Tuesday, December 15, 1998

NARCISSUS by Niles Nemesis (Dissent's "Northern Field Correspondent")

[From Dissent 14, 12/15/98]

This week’s “Mathurian Candidate” column is provided by Niles Nemesis, the Dissent’s Northern Field Correspondent, who tossed me a hand-written manuscript that looked as though it were scribbled by a doctor. Thanks Niles.

THE MATHURIAN CANDIDATE: Poinsettias, Poinsettias, Who Stole My Poinsettias? (And whatever happened to my strawberries!) by Niles Nemesis, Northern Field Correspondent

The latest antics of our President [MATHUR] have filtered north, where they were widely met with a collective shoulder shrug. It seems that his highness behaves so consistently shamelessly, that even outrageous actions are unsurprising. What I am referring to, of course, is the recent “Poinsettia episode” at IVC classified staff’s holiday event.

In case you haven’t heard, our beloved leader crashed the party, insisted on delivering a seasoned message (“We really don’t think of you as [second class citizens]!”), and snatched the holiday centerpiece—a beautiful poinsettia—from a senior classified staff member by pulling a “six months seniority in the district” card to trump the astonished throng. Never mind that this was a party conducted to celebrate the fine work of classified staff. Never mind that he wasn’t even invited (a conscious decision). And never mind that the purpose of the “contest” to award the table centerpieces was to acknowledge and honor our most senior classified staff members. In the Magoo universe, all celestial objects revolve around him in Ptolemaic perfection.

As I pondered this latest news item, I was reminded of a scholarly article I discovered while browsing the web for an unrelated piece I’m writing. Entitled “Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Re-Visited,” author Sam Vaknin, Ph.D., offers a thoughtful and detailed description of the symptoms and diagnostic criteria of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The intended audience is psychiatrists and psychologists practicing in a clinical setting.

While I am certainly personally unqualified to render a medical assessment, I was struck in reading the article with the uncanny parallel (in my humble opinion) between the behaviors of the NPD individual and those of You Know Who.

Dr. Vaknin writes that the patient suffering from NPD exhibits “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following (symptoms).”

He continues, “(The NPD patient)

1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements),

2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or [ideal] love,

3. believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions),

4. requires excessive admiration,

5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations,

6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends,

7. lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others,

8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her, AND

9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.”

Hey, I think we’re on to something here!

Dr. Vaknin emphasizes that, contrary to popular conception, the narcissist is not in love with himself, he is in love with his reflection. In other words, unlike healthy individuals who have an adaptive and functional self-image, the narcissist demands a reflection from others to produce the effect of self-love. Another critical [aspect] is the absence of a “compass” or objective and realistic “yardstick” by which to judge the authenticity of the reflection. Vaknin continues, “The popular misconception is that narcissists love themselves. (However), they direct their love to second-hand impressions of themselves in the eyes of beholders. (And) love is interchangeable with other emotions, such as awe, respect, admiration, even mere attention. An image which would yield these reactions in others would be ‘lovable and loved’ (by) the narcissist. The more successful this image is, the more the narcissist becomes divorced from his true self and married to the image. (He) consumes his mental energy incessantly in this process. His soul is fortified and in the solace of this newly found fortification, he guards his territory jealously and fiercely.” Wow!

Vaknin goes on to explain that the narcissist has an unrealistic and inflated self-worth and feels that he deserves whatever he gets from others. Actually, he often feels betrayed and underprivileged because he always feels that he doesn’t get enough. This status is bestowed upon him not by virtue of his achievements or special biography, but because he exists—his mere existence is sufficiently unique to warrant the treatment he demands. I’m reminded that our case history is of a man who confided to a former vice president (with a straight face, mind you) that God wanted him to be IVC’s president!

Vaknin concludes with the following observations:

1. clinical data do not support any realistic basis for the narcissist’s notion of greatness and uniqueness,

2. narcissists are ridiculously pompous and inflated personalities, bordering on parody,

3. narcissists are “forced” to use others to validate their existence,

4. narcissists are unscrupulous in their conduct and are oblivious to the pain they inflict on others and the social condemnation and sanctions they endure in return,

5. narcissists mediate every shred of criticism and disapproval as a withholding of the obligatory admiration of others and as a threat to the very cohesion of self,

6. narcissists must condition their environment to refrain from expressions of criticism and disapproval. They must teach others that to do so will only provoke “justifiable” fits of temper and rage. Others are to blame for the narcissist’s behavior, since they have provoked him and must be penalized accordingly.

Prophetically, Vaknin’s last lines read, “There emerges a portrait of a monster, a ruthless and exploitative person. Inside, the Narcissist suffers chronic lack of confidence and dissatisfaction.”

Better watch out! If five or more of the NPD symptoms signal the pathology, then we have the prototypic exemplar in our midst. —NN

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