Warning! Irony ahead!
When I was a boy, I sought everyone’s affection, and when I failed to find it, I whined. I stomped my feet and locked myself in my bedroom. I would have none of the subsequent coddling that came from my family (and later my friends), and I would listen to no one who said, “Not everyone’s going to like you.” In my mind, for whatever twisted reason, if one person didn’t like me then no one did, and, even more immaturely, no one ever would. Remnants of this way of thinking stay with me today.
I’ve grown up a lot since then, but I’m still sometimes that boy under his sheets, whining about the world and slipping into quiet “me, me, me” tantrums. This is especially true when it comes to love, when every moment–every word, every action–is up for analysis: a selfish and constant reaffirmation of “yes, he really does love me.”
After reading this thought, some of you will say, “I see myself in that light, too. I too sometimes feel like a child when I don’t get my way or not everyone likes me”—the thought resonates with you. Others will opine that the preceding admission is itself an admission of narcissism. Some of you will think that this public confession is proof of that very point: that I’m self-aggrandizing via false modesty.
I encourage and welcome both thoughts. As a writer, I am inherently telling the world (or at least a tiny fraction of it) that I have something worth saying, something that others will want to hear, something that is in some way differential to what others will say. This is egotistical of me, but this is true of all writers–from commentators to poets, we all think our words are worth something to the world, if only on just the paper they’re written. Why otherwise put so much effort into it? It then follows that being a writer, especially in a public forum, means welcoming criticism worth reading… and engaging. A reader gave me pause recently when she said she thought I was narcissistic for writing so often about myself. And it got me thinking… what constitutes a “narcissist?” And am I one?
As I see it, the signs of a narcissist are, in no order: mastery of vanity, relentless insecurity, general obsession with oneself, and the ever-present need to exalt unto the world one’s own perils and triumphs, no matter how modest their portrayal–all largely without regard for other people. The true narcissist is thus, at his worst, most nearly a sociopath.
My description is as scientific as it is precise (and it is neither): an admission any critic would welcome, as itself contains a validation that I, audacious enough to define the word, am narcissistic.
“Narcissist” is a term we use freely, and when we are being honest, we readily ascribe it to ourselves, partially.
Are you a narcissist? Quite likely your answer is no. Even if you are one—under anyone else’s definition—you’ll find a way out of fitting your own criteria. But neither would you deny that you have some of the nasty vices we outline a narcissist having—our appreciation for hearing praise for ourselves, for example, though not an attribute exclusive to the narcissist, is no doubt a prerequisite.
I ask myself: am I narcissist? If I must meet ALL the requirements of my proposed definition, I say no, I am not, but if a simple majority suffices, I say yes: (1) Check, I am vain: I have not “mastered” vanity, but I give it far more than its fair share of my time. (2) Check, I am self-obsessed: I am obsessed with myself in the sense that I want to be better at everything I do, and I focus on this objective—I want to be a better writer, a better friend, a better dresser, a better hair-styler, a better worker-outer. (3) Check, I do concern others with my personal tragedies and triumphs, but unlike the narcissist, I strive not for sympathy or a pat on the back, but for solidarity, and not just for myself. We all crave to know that we aren’t alone in our thoughts or experiences, no matter how selfish, immature, pitiful, or tragic those may be. I aim to show others that they aren’t alone.
But most importantly, (4) Unchecked. My greatest obsession is other people. My most damning characteristic, since childhood, is the need to please others, to make sure everyone around me is happy, because, and this is corny as fuck, I can’t stand to know that someone else feels alone. I know what it’s like. And I know you do, too.