If narcissists believe they have rights society never agreed to, then how did that happen? (As I wrote about in Rights You Don’t Have.)
Mainstream psychologists theorize that unhealthy degrees of narcissism develop to protect a “fragile” ego. I don’t really know what is meant by a “fragile” ego. I am less and less sure what an ego is as time goes by. It’s one of those words we seem to use to describe something we don’t really understand but need a word for, and it also seems to mean different things to different people but is rarely precisely defined. We go around using the same word thinking we are speaking the same language, but maybe we aren’t.
Anyway, I don’t buy it. Like an atheist who is simply not convinced by the evidence that there is a God, I am not convinced that there are egos, or that they can be fragile, or that we really know what we mean when we talk about them. I think we’re faking it.
There are some other things I don’t buy either.
In the “defending a fragile self” view of narcissism, the “real” self is vulnerable, frightened, ashamed. It is a false self that acts like king of the world—not the real one. And yet I cannot see any definite evidence of a “real” self existing. I certainly can’t see any evidence for an anguished “real” self that couldn’t also be used to support a different viewpoint. Again I am unconvinced.
And I realize that pits me against generations of well-read, well-respected people who see narcissism in this way. I’m sure many of them know a lot more about who wrote what and wrote what about whom than I do.
But I won’t be dissuaded from considering an alternate explanation. Growth requires considering other possibilities. It requires considering other ideas, even if they may not be right. This is my idea. At the end of this, you can tell me what you think about it. And maybe we’ll see one day if I turn out to be right. It’s okay if I don’t. It is the act of considering new ideas that leads to growth—not spending your time considering only right ideas.
So, my idea. I think narcissism is more about a distorted sense of rights, and a misreading of the social contract. Part of the reason I think this is that narcissism tends to arise both in people who have been abused and in those who have been over-indulged. What’s the common denominator? A distorted sense of rights on the part of the parent.
An abusive parent believes he has too many rights—including the right to harm the child—and that the child has too few. An indulgent parent may believe he has too few rights—including the right to discipline or restrict the child—and that the child has too many.
They are both distorted. More importantly, they don’t match up with the social contract the child will need to follow in order to have rewarding relationships or to function well at work or in daily living as an adult. He may be able to function if he can see that he will be punished for exercising his distorted sense of rights and if he has good impulse control, but he’ll be unhappy. He’ll be indignant and angry. He’ll probably die at 50 of a heart attack from all that suppressed rage.
If he has poor impulse control, he may not be able to function at all. He may spend a great deal of time in prison, or he may end up alone and living on the streets, unable to find and keep a job or to support himself.
In other words, narcissists suffer. They cause others to suffer and they suffer. Deeply, no matter how unnecessarily.
Now, you might think the abused child would settle for always assuming he has too few rights. But there are several different meanings you can take from having your rights routinely violated. One of them is the idea that you have no rights. Other people have rights, but you don’t. I did that. I don’t recommend it.
You can also come to believe that there are really two categories of people in the world: People with too many rights and people who have too few. And all you may need to join that first group is to demand them. If that is the meaning you take from being abused, all you need to do is wait until you are big enough to begin to demand your rights. Grow up, and you can switch categories.
Some narcissists also seem to believe there are other criteria you need to meet in order to join that first group. Perhaps they believe you need to be physically attractive enough, you need to follow certain fashion trends, or belong to the right church. Maybe you need to have the right career, the right income, or the right car. Perhaps they think you need to become an expert on something. They will usually decide that they do. They may do the actual work of getting to that place, or they simply imagine they do.
But there is nothing more irritating than the narcissist who thinks you need to be extremely knowledgeable to make the A-list. He will usually know nothing much more than the next person, but he will go on endlessly about it as if what he knows is worth gold.
And there is nothing more frightening than the narcissist who thinks what you need to do is be defend yourself, demand your rights, and make sure you don’t ever get pushed around. This narcissist will beat his spouse and bully his classmates, his employees and his children.
Because key to maintaining that status as one of the lucky, superior few in the top echelon of the narcissists’ world is that there not be too many in that category. And they should certainly meet the right criteria. So, if you need to belong to the right church to be in the group, it should be an exclusive church. If you need to be smart, it’s important to the narcissist that only a small number of approved people be smart enough.
That may be one reason narcissists spend a lot of time verbally abusing those around them. They may be trying to hurt your feelings. Or they may just be trying to prove that, unlike them, you are on the B-list. And the proof of this lies in the very fact of their abusing abusing you. Because if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be abused. It’s circular logic, I know, but that’s how some people think–in circles.
Having grown up in a religion that humbly called itself the “truth” and met in groups of perhaps a hundred (in an area with a relatively large number of members) this is all starting to make sense to me—given that I had parents with strong narcissistic traits. They met the criteria. They were on the A-list. They had extra rights.
I know I have not come to any particular point in this post. I apologize for that. But I’m just wondering about some things here. I promise to get a point at some time in the future. Maybe tomorrow. Or the day after. I’ll do my best.