclusion that I’ve got it, in its most virulent form, whether it is Bipolar Disorder (which I was convinced I had after reading a book about it!), Narcissism or Housemaid’s Knee (which I am also sure I have had at least once!).

I tend to make far more excuses for, and give much more leeway to, others than I do myself. Which, of course, is why I took about seven different NPD tests (one might have been wrong; I might have been lying in my answers; the scoring system might have been fucked!) before I was reasonably sure that, whatever else I might have, Narcissism wasn’t one of my afflictions!

My poor doctor is all too accustomed to my turning up and asking some variation of the, ‘Do you think I’ve got?’ question – the most extreme of which was, ‘Have you seen any signs of insanity in me?’

Fortunately, this dear – and extraordinarily patient! – lady did not immediately call for the men in white coats, nor did she order a padded jacket/cell combo!

What we see in others is equally open to misinterpretation, prejudice, nastiness and subjectivity. Of course it is. We are human, with all the flaws this state brings to the metaphorical table. It is easy to leap upon a hobby-horse and go cantering off around the arena, seeing murderers, rapists, terrorists, personality disorders wherever we look. It is easy to accuse others of having certain conditions simply because their behaviour is pissing us off!

So, I think one does have to be both cautious and self-aware. One has to beware of populist conditions and media hype. And, one has to be aware that a condition will have a pattern, continuity, a history; it is most unlikely to be manifested in one single incident.

But, perhaps most of all, one needs to listen to those professional people – who are trained to recognise such conditions – who alert one to the probable existence of the disorder, either in oneself or in another. They know what they are talking about. They are not likely to be swayed by media-based hyperbole or hysteria, and they will have seen the condition before, probably many times.

I think we have a human duty not to leap straight into worst case scenario, nor to label others unfairly and without professional help; on the other hand, we have a duty to ourselves not to allow harmful people into our lives and, if such people do have a condition, which they either cannot or will not acknowledge, to safeguard ourselves from the inevitable fall out.

Don’t forget: Everything humans name is already there in one form or another. Even if its form is abstract, the vision is sufficiently clear for a name to be required.



4 thoughts on “What happens when we first learn about Narcissism?

  1. This was very powerful, and is quite a statement about today’s society. Labels fly around, and I think that it leads people who feel victimized to fall into Analysis Paralysis to find a label.

    It reminds me of “WebMD syndrome” where a person suffers from some common malady (e.g. a cough or discomfort in the body), looks up the symptom online, and invariably concludes that they have cancer or some other terrible disease. Leave it to the professionals!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hear hear, Noah – and I love your phrase ‘Analysis Paralysis’: A new one on me and so descriptive of the malady itself. Yes, online medical forums are an absolute no-no for anyone with hypochondriacal tendencies, like me! About the only thing I haven’t managed to persuade myself I was suffering from over the years has been the Black Death! xxx


  2. Julie

    A narcissist rarely doubt himself/herself. You do. A narcissist never asks for help. You did.

    Both narcissists and their victims are intensely self preoccupied but for different reasons. Narcissists are constantly re-enforcing their power and self esteem at the expense of their victim while the victims are constantly preoccupied by what their bully thinks of them, desperately trying to live up to the narcissist ‘standards. For the pattern to break, victims have to make a huge shift in self perception.
    The narcissist and the victim are two sides of the same coin and unless positive self awareness happens and critical perception is triggered in the victim, the pattern continues.

    Liked by 1 person

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