Saturday, May 12, 2007

Riddles of the mind

As a screenwriter, I’m deeply fascinated by the interior life of humans. We’re all flawed creatures, so fragile.

The art of dramatic storytelling resides in trying to understand, with sympathy, our weaknesses… our kinks and folds of character. Because who among us feels “normal”?

At Wikipedia, there’s an absorbing entry on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is characterized by “extreme focus on oneself.”

Supposedly 1 percent of the population has NPD, with men making up a majority of those diagnosed.

According to the mental health website BehaveNet, people with this personality disorder “have an excessive sense of how important they are. They demand and expect to be admired and praised by others and are limited in their capacity to appreciate others’ perspectives.”

A pathological narcissist also exhibits (per Wikipedia) “interpersonal rigidity, an insistence that one’s opinions and values are ‘right,’ and a tendency to be easily offended and take things personally.”

The Wikipedia entry continues:

“To the extent that people are pathologically narcissistic, they can be controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ views, unaware of… the effects of their behavior on others, and insistent that others see them as they wish to be seen. …

“People who are overly narcissistic commonly feel rejected, humiliated and threatened when criticized. To protect themselves from these dangers, they often react with disdain, rage, and/or defiance to any slight, real or imagined.”

These outward manifestations, some psychologists believe, cover up a deep pain inside.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is thought to result “from a person’s belief that he or she is flawed in a way that makes the person fundamentally unacceptable to others,” it says on Wikipedia. “This belief is held below the person’s conscious awareness; such a person would typically deny thinking such a thing if questioned.

“In order to protect themselves against the intolerably painful rejection and isolation they imagine would follow if others recognized their supposedly defective nature, such people make strong attempts to control others’ view of them…”

(Yes. I’ve seen that happen.)

Wikipedia presents the intriguing view of Dr. Glen Gabbard that there are two subtypes of NPD: the oblivious subtype – “grandiose, arrogant and thick-skinned”; and the hypervigilant subtype – “easily hurt, oversensitive and ashamed.”

By Dr. Gabbard’s breakdown, the oblivious narcissist “presents a large, powerful, grandiose self to be admired, envied and appreciated, which is the antithesis of the weakened and internalized self that hides in a generic state of shame…”

The hypervigilant narcissist is so “obsessed” with devaluation – i.e., with assaults on, or denigration of, his identity – he “neutrali[zes] devaluation by seeing others as unjust abusers.” [Emphasis added.]

(Yes, yes, the oblivious, the hypervigilant… I know both types!)

Is there help for people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Alas, Wikipedia reports this:

“It is unusual for people to seek therapy for NPD. Subconscious fears of exposure of inadequacy are often met with defensive disdain of therapeutic processes.”

That’s a shame. A real shame.

Joanna Ashmun, a lay person, has written online about narcissists from the perspective of someone who has dealt with them up close. Her words have the ring of lived experience, and they conjure up images in my story mind:

“If people you work with are narcissists, you will be wise to keep an eye on them, if just for your own protection, because they don’t think very well, no matter what their IQs, they feel that the rules (of anything) don’t apply to them, and they will always cut corners and cheat wherever they think they can get away with it, not to mention alienating co-workers, clients, and customers by their arrogance, lies, malice, and off-the-wall griping. Narcissists are threatened and enraged by trivial disagreements, mistakes, and misunderstandings, plus they have evil mouths and will say ANYTHING, so if you continue to live or work with narcissists, expect to have to clean up after them, expect to lose friends over them, expect big trouble sooner or later.”


Eric said...

NPD has been a fashionable diagnosis for a couple of years now, it seems to me. Mostly it seems to be a PC term for "asshole."

Undercover Black Man said...

Except I suspect that most assholes (even the gapers) kinda know they're assholes. While the pathological narcissist is un-self-aware.

Susie said...

Having dealt with my share of Narcissists I can say that one quality they share is charisma - most narcissists don't reveal the asshole aspect until you're ensnared/enmeshed and then if you call them on it they infer that there is somehow something wrong with you.

I think a little narcissism is not necessarily a bad thing but those walking around with full blown NPD are dangerous people who should probably be neutered.

I am not Star Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
I am not Star Jones said...

I have known many narcissists in my life. My first narcissist I didn't know what she was because I was young but I learned fast.

She taught me how to recognize the crippling reality of trying to be friends with someone whose primary and only concern is their needs and wants.

Now, at the first hint of narcissism in family, friend or co-worker...

I listen while walking briskly to the nearest exit to save myself.

Excellent post.

Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks, I Am Not Star. I've been trying to think if I've seen this type of personality explored in a movie or TV show, and I can't recall one.

dez said...

Herb Tarlek on WKRP and Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show were comically narcissistic, though I wouldn't go so far as to call them NPD.

Some of the characters on The Sopranos are possibly NPD.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Paulie Walnuts maybe?

Ted Baxter... he's more of a "vain" comic type, which I have seen a lot of on TV. Something about the particularity of NPD... the hair-trigger emotionalism (particularly in a man), the abuse of those around him... great character stuff.

dez said...

^ I had actually started typing Paulie's name, then took it back because while he's narcissistic, I don't think he's truly NPD (he forgave Nucci, after all). Tony looks like he might be turning into an NPD case now, especially after this last ep (which I'm still recovering from, heh).