Seeing Narcissism: Mind (the) gap
The inability to see empathy with others is a typical hallmark of a Narcissist. Often they can intellectually take on the perspective of another, creating a good story for their listeners, but put simply they don’t actually feel what someone is going through. Brain scan research has shown that Narcissists have less brain matter in areas associated with emotional empathy. So as discussed in a previous blog ‘where does empathy for others reside?’, the areas associated with empathy are bilateral anterior insula, anterior and median parts of the cingulate cortex, and the supplementary motor area. Researchers found that the patients with this condition had less brain matter in areas that overlapped with the areas associated with empathy (i.e., left anterior insula, rostral and median cingulate cortex as well as dorsolateral and medial parts of the prefrontal cortex).
Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one's own attributes. It is more popular or common to think of these individuals with regards to their vanity, their exterior self, their obsession with their body, their perceived beauty and looks. I would imagine this is because the term originated from Greek mythology, where in Ovid’s account Metamorphoses, a young Greek Narcissus, fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. Unable to move or do anything but look at himself he finally changed into a flower that bears his name, the narcissus. However, I want to consider the more problematic trait of the Narcissist, their desire for power and control and the manipulation of others in their pursuits. I started in the blog ‘Falsifying reality: sowing the seeds of doubt’ to consider interpersonal control and how an abuser uses ‘gaslighting’. A Narcissist’s personality variable can be divided into four dimensions and delineated into: leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, self-absorption/self-admiration, and exploitativeness/entitlement. I suppose it’s the last two in particular where abusers who are politicians, work place managers and spouse’s come into play:
Entitlement: Narcissists hold unreasonable expectations of particularly favorable treatment and automatic compliance because they consider themselves special. Failure to comply is considered an attack on their superiority, and the perpetrator is considered an "awkward" or "difficult" person. Defiance of their will is a narcissistic injury that can trigger narcissistic rage.
Exploitation: Can take many forms but always involves the exploitation of others without regard for their feelings or interests. Often the other person is in a subservient position where resistance would be difficult or even impossible. Sometimes the subservience is not so much real as assumed.
Often the they hide behind policies, ideologies, and movements, giving the illusion of equity, rights, or fairness when really their goal is self promotion, exploitation and they are concerned with the dynamics of power and inferiority/superiority.
My recent personal experience fits this reading. I have become the target of narcissistic rage, primarily their constant anger directed towards me but on another deeper internal level, its about themselves and their childhood. They struggle with self, a generated false self, and as this has disintegrated, along with their beauty, their sexual prowess, they attack, they manipulate under the illusion of their entitlement. A principled banner is waved but they are really hiding and using it as armour to protect their hypersensitivity to criticism, challenge or legitimate counter claims. This narcissist wants revenge, for righting a wrong and I would imagine trying to undo a hurt they have internalised all their life, by what ever means. Ironically I read this as the narcissist trying to taking control of their environment, to turn from a passive sense of being a victim to an active role of giving pain, while at the same time attempting to rebuild their own false reality and false identity. They want to destroy so that they can gain.
It’s a shame we can’t look inside and see if there is a gap in the unfamiliar grey matter!