Gill B. asked: “I usually hate psychobabble. What’s done (really done) is done, and all that. However on reading these insightful posts through – I wondered if It was at all possible that you have narcissistic personality disorder? The warm, gentle, reasonable, charming, just a lovely decent (abandoned) guy phase?”
I won’t lie. My first reaction to this was: Who the fuck does this guy think he is? (I’m assuming it’s Gill, the male name with a hard “G” sound, and not the nickname for Gillian.)
And then I remembered reading that narcissists are super-defensive and hypersensitive to criticism and I thought: Oh crap. Maybe I AM a narcissist!
I don’t know whether Gill is trying to be helpful, or passive-aggressively making an accusation. In either case, he asks a perfectly fair question: Is it possible that I have narcissistic personality disorder, and maybe that’s why certain things in my life have gone wrong and not for all the reasons I’ve come to believe and/or are still exploring?
I wish he had worded the question differently. Because the phrase “anything is possible” exists because pretty much anything is possible.
Yes. It’s totally possible I’m a narcissist.
I have never, and will never, claim to know anything for sure. I might be living in The Matrix right now. I may be dreaming all this, and will wake up one day to discover I’m a 7,951-year-old alien living on some planet 39 parsecs from the Milky Way. I may be a freaking Who and living on some dust particle on a mega-giant old lady’s rug, and as soon as she invests in a new vacuum cleaner with water filtration, I’ll drown. It’s hard to be certain of anything.
But it’s not hard to take really solid educated guesses at things that hold up to scrutiny and bear out as likely truths over the long haul. Like evaluating trends via massive sample sizes, versus jumping to conclusions based on things that might be anomalies.
Everything I write about is my best attempt at solid educational guessing (or question asking) based on my life experience and observations, the experiences of others based on what I read or am told, and any other information I might have at the time.
So I wish Gill had asked: “Do you think you have narcissistic personality disorder?”
The Potential Narcissist Investigates Himself
(See what I did there? OMG, narcissist!!!)
Snark aside, I try to keep things real. And I like this question because it is a plausible hypothesis for why a seemingly decent guy would end up in the life circumstances I’m in, especially combined with this blog, which Gill might interpret as one, big Hey Everybody! Look At Me! festival.
To conduct my investigation, I did what any self-respecting psychobabbler would do: Base my conclusions on limited, hasty research supplemented by biased opinions from people who like me.
“Do you think you have narcissistic personality disorder?”
No, Gill. I don’t think I have narcissistic personality disorder. For three reasons:
1. My ex-wife would have totally hammered me with that during the most combative periods of our marriage and separation had she believed it.
2. Maybe crazy people don’t know they’re crazy. Maybe psychopaths don’t know they’re psycho. And maybe narcissists don’t know they’re narcissistic. But I work pretty hard at the whole self-reflection thing in an effort to have a better life and not repeat mistakes. And maybe I lack self-awareness, but I don’t think so. And that’s all I have to go on. What I think and feel. (Plus two of my friends were like: “No way, man! I know narcissists, and you’re totally not one!”)
3. I dove into a few online resources on narcissistic personality disorder, and found some good stuff from the Mayo Clinic, where they list the 12 attributes most commonly associated with narcissism:
Many experts use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose mental conditions. This manual is also used by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.
DSM-5 criteria for narcissistic personality disorder include these features:
- Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerating your achievements and talents
- Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
- Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
- Requiring constant admiration
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
- Taking advantage of others to get what you want
- Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Being envious of others and believing others envy you
- Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
One of the friends whose opinion I sought highlighted (at my request) the bullet points she thought applied to me. She highlighted two of them and qualified them as being “remotely” applicable.
They were “Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate,” and “Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.”
And yes. Those things totally apply to me, but I’d need a psych expert to tell me whether my versions of them qualify for checkmarks on the Is This Guy a Narcissist? evaluation form. (You reading, Dr. K? Feel free to be like: “Yeah, dumbass. Near as I can tell, you’re the biggest narcissist, ever, and also I’m dating Gill.”)
Success? Yes. I would really like to be “successful.” I’ve never spelled out exactly what I think that is, but it’s some healthy combination of financial freedom, entrepreneurial success, and at least a few people saying I helped them.
Power? No. If you offered me the U.S. presidency or the head seat at the table of a massive crime family, I would politely decline. My top priority is freedom and flexibility (career-wise), and “power” is somewhat useless to that end, and most likely a hindrance.
Brilliance? Hell yeah! I want to be the smartest I can possibly be! I spent most of my life squandering the educational resources around me and neglecting to pursue knowledge when I was immersed in academia for five years. If I could download every book that interests me into my brain and have the ability to recall all that information on demand? Totally rad superpower.
Beauty? Yes. I absolutely want girls to like me and want to mate. Sue me.
Perfect mate? Ehhh. I don’t know what that means in the context of narcissism. Do I have “high” standards? Probably. But I’m not sure where the flaw is in that life philosophy. I want to be attracted to my partner. I want to have fun with her. I want to be comfortable with her. I want to have long conversations and enjoy being together. I want my son to have an exceptional woman influencing him. I want to share similar life philosophies and shared interests so that, combined with all of those other things, we will have an excellent chance at achieving all the good, and avoiding all the bad, that we talk about in the comments of these posts.
As for having an inability to recognize the needs and feelings of others?
Hell. That’s the entire premise of my Here’s Why Divorce is so Common theory. Guys are oblivious to the needs of their partners, exhibit self-centeredness, and spend years defending themselves against their wives’ charges during arguments because they don’t understand that what she sees and thinks and feels in response to something happening can differ so radically from what he sees and thinks and feels. She always thinks he’s an insensitive asshole. And he always thinks she’s menstruating. Some people finally figure it out, but most don’t.
And it’s not because everyone is a narcissist or because everyone secretly hopes their marriages are horrible and end in painful divorce. It’s because they are accidentally oblivious to the needs and feelings of their partners because NO ONE learns about this stuff at home or school throughout their childhood and teenage years. Many get married in their 20s. All of them experience the consequences of ignorance. Most of them never solve the problem because their partner, by that point, is causing them intense pain, and it goes against our nature to want to invest the rest of our lives in something that only hurts.
Divorce feels easier than the surgery required to hold it all together, so people quit. And when they don’t learn from it, it tends to cycle back around in their future relationships too.
I did a bad job in my marriage, and now I never want to divorce again because it’s unpleasant.
I’m the only person who knows what I do, think and feel when no one’s watching.
And I’m not sure we can trust narcissists to tell us whether they are one.
But Gill asked a fair question, and I wanted to think about it and answer. And if that Mayo Clinic list is an accurate representation of how we’re defining a narcissist, then I really like my chances of not being one.
I have all kinds of problems, Gill. Shortcomings on display in several facets of my life. And everything I think and write about is part of me trying to figure out how to overcome those things, and maybe accidentally helping someone like me along the way.
Maybe narcissistic personality disorder is one of those problems. Anything’s possible.
But do I think so?
No, Gill. I don’t.