Archive for August, 2013


Posted in health, mental health, personal, philosophy with tags , , , , , , , on August 24, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

I´m coming to the conclusion that narcissism has essentially become worthless as a concept and that it should be abolished as a psychiatric term. I´m not saying this to deny the interpersonal misbehavior and the hard-to-trace abuse going on in some families, workplaces and relationships. I just think “narcissism” is a fairly meaningless explanation for those phenomena. To begin with, it is an awfully broad term. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists can´t even agree whether everyone possesses it to a certain degree or not. That´s not a question that can be decided based on empirical testing. It is a question of how you define narcissism, and if there is still any dissent regarding the frequency of narcissism in people, then it´s because there is no clear, agreed-upon definition. Without such a definition, I don´t see why patients should be freaked out by having such a stigmatizing word attached to their self-concepts.

Then, narcissism can mean one thing and it´s exact opposite. Narcissism implies arrogance, selfishness and thinking highly of oneself. It is also claimed, however, that deep down narcissists are even more insecure than everyone else, that they have no self-esteem, and, ironically, people-pleasing is also described as narcissistic behavior. In some accounts I don´t even see the difference between narcissistic and anxious-avoidant PD. If you want to, you can cast every kind of behavior as being narcissistic in nature. The reason why anyone even accepts this twisting of words and the nullification of their meaning is that we are already used to it from one hundred years of psychoanalysis. Apparently, in the murky puddle called “the unconscious”, at its core everything is the same. I just wonder why we chose to call it “narcissism” then.

Another thing I often read is that mentally, narcissists are six years old. This reveals a strange hostility towards children, and it is even stranger when such a hostility comes from people who claim to have been narcissistically abused as children. This hostility, too, however, is far from new. The idea that children are selfish, sulky, aggressive and narcissistic, though, might have given rise to exactly the kind of cruel child-rearing methods so many children of “narcissistic” parents shudder to remember.

On one website I read even more bizarre claims, such as: “Narcissists frequently look surprisingly young, maybe because they don´t mature emotionally.” Or: “Narcissists have strange eating habits, they have an eating disorder called pica!” That disorder indeed can be found in the ICD-10, but I just wonder where the hell such claims are coming from. To me, it sounds like this is merely a mechanism of establishing “narcissists” as a specific group of people among which individual differences don´t matter since they are erased by the overwhelming common traits.

And that is a great mistake. Due to the diversity of conditions, symptoms, feelings, behaviors and character traits that can gain a person the narcissism label, a great variety of people will be labeled as narcissists. And to imagine that all these people might somehow associate with themselves and their own biographies the stories of narcissistic abuse circulating on the Internet…! So that´s what I did to everyone who ever loved me? Without realizing it, maybe even thinking I was in the right?

Here is another strange thing: On the one hand, apparently you can consistently wrong and abuse people without even realizing it. On the other hand, though, you are fully responsible for it and you had evil intentions all along. How does this work? It´s a complete reversal of logic. Again, that´s the theory of the unconscious. A theory which, for all I know now, is wrong.

It makes me sad that I spent so much time trying to pin this concept to my family. Whatever their vices, I was looking for a blanket explanation that made them the villains and absolved me from all the guilt I felt. At the same time, I myself was already struggling with having had this concept attached to my own self-image. It is part of why I needed someone else to be the villain so badly in the first place.

It also makes me a tad angry how long I´ve struggled with this concept. How long I tried to clear my own name. There should have been no need for that. When reading through my blog now I realize just how hypocritical I often was. All my complaints about other people wrapped in “buts”. “Of course I know that…, but…” Never owning my true opinion, always exacerbating my own insecurities, always saying “I feel this, but of course I know the truth is different from that”. Then, last autumn, I was desperate enough about my occupational situation to try to write down what I wanted. I was criticized for it, and there again was that word: “narcissistic”. More than anything else, I felt I was being treated unfairly, and for the first time in years I actually stood up for myself. Without but or apology. It proved to be a turning point.

Shortly afterwards, I managed to come out to myself as who I was without ever leaving my own side. I held that person I was by the hand and stood by her. It is something I never consistently managed to do throughout my blog before. Allowing myself to take my own side had always depended on a certain version of events which made sure that whatever I was, I could definitely not be found guilty of any of the traits associated with narcissism. Those version of events was not in all cases false, but it was incomplete and it could only gain me an incomplete sense of security.

One would believe that taking your own side is easy. In fact, it isn´t. As long as you don´t take your own side, people will forgive you a lot of things on the premise that you judge yourself the way they do. Athena even made that premise explicit. Her respect for me depended on me judging myself and trying to improve. At the same time she spoke of unconditional love. It might not have been a lie, but it is humiliating to be loved without being respected.

Taking your own side can be very similar to siding with a poor football team being beaten five-nil. You force yourself to stand by someone or something you want to turn away from because it embarrasses you. Even something you don´t know how to justify. About a year ago, one of our main players was involved in a scandal that abhorred us all, but the loyalty our club is famous for forbade us to openly distance ourselves from him. That´s taking your own side. It is just that hard. The fact that it is so hard, however, is also a small moral comfort. It is a new kind of courage which can help you overcome some pits of demoralization.

That criticism from a fellow blogger showed me how much my unofficial identity as a child of narcissistic parents limited me. It would in no way allow me to be who I really was or to pursue my dreams. Also, though, it was a reminder how silly I really think the condemnation of what is colloquially called narcissism is. I don´t see the point of condemning peoples´yearnings for fame or attention. I don´t see how such condemnations could ever be anything other than hypocritical and self-righteous. As long as people aren´t harming anyone, and the mere wish to be famous doesn´t, why can´t you just live and let live? Why is  it impossible to just once spare people shame and ridicule?

This touched right upon my core values. Live and let live, don´t judge what does no harm. And those are values I constantly find violated by the way the term narcissism and also other psychiatric diagnoses are flung around both by experts and laymen. It is something that has kept on sickening me even throughout those confusion-ridden last ten years, and I´m grateful for that. It shows I was never gone completely.

It makes me uncomfortable to see the word “narcissism” in so many search requests that lead people to my blog. It comes second only after “maladaptive daydreaming”. I wonder what I wrote back then, what people who come to my blog read, it makes me uneasy that they could think I´m still behind statements and ideas I no longer support. I´d like to put a disclaimer over all entries before last November, but it seems pointless. They were part of the road that led here, and I don´t feel confident to judge if there might have been a shortcut to enlightenment. Actually, I have better things to do with my life, and I consider that good news. I just hope that people out there don´t stumble into the same trap I was caught in, and I wish they didn´t get this image of my family as a bunch of villains. It is hard to decide whether I should delete some posts or not. The thought that I could erase parts of what I did seems undeservedly kind to me. It doesn´t seem as honest as I´d like to be. I don´t want people to have a better opinion of me than I deserve. To think of me as more wise and balanced than I am. Besides, where would I start? What would remain of this blog, and how much sense would it still make? I don´t know. Maybe the greatest disclaimer always lay in the name, anyways.

Possible truths.

No definite judgements.