Wednesday, July 23, 2008
When you is all about me
Last Sunday's New York Times contains Jan Hoffman's article about narcissism, a label applied to everyone from Britney Spears to Hillary Clinton these days.
In "Here's Looking at Me", psychiatrists warn against an imprudent diagnosis; they say an accurate assessment can only be determined after many sessions. (Apparently the psychiatrist who testified at Christie Brinkley's divorce trial was qualified to do so when he applied the term to Peter Cook.)
The disorder is characterized by "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), a need for admiration and a lack of empathy", arrogance, and sense of entitlement. True narcissists are startled when their spouses say they are miserable.
It's a trendy label, the current buzzword for being a jerk.
One of my women friends told me about attending a posh charity dinner, seated at a table with two Mr. Bigs. She is a senior executive at a Fortune 500 company, a poised, extroverted and intelligent woman. She told me that not once did either man inquire about her work or interests. She spent the entire dinner witnessing a mine's-bigger-than-yours recitation of competing self-importance.
She could have interjected- she holds her own in meetings world-wide- but decided she wasn't interested in claiming any space; she just wanted out of there.
This is common behaviour in the business world, and not confined to males (but I see it among them more frequently). Perhaps the competitiveness, a Type A personality and testosterone overload form a Bermuda Triangle of obnoxiousness.
Or maybe modern parenting made that child a little king or queen, heedless of altruistic or communitarian values.
Here's a replay of a current conversation with one of my female clients:
Client: Hi! What's new with you?
Me: Hmm. Since I saw you. my mother died; she was 99...
Client: (Cutting me off): My Granny died too! She died in Hawaii- you remember, she moved there with my brother? I had to go there on a day's notice and you know what? When I got there, no one could agree on what kind of funeral, and we sat around her condo for days trying to decide, and my brother kept taking off to the beach..." (goes on and on).
The two seconds of superficial condolence that acknowledge a loss never happened.
The MDs quoted in the Times article say narcissism is difficult to treat, progress is slow and frustrating. The best cure, of course, is prevention: emotional nurture and love in childhood.
I scan myself for those self-involved behaviours, and hope to differentiate between a healthy ego (and it's byproduct, self-esteem) and overweening self-importance.
But enough about me: and you?