In the book “The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism,” Kristin Dombek discusses how a clinical term, narcissistic, has become a description of our entire culture. Dombek implies that narcissism is a weapon of intergenerational, and romantic warfare. She argues that by expanding the definition of pathological narcissism, to include our everyday run-of-the-mill asshole, we are blinded to our own craving for esteem and attention. Despite the clinical characteristic, the definition of narcissist still remains a fundamentally subjective, and intimate act. This subjective account of the word narcissistic has turned into something that divides us by defining empathy as something we have, and others lack. With the aid of the self-help of the internet, our tendency to diagnose others as narcissistic is actually just an attempt to reassure ourselves that those we desire are not as responsive to us as we would like them to be. This is because they are sick, and not because we are uninteresting. We are all narcissistic to some degree, and it is our functionality, that attracts us to another person. Healthy love is soul based, whereas narcissistic love is superficial, and based solely on functionality rather than having the element of a deeper connection.
It is not easy to tell the difference between an evil narcissist, and someone who merely doesn’t feed our self-image. Not everyone is able to see beyond the superficial image of others. In “The Millennial,” Dombek discusses the characteristics of a narcissist. She talks about how narcissism has changed over time, from feminity to the narcissism of today, “hollow, crushingly low self-image,” that is “masked by fake high self-esteem” (70). The ability to see people at a deeper level requires the ability to see our self at a deeper level. A narcissistic person has no sense of self, and therefore cannot see themselves at a deeper level. It is from this deeper level of understanding of one’s self that soul based love occurs. The difference between narcissistic love and soul-based love is the element of love itself. It is a love that requires a bonding beyond the surface appearance, and behavior of our partner. In soul based love, if one were to get angry at their partner, they would still feel love towards their partner, despite the anger. Narcissistic love is not based on a soul connection, it is based entirely on functionality, and once expectations are not fulfilled the only thing our narcissistic lover feels towards us in anger and irritation.
It is our egoic self, and anger that defines our subjective definition of narcissism In the “Bad Boyfriend” Dombek discusses how people tend to accuse their partners of creating a false mask, yet in reality, it is they themselves that have created this mask of their partner, “but it is we, who’ve made a mask for them” (40). We tend to gloss over our partner’s negative qualities and overcompensate when they fulfill a functionality that we require. Once this person stops fulfilling our functionality and feeding our self-image, we classify them as an evil narcissist, even if they are not. We are usually unwilling to change our classification of them being a narcissist due to our subjective interpretation of the word narcissism. At that moment when we allow our anger to completely dictate how we view a person, we are unable to tell the difference between someone who is an evil narcissist, and someone who merely doesn’t feed our self-image.
The internet plays a major role in feeding our self-image, by creating the image of victimhood that portrays us as saints, and our partners as narcissists. Dombek describes the internet as being a narcisphere, where we can find hundreds of websites, and blogs that validate our feelings, and ties ordinary flaws to narcissism, “No one knows what it’s like to love a narcissist, except people on the internet” (23). Narcissism will look different depending on what is visible from the perspective of the methods used, and what you fear. Dombek’s reference of the internet can be interpreted as the internet is an open forum in which we get back validation of our own biased opinion. The internet lacks the conceptuality of an action when offering a diagnosis. In this way, it can lead you to start interpreting every little characteristic, and action as being narcissistic even if that is not the case. By joining these online communities, what we do not realize is that it feeds into our own narcissistic craving for attention. In our battle of ‘surviving narcissism’ the self-help of the internet, is actually used as a platform to validate that we are good, and empathetic, making us appear better than a person whom we conceive as less empathetic. In this way, our narcissistic desires, find a new source of fulfillment. Balance is restored, and we become the center of the universe again, which is what we needed all along, and why we take to the internet to seek advice and help.
Unlike the narcisphere, which is a facade of helping survivors of narcissism, the manosphere is an online community for men to openly come together, and display their narcissistic traits. Dombek discusses how narcissistic traits are encouraged, and seen to be attractive. In the manosphere men are told that being self-absorbed is a “necessary narcissism” (47). The manosphere is that part of the internet, where men come together and can celebrate their self-identity and superiority of being the perceived, superior, and dominant gender. In this sphere, narcissism is celebrated rather than condemned. It is a safe area, in which they are freed from the oppression of feminism. Within this sphere, men are free from the social obligations associated with their gender. They are free to work on their own interests, goals, and self-advancement, without the fear of judgment and condemnation of society. Between the differences of the narcisphere and manosphere, it can be argued that, no gender is free of fault, and that we are all narcissistic. What attracts us to each other is the mirror image of our own narcissistic traits. Within the manosphere, soul-based love is seen as weak, whereas narcissistic love, that fulfills our functionality and allows us to dominate our partners, is seen as the way to go.
In our fear of being in a relationship with a narcissistic person and our obsession with diagnosing narcissism, we become the very thing that we fear. Dombek describes how the girlfriend of the bad boyfriend starts obsessing over diagnosing him as a narcissist, “ask her what’s wrong, she’ll say, Nothing! and smile widely” (45). In almost every instance the advice we receive from the online community will tell you to either be more understanding, and empathetic towards our narcissistic partner, and to risk always feeling like this, or to save ourselves, and run as fast, and far away as we can. In our own selfishness and desire of being the most important person to someone, we usually pick the latter and walk away. In this way we are taught that the only way to respond to a person whom we assume is insincere, empty, and narcissistic, is to suppress our own instincts of kindness. What we fail to realize that by suppressing our instinct of kindness, we ourselves are acting like a narcissist, and have become the very thing we have feared. Dombek describes this vicious cycle of narcissism by comparing it to vampires, and Dracula’s, “adding new victims, and multiplying the evils of the world” (28). A vampire is a beast that feeds of other people, similarly, a narcissist is attracted to, and will feed of people who feed their ego. Just like the vampirism is eternal through every bite, narcissism can be seen as a disease that spreads, and is eternal through obsession. This speaks to the eternity of narcissism being a vicious cycle. In trying to diagnose narcissism we become narcissists, and so the ‘disease’ spreads and grows.
While we tend to think of vampires, Dracula ’s, and narcissists as “evil”, and something we should stay away from, we are attracted to them, because we underlying recognize their narcissistic traits in ourselves, “ fear is not our only response to the uncanny,” “we are drawn to them” (44). Dombek, suggests that we are attracted to morally questionable people, we think can be our protectors. We romanticize vampires because they represent power and fearlessness. Vampires have the ability to be unabashedly selfish, which holds a peculiar fascination to us, and essentially attracts us to them. In this same manner, we are unwittingly attracted to narcissistic people, because to us they seem to elude an element of power, and mystery. By being attracted to the mysterious it is easier to convince ourselves that we cannot be blamed for our desire, as opposed to, us mirroring our own narcissistic qualities, and finding them attractive in someone else.
It is human nature to fear the unknown. It is the lack of a clear definition of narcissism that makes us fear it. We all have narcissistic characteristics in us to some extent. The sooner we realize this, and accept it, the sooner we will stop viewing ourselves to be better than others, hence the less likely we will be to judge them, and try to diagnose them. The solution to narcissism is empathy and understanding that we are all much more similar than we’d like to be. We usually dislike a person because they often display traits that we dislike in our selves. Rather than being viewed as something to be feared, and have judgment passed on our narcissistic characteristics, and insecurities should be used as a tool to have an open, and honest conversation. We should be able to talk about our feelings, and their causes.