A LOT is being made of narcissism as deliberate evil as symbolized by charming vampires, merciless terminators and wicked witches orchestrating hoards of flying monkey minions. “They know what they’re doing,” we say. “They just don’t care how it affects who they’re doing it to.” But how aware and, more importantly, in control of themselves are they really?
When 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley called Donald Trump a carnival barker, he couldn’t have been more right. And this empty suit’s inane, incessant barking – or tweeting, rather – and the rest of the Trump sideshow featuring Americans’ worst impulses is broadcast at me as breaking news, sponsored by pharmaceuticals one might be tempted to, indeed, ask our doctors about in order to cope with this bullshit — at least while we can afford to before congressional Republicans take away taxpayers access to healthcare … again. Yes, pay no attention to those boring legislators quietly pulling levers and pushing buttons behind the curtain over there in dull old Washington. No, here’s the latest incendiary statement from Donald Trump and reactions to it from very important people whose opinions you must care about. Can you believe it!? How exciting! Have some more! There’s always more.
The narcissist exhibits an intuitive, almost preternatural awareness of who we are and what buttons to push in order to elicit the responses they want. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and diagnosed NPD, labels this sense “cold empathy” — that is to say, a dispassionate, more strictly cognitive form of empathy. But I don’t think it’s any kind of empathy.
As a black hole is a failed star collapsed under its own gravity into an inescapable singularity, the narcissist is a failed child reduced to a single function: the insatiable acquisition of attention to feel special (narcissistic supply). We can’t see black holes but for the distortion of space and effect on objects surrounding them. Similarly, narcissists hide in plain sight belied only by the social disruption left in their wake.
The infernal serpent; he it was, whose guile
Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
The mother of mankind, what time his pride
Had cast him out from Heaven
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges …
— John Milton, Paradise Lost
Mother steps out the backdoor of her newly installed, manufactured home with a pot of warm leftovers. From a few yards away, peering out of the window of the dilapidated camper trailer that I lie forgotten in, I can make out the steam rising from the food as she pushes it with a large wooden spoon into the dishes of grateful dogs, hungrily lapping it up. Lucky them, those obedient pets. They haven’t failed her as I have. Haven’t disappointed her. I haven’t eaten in three days and resigned to the idea that my lifeless body won’t be found for many more days to come, mere feet away from where Family breaks bread and give smiles to one another. At least the maggots will eat as well as the dogs. For that, they can also thank Mother.
“Oh god! Oh god! Oh god!” Mother is crying out, punctuated by her boy-husband, Motherfucker’s grunts. The window’s open so that the entire neighborhood can receive each explosive thrust of this howling tryst, especially Father well within earshot just next door. Wheels on the metal bed frame are catching air, slam slam slamming against the floor. The second floor. Beneath ground zero, my friend, Steve, gives up, gets up from the couch he was trying to sleep on in the living room and goes to my room where I’m laying in a fetal position with a pillow wrapped around my head, also trying to ignore the punishing humpfest upstairs.
“Are they ever gonna stop?” He asks, exasperated.
Mother’s eyes grow round with horror as she looks upon me transformed into a monster. I must be terrifying but I feel nothing. Nothing but an endless serenity disconnected from the chaos playing out before me on the big screen in a darkened theater. The movie being shown feels unreal, strange like a dream. Only, it’s not really a movie.
I see the terms “narcissism” and “narcissist” tossed around a lot, often used as an insult but also trending in the media. It’s a very popular topic on Psychology Today, for instance. As I write this, psychologists are going on the record to call 2016 Republican presidential nominee and presumptive billionaire, Donald J. Trump, out as a narcissist – not that any overt narcissist would care, Trump being no exception. But not just anyone who behaves badly or even happens to come off narcissistic is necessarily a narcissist.