What is narcissism?
In the words of Erich Erich Fromm:
“The narcissistic orientation is one in which one experiences as real only that which exists within oneself, while the phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one.” (The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm)
Erich Fromm explains also that the opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity. It’s to see people and things as they are and to separate this objective view from the one formed by one’s desires and fears.
This could sound too theoretic. Let’s make a practical example.
An example of narcissism is portrayed in the film Dead Poets Society. In this film, a boy, Neil Perry, discovers that he has a passion for acting. The problem comes as a result of his father’s narcissism. Mr. Perry wants his boy to become a doctor, and violently destroys his son’s dream. Eventually Neil gets depressed and commits suicide.
Mr. Perry suffers from narcissism because his only reality is the ideal vision he has for his son, as a doctor. He isn’t in a relationship with a real human being, but rather an ideal, which he has created in his mind.
Mr. Perry’s experiences of Neil are on a bilateral level. In his eyes, he is either acting positively towards his goal, or alternatively endangering this artificial reality that he has created for him. Mr. Perry wants his son to be a doctor, not an actor. When Neil tells his father that he wants to be an actor, he is endangering this ideal.
What is the biggest problem here? That Mr. Perry doesn’t want Neil to be an actor? No, the biggest problem with narcissism is that it prevents a truly human relationship. The narcissistic parent doesn’t know his children. He doesn’t care about his children. He wants to use them for his own purposes, and to achieve his own ideals.
He wants a doctor because to him an actor is a disgrace, and this is all that matters. To him his child doesn’t exist if not as a tool to use for his own purposes. This film depicts a case of narcissism, which leads to depression and ends in tragedy.
In our society narcissism is on the rise. It could be of benefit to consider the reasons surrounding this. Narcissism is also an SPD, a Social Patterned Defect. I talked about SPDs on the home page, as well as when talking about the punishments and rewards pedagogy, and alienation. Narcissism is an SPD because it’s a problem many people suffer from, and yet society fails to identify it as a psychological problem. People suffering from narcissism aren’t bad, wrong, or annoying. They are suffering. They need treatment and compassion.
Let me make another example because theoretic psychology is something I don’t like so much. It is our lives we are talking about, after all.
Depression in adolescence: Jack the angry
Let’s imagine a parent suffering from narcissism, Sophie, and an angry teen, Jack. Sophie can’t have an angry son. She belongs to a community where anger is judged as a negative personality trait. The community would look down on her for failing to produce a well-behaved, happy son.
Sophie has a noble goal; to raise a son she can proudly show to the community. She will do everything in her power to extinguish the anger of her son as quickly as possible (the community is already maligning). She sends her son to a boot-camp so that he can be taught discipline.
Jack is angry because he is scared. He is scared because he doesn’t feel loved. Why is it that he doesn’t feel loved? Maybe it’s because he feels used instead of loved?
You can’t lie about your true feelings to children. If you say that you love them, when actually you are using them for your narcissistic purposes, they will see through the lie. Maybe the parent isn’t aware of this problem, because she has lost her sensibility, but children still have it.
Jack doesn’t feel loved, and he sees, subconsciously, that he is being used. Jack could end up depressed like Neil from the example above. Jack, like Neil, is perceived by Sophie as detrimental to her goal of having a well-behaved and happy child.
Please, don’t be angry at Sophie, she suffers from narcissism. She needs compassion and support, and not the judgments of others.
Wait a moment! Isn’t it that we all want a super child?
Don’t we all want a super child who does very well at school, who behaves perfectly, who helps at home, who likes what we like, who dislikes what we dislike, who follows all our rules never questioning them, who loves our country as we do, who defends the social status we earned so hardly?
I’m afraid to say that this sort of attitude can be a sign of narcissism.
If we don’t suffer from narcissism, it’s more likely that we want to know our children, and that we want to see our children as they really are; individuals with their own dreams, their own likes and dislikes, their own authentic feelings, their own rules, created by questioning the ones that don’t make sense any more, their own style, and their own opinion and preferences towards education and learning.
If we manage our narcissism, we can enjoy a truly human relationship with our children, and encourage them to be individuals. We could even end up learning from our children. They have a lot to teach us. Last but not least, if we heal our narcissism, we will be happier in ourselves, and this is what all of us secretly desire more than anything else. If we deal with our own narcissism, we will also help to reduce the frequency of depression in adolescence.
Where to go now?
- Back to the home page, Depression teens: a scary problem with an easy solution.
- From Depression in adolescence: one of the causes is the parents’ narcissism to Depression test for teenagers: the starting point for your way out. There will be a test to self-assess your symptoms of depression.