HOW PEOPLE BECOME NARCISSISTS?
A Primal Desire
From the moment we are born, it seems we have an insatiable desire for attention. We are essentially social animals, as the great Aristotle said. This great insight does not just mean that we live in societies, instead our very survival depends on the bonds we make with each other. In fact, the “gossip theory” propagates that the great cognitive revolution that occurred 70,000 years ago, and which made our species who we are today, was kick started because we needed language to connect and gossip with each other. However, if we are not being given attention it’s impossible for us to connect with the person in front of us. People who have gone through long periods of isolation have confirmed that without eye contact with other humans, they begin to doubt their existence and enter deep depression.
Apart from this physical attention, there is also a deep psychological dimension to this also. The quality of attention we receive from others, helps us feel worthy and recognized for who we are. We attach our sense of self-worth to it. As receiving attention is so critical, you notice humans can go to extreme lengths to get it, depending upon their need for it. Some can go to the extent of committing a crime or suicide. Dig deep behind any action, and you’ll find a deep rooted desire for attention. We want money, fame, and success just to get that validation from the people that we are worthy of something.
In trying to satisfy our hunger for attention, however, we face a dilemma. There is just so much competition. People around us have the same problem as ours, they too want attention, so we have to fight really hard for it. In the family we have to compete with our siblings, at school with friends and at work place with colleagues. Especially as we and people around us grow up, everybody is so caught up in their own problems, they are largely indifferent to our condition. Some are even hostile and disrespectful to us. At such moments we fell psychologically alone and abandoned. Some people double their efforts at people but this ultimately scares them away as people who are trying too hard seem desperate and repulsive. It seems we cannot depend on others for constant validation.
Facing this dilemma from early childhood, most of us come up with a solution. The solution is that we develop a self, an image of ourselves that is a source of comfort from within. It consists of everything we like, our opinions and our worldview. In building this self we mostly focus on our positive qualities and ignore our shortcomings. If done properly, it gives us, at last, a self that we can love and accept. Our focus turns inwards and we become the center of our attention. Therefore whenever we feel abandoned or psychologically alone we can quickly take refuge in our own self-image giving us a level of comfort. In the moments of despair and depression, it can lift us up and raise our spirits. The greatest benefit of this self-image is that we are no longer dependent on others for validation and approval, we can do it ourselves. We have a SELF ESTEEM.
Up until we have been talking about the normal people who have a coherent sense of self and a self-esteem but there is an “EXCEPTION”. There are some people who fail to develop this self-image, such people are actually the NARCISSISTS. It is quite surprising that narcissism is thought of mostly as self-love. Quite the contrary, these people have no love for themselves, precisely the reason they are totally dependent on others for constant validation.
In constructing a self-image that later serves to soothe us in times of abandonment, the ages between two and five years are very critical. This is the time when we are gradually separating from our mother, and we cannot find instant gratification in the new world we encounter. Similarly, it’s revealed upon us suddenly that we are completely dependent on our parents for survival. Our solution to this is that we start to incorporate and internalize the best qualities of our parents as a way of becoming independent. If, at this time, our parents encourage us at our first attempts at independence, if they validate our abilities and talents, a self-image begins to take root. BUT the narcissists encounter a “SHARP BREAK” at this point. They fall victim their own parents.
The Birth of the Narcissist
Narcissists have either narcissist parents or extremely controlling ones. They never develop a coherent sense of self. Therefore they have nothing to retreat to in times of despair and pain, and are completely dependent on others for the attention and validation. In childhood if such narcissists are extroverts, they can survive, sometimes even thrive. They become masters at attracting and monopolizing attention by doing crazy things. In childhood, such weird acts are tolerated on account of innocence, which gives them confidence and a belief that their strategy is producing results. If they are introverts they retreat to a fantasy life in which they can be anything, ultimately developing a superiority complex. But as their image is too distant from reality, every now and then, when people make them realize they are not so great, they can enter into deepest depths of depression and self-loathing.
The worst time for narcissists is their twenties. For the extroverts, they have become addicted to monopolizing attention. Their dramas and theatrics become more intense, exhibitionistic and grandiose. They frequently change friends and scenes, as they crave for fresh audience every time they put on a show. As for the introverts, they fall deeper into the fantasy life. Socially stupid and radiating superiority, they alienate people increasing their isolation. Most often, to soothe themselves they resort to drugs and other addictions. You can detect narcissist by following signs.
If they are insulted or challenged, they react with extreme anger and hunger for vengeance, as they don’t have any internal defensive self to comfort them. In such fights they always try to play the victim, confusing others and draw sympathy, their motive to suck as many people as they can and become center of attention. Their oversensitivity makes them take everything personally, they are paranoid and think everyone is plotting against them. They always inadvertently try to turn the conversation back to themselves. They are extremely prone to feeling envy and plotting revenge against those that they think are getting the attention they deserve. When it comes to other people, they tend to see them as extension of themselves. They are just tools for attention and validation. In a relationship, they’ll cut the partner off from his or her friends and family as they cannot tolerate any competition. Deep narcissists can be extremely annoying to deal with. They’ll suck you in to their never ending dramas and ultimately exhaust you. The best solution is to get out of their way, when you encounter one.