I’m not entirely sure what’s going on out there in the larger culture, but I’m getting a lot of hits to an old post called “Adult Oppositional Defiance Disorder.” It’s not supposed to be possible for adults to have this. In kids it means the incorrigible ones who will face you down no matter what you do to them. This is assumed to be bad and to justify forceful punishment. In adults it just marks you as a sociopath and to some people every nonconformity is the product of sociopathy. In other words, fight authority and you’re out. (Or jailed.)
I depend on the blogger who posts as therawness.com or therawness.tumblr.com to keep me up to date on this stuff. He’s been discussing “grandiose narcissism.” Here’s his definition: The types of things drug addicts and alcoholics are driven to do for their substance of choice (lie, steal, betray, etc.), are the exact things a narcissist will do to get narcissistic supply. In fact, one of the best ways to undestand how narcissists work is to study drug and alcohol addiction. This is because all narcissists are addicts (for narcissistic supply), and all addicts are narcissists (addiction makes people self-centered and lose empathy). Much of what I’ve learned about personality disorders came from reading about drug and alcohol addiction and mentally replacing the words “addict” and “alcoholic” with “narcissist” and the words “alcohol” and “drugs” with “narcissistic supply.”
But that’s not the whole story. For every narcissist -- especially the kind who are grandiose enough to be called geniuses -- there is at least one co-dependent, someone who attaches by supplying the narcissist’s praise. This is really dangerous territory because it is so culturally embedded that almost everyone can catch themselves in one role or the other -- and well-rewarded for it.
When I was working on my bio of Bob Scriver ten years ago, I went exploring the concept and found http://samvak.tripod.com/ written by Vaknin who is one and unabashedly defiant about it. Why shouldn't he be? It’s so USEFUL !! Sam goes over this idea with so much energy and verve that a person is soon persuaded. He’s against abuse. But that’s YOUR problem, isn’t it? I mean, who else is THERE? So deal with it. He has lots of advice about how. The trouble is that there are so many variations on the theme, there is such a mix of good, bad and ugly, that just having a label for it is not all that helpful. Anyway, good old Sam (Originally Schmuel -- his mother is so proud!) was more fun before he turned himself into a business. Now “Narcissism R Samvak.”
When I google “grandiose narcissism” I get “Obama.” Seems to me that Bill Clinton was also accused (it IS an accusation). But if you’re the President of the USA, that by definition IS grand, forget the suffix. As for narcissism, Obama’s symptom is that he is aloof, private, cool -- while Clinton’s was that he was gregarious, public, took up too much room. What that tells me is that “narcissism” is whatever is shutting out the person using the term, which I suppose is Republicans in both these cases, which -- using Freud’s idea of “projection” (was it Freud?) means that one sees in others what is a denied feature of one’s own self -- meaning that it is Repubs who are Grandiosely Narcissistic. The Grand Old Party.
Last night I watched “Welcome to Sarajevo.” It make s pretty good case study. Which is the grandiose narcissist? The megalomaniac tyrant war criminal? Oh, yeah. He’s a TOXIC grandiose narcissist! But what about the narcissism of the people who could not be bombed into leaving Sarajevo because they loved their city and were determined to save it as THEIRS, a grandiose response if there ever was one since they had no means of resistance.
Among the journalists which was the greater narcissism, the Woody Harrelson character who walks down the street to pull the victim of a sniper into a church, exposing himself to death but knowing that the act is being filmed by his fellow journalists, or the journalists who protected their own lives by merely filming? The journalists themselves couldn’t agree about it in the movie.
Isn’t it narcissistic to pick out one child whom one cares about and adopt her to give her a new life? Isn’t that pretty grandiose? Are the only journalists NOT being grandiose narcissists the ones operating cameras, totally absorbed in capturing images? How grandiosely narcissistic to decide to make a movie about Sarajevo, a city the world decided not to save ! How GN is it to stand up in a high place in order to play an exquisite and much-loved piece of music, assuming it will comfort people?
I guess my point of view is clear. GN is not a bad thing necessarily when it gives people the focus and energy to be productive, oppositional, protective of what they love. The trouble comes from toxicity and that in itself depends on the uses made of other people.
Recovering co-dependent that I am (not very recovered, actually, but at least far more conscious), I do see the need to draw the line against abuse, but I also see the great difficulty of defining abuse. Physical striking or anything else that takes a person to an emergency room is over the line. All the passive aggressive stuff that co-dependents are so good at -- Impatient comments, ignoring, accusations, promises not kept, flattery, disclosing secrets -- can be abuse, vengeance for abuse, or an excuse for more abuse. Toxic.
How does a person go close to grandiose narcissistic achievers who have become famous and admired? Or what about the same sort of person with the same effectiveness and genius but who is scorned by the general public? That’s one breach in my armor.
Another is the stubborn belief that if people are properly explained, they will be understood, so that I can become an instrument in that cause. (I am a camera?) People read the bio of Bob Scriver expecting it to be a hagiography of a “great man.” But because I -- in the manner of the New Journalist -- included myself in order to provide context, some people were scornful. “I didn’t expect it to be so much about YOU,” they said. Writers who intrude themselves are breaking up the fantasy of the relationship between the reader and the grand genius of the subject. How narcissistic. How co-dependent.
Double-binds and ambiguity all the way, baby. Nothing is more addictive. The brain just can’t leave it alone. Neither can the public stalkers, accusers, apologists, scribblers. Ask Shakespeare.