Researchers in the US asked 2,200 participants how much they related to this statement on a scale of one to seven: “I am a narcissist.” Seven, representing the highest level of egotism, self-centredness and vanity. This one question evaluation is almost as effective in identifying extreme self-regard as the widely used and more complex Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) test.
While I am not going to elaborate on my own test score, I suspect, at the heart of it, we all may qualify as narcissists. Some are just better at disguising it than others. Perspective is all very well but try telling someone who’s just been dumped that innocent people are being slaughtered in Gaza for no good reason. Logic suggests that should make us feel more fortunate, but I’d be very surprised if it does. I think it’s perfectly normal to think of yourself as central to the universe. In our heads, our own issues are always bigger and more important than anyone else’s and as a survival strategy, it’s probably not a bad thing. But there are levels of self-indulgence and eventually (hopefully), perspective comes into play. It’s easy to recognise a hardcore egotist since we can’t escape them in our personal and professional lives. Their behaviour is a relentless, barrelling forward without a thought for anybody and persistent delusions
For the Narcissus of Greek myth, his mirror image spun a deadly end. He was entranced by his own reflection to the exclusion of everything else. A modern day version of him is Reggie Mantle in Archie Comics who is often shown gazing at himself with a smug expression. The accompanying blurb goes, “Blah.Blah.Blah.” Obsessing about oneself has always been a big part of human nature. Even Van Gogh made a self-portrait. 500 years ago people who could afford self-definition hired the best like Rembrandt to paint them. That was probably the original, and far more expensive equivalent of the selfie. Of course, now, pouting and taking a picture of yourself is par for the course. Public display of your life, even if it’s a contrived or highly distorted version is no longer even considered a form of Narcissism. It’s just who we are in this century on Earth. However, though the culture encourages it, the professors who’ve devised this new test for Narcissists say they’re menaces to society because they think only of themselves. At a larger scale that doesn’t auger well for mankind and could contribute to the decline of the species.
I think they’re menaces too but for entirely different reasons: they’re deathly boring. It’s almost like the world is divided into diametrically opposite zones, of catastrophic humanitarian crises where people are struggling for survival and another, where people can afford the ultimate luxury of exulting about themselves. “I don’t care what you think unless it is about me,” rocker Kurt Cobain famously said, but he would have thought differently if he was scrounging for his next meal.
It would still be somewhat fair if attention seekers were publicly ridiculed or sniggered at, but tragically enough, those wholly engaged in the pursuit of attention do very well. We tend to celebrate narcissists. Consider the tennis pro of the ’80s John McEnroe, nicknamed superbrat for his legendary on court tirades. Even today, McEnroe’s matches have better recall and as a personality he has overshadowed his equally, if not more talented contemporaries such as Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors. Scarlett O Hara, the unforgettable and self involved heroine of Gone With The Wind, was entirely lacking in empathy and did exactly as she pleased, still, we can’t help feel a little bad for her when Rhett Butler finally says he doesn’t ‘give a damn’. Narcissistic personalities are strangely fascinating. Perhaps, they allow us to reflect on the weirdness of self-love. A gentle reminder that we may look in the mirror everyday, but we don’t necessarily,
always, look the same.