Saturday, July 13, 2013
SO WHAT'S WRONG WITH A NICE POTTED NARCISSUS?
Nice flower. But why put up with a human grandiose narcissist? They insult you, confine you, never pay attention to who you are, take whatever you have and demand more, and generally spread chaos and pain. But the best ones -- which probably means the more grandiose ones -- are worth it because THEY GET THINGS DONE. You can name them as well as I can. The religious ones: Jesus and Luther. The military ones: Napoleon and Chief Joseph. The literary ones: Norman Mailer and Phillip Roth. The saints: Mother Teresa and Gandhi. The artists: Picasso and Pollock. There must be a zillion sweet old grandpas out there and we do appreciate them, esp. if they are related, but they aren’t famous and they may not have accomplished a whole lot, unless you count putting food on the table and fixing your bicycle.
Besides, dealing with a grandiose narcissist all the time makes you tough and smart. You learn to keep your center clean and your dukes up, draw lines in the sand, enforce them, and face the possibility of being abandoned. That’s good for you. Don’t slide into being a mushy pushover enabler and don’t confuse hormonal sex/lust with the psych dynamics of what’s going on. These are good rules for life in general. The wives of both Picasso and Pollock were accomplished artists themselves, tough enough to have their own careers.
Often a narcissist will come up with a great idea that turns out to have been lifted off you. So? The point is to do something with the idea. Peter Matthiessen got Buddhism from his wife, and after her death it became “The Snow Leopard,” dedicated to her in a profound way. (If you want to know about his narcissism, read his wife’s book, “Annaghkeen.” She was a very fine poet, Deborah Love.) If you MUST get involved with a narcissist, it helps a great deal if they have a robust sense of humor. And you, too. And a narcissist who wants to escape the condition is more likely to have success with Zen than Christianity.
If the narcissist has all the ego, don’t live by ego. Live by results for the greater good. It’s the same human dilemma as always: survival of individual versus survival of community. Isn’t that why we even care about the people I listed above? Sometimes what gives the individual survival spins off and deepens into the redemption of a community. Narcissists don’t care about their communities except to use them, but that’s because they’re out in front. They don’t take votes. They don’t have time for democracy. It’s a matter of expectations. I read the complaints in internet essays and see they are mostly women who expected to be mothered, mentored, and sexually thrilled. Get rid of the expectations, take what comes, learn from it, and the problem disappears.
Plains Indian ghost shirt
http://bestofthewestauctions.com//dynapage/IP1775.htm est. value $3,500.
Being a grandiose narcissist is like wearing a Plains Indian ghost shirt, which is only painted muslin. The garment is supposed to prevent any bullet or arrow from penetrating. If it doesn’t work, you won’t live to complain. If you continue to live, owning it, and are buried wearing it, then unless your grave is secret, people will dig you back up again in order to steal it because its reputation is so major, worth thousands. (see above) While one is engaged in battle, its real function is the confidence and distinction that powers success. It is a cold fusion source of energy, quietly working internally, compressing energy that can convert to explosion.
Never put up with domestic violence. Fists, guns, knives, or threats -- that’s the end. Clear out. Do not raise children with anyone who is a grandiose narcissist unless you can protect them. I mean both children and narcissist. A wounded narcissist with the grandiosity leaked out should not be witnessed by children or anyone else who loves him or her, unless they are prepared to look honestly at the person unshelled, which could easily break your heart. Awkwardly, you can’t really explain a grandiose narcissist and claim you’ve been in a relationship with one, even a close friendship, without sounding like one yourself. If it’s the truth, there’s no problem.
Incompetent, impotent, childish, abusive grandiose narcissists are a different story. None of the above applies to them at all. They are pests, inflations, and a hazard to polite society. Their misguided attempts to grab center stage are a disaster. These are the people who give narcissism a bad name. The point of the narcissus myth is that he was beautiful, worth looking at, but got hooked by obsession. “You narcissist!” is often a epithet flung at people who are simply deluded, off purpose, not listening, acting in obstructive ways. That’s not what this little reflection is about. Too often a psychological descriptive term becomes a whip to lash people into line, making a stigma out of an observation. That takes away all the usefulness of the term.
This is the point in my essay where I read back over everything I’ve said and look at the other side and say this previous might not be right at all -- might just be a load of hooey -- and all the people who have been sitting there taking notes and nodding will be VERY angry because they think that people who speak confidently on a topic really know what they’re talking about. They think life is like school. It’s not. (Our seminary dean used to say school IS a form of life, but he didn’t know any other. All I can say is that it’s narcissism-based and at any seminary it’s also grandiose, rarely a contribution to society or even known to anyone outside a small circle.) A strong assertion is a merely a rhetorical device.
The most insidious grandiose narcissism is believing that you can fix things, that you know what things should be like and you have the power to make it so. This is the case with most enablers. Children are often enablers of this type, desperately trying to fix their parents whether the problem is a bad relationship or alcoholism or a culturally imposed distortion, maybe due to something suprahuman like famine or flood or war. The pattern may stay with them for life. Some parents encourage it in their children, urging even very young boys to think of themselves as the “little man of the family,” even when the situation is beyond the powers of an adult father.
At the other extreme are the people who are so convinced that narcissism is a form of evil they will pounce hard on all signs of pride or mentions of accomplishment. They seem to think it is vanity, a sin, and possibly lying or at least exaggeration which is also a corruption. So it’s a double bind -- being pressed to achieve beyond your capacities and then being slapped when you take pride in exceeding expectations. Cultures are laden with little traps like that. Some people are very good at setting them up.
Many human characteristics do not meet with approval from the counseling community and yet are the ferment and tearing-apart that moves human beings as both individuals and groups toward some place we’ll recognize only when we get there. Fifty years after the rhetorical assertions of the big shot shrinks will be discredited. And you may have changed your mind about your life anyway. Or your descendants will.