Surely, I’m a narcissist. One doesn’t write the volume of words I’ve written about myself without, on some level, being a bit of a narcissist.
But narcissism is a many-splendored thing. There’s healthy narcissism – the sort of self-regard we all need to make it through the day – and there is a whole spectrum of more problematic, or even pathological, narcissism.
Some time ago, T and I saw the movie “Weiner,” about former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, and his doomed 2013 mayoral campaign. The movie is excruciating, not least because Weiner’s narcissism, the insatiable hunger he has to be seen, and to be appreciated, so dwarfs everything else in his life. There is a scene in the movie, the day after Weiner’s train wreck of an interview with Lawrence O’Donnell, when he’s watching the video of the interview and his wife, Huma Abedin, comes to talk with him. The interview was, objectively, indisputably, a disaster for Weiner, and he’s watching it obsessively, with a manic grin on his face, oblivious both to the fact that it was a disaster, and to Huma’s dismay. She walks out of the room, disgusted, and he continues watching, his chasm of self-esteem being somehow fed by the fact that so many people are seeing him. It doesn’t even matter what they think.
I feel sympathy for Weiner, because I’m capable of precisely the same impulse, the same hunger. Just as he has a bottomless appetite for attention, so to do I. My need, though, is more intimate. I don’t want fame, don’t hunger to be on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show. I want you to want to interact with me in the ways that feed me. I want your approval, your appreciation, your respect, your admiration, your acceptance. For me, it’s a drug, just like it is for him. I’m fortunate in that I’ve found ways to gratify my insatiable hunger, even while leading the rest of my life functionally. It was a long road. But I’ve figured it out, for the most part. You, this blog, are a big part of it.
That’s not to say that I don’t, occasionally, lose an hour here or there to a manic engagement. I do. But when I do, it’s in a context, and I’m not dissociative, not completely unaware of the impact of my actions on others.
And then, there’s this article, about Charlie Sheen. It’s similarly excruciating. Sheen’s appetite for attention, for approval, is even more extreme than Weiner’s, or mine. For him, everything else recedes in the face of receiving attention and admiration. For him, those things are not, as they are for normal people, currency; for him, they’re oxygen.
And finally, of course, there’s the “president.” He, too, seems to have this bottomless appetite for attention, positive or negative.
With each of them, I feel a special kinship. And, a hope for recovery. I am no longer prisoner to my narcissism. It still travels with me, to be sure. But I’m not a prisoner. And I’m not (I hope) holding others prisoner to it. Here’s hoping each of them – Weiner, Sheen, and Trump – find a path toward redemption that doesn’t involve further inflicting their narcissism on others.