Updated: May 24
“It's more impressive," I said out loud. "From a distance, I mean. You can't see the wear on things, you know? You can't see the rust or the weeds or the paint cracking.” (Green)
Remember the last time you encountered someone dashing? Not merely a superficial physical dashing, but one that captured the fine balance of confidence and pitch; of competence and wit? Narcissistic individuals are often seen with the lens of the severe, losing grace of Narcissus, where narcissist originates its meaning. The myth goes: Narcissus so deeply entrenched in self love, seeing his reflection in a pool of water, and not being able to gain his object of desire (himself), dies.
Narcissism is associated with obnoxious traits of bursting arrogance and self importance, yet the initial presenting traits that move us – strikingly impressive, overtly appealing, refreshingly self assured, witty and warm – are ones that make narcissistic people appear so alluring.
Narcissists often make great first impressions. They appear secure, composed, happy in their skin, and put together. Research by Campbell highlights two separate situations – an emerging zone that involves early stage relationships and a second situation – the enduring zone that involves long term relationships. The narcissist shines in the first situation; the emerging zone is where we are dazzled by the finesse of the talk, walk, and look. The research points that as the narcissist stumbles along from the not so early stage to developing relationships, the narcissist displays behaviors of arrogance and aggression.
The narcissist routinely pivots into the emerging zone because they are hooked to the positive social response and the emotional adrenaline they receive here. Campbell compares this to an addiction like rush. The emerging zone shrouded with newness with unacquainted people and just budding relationships – is the space the narcissist owns and is good at. As a result of this, a narcissistic is often great at spectacular first impressions, pecking the social order – making new friends, entering new settings and capturing the social status – but severely lacking at sustenance of these newly formed relationships by starving the relationship off of meaning or intimacy for further development.
Full blown narcissists describe high levels of personal satisfaction while creating agony and mayhem around them. Their need for self enhancement – a way to feel good about themselves, boast their self-esteem, and continue thriving in the world can be showcased, per Campbell’s research in 3 models. Point one: the narcissist has a self-regulatory system that is zeroed in on obtaining and maintaining highly favorable views of the self/self esteem; point 2: people and social affiliations are used by the narcissist to provide self enhancement, i.e – the feel good high; point 3: the narcissist doesn’t want the enduring deep, caring, meaningful relationships – the narcissist’s use of others for self enhancement succeeds from this lack of interest.
Where does it end? It ends when the juice is not worth the squeeze, or the squeeze doesn’t have juice left squeezing – the narcissist either is backed up against self deception, or the admiration – the lifeline of a narcissist – is choked.
Does the narcissist have anything good coming their way? Campbell notes multiple research that highlights the costs and benefits of the narcissistic trait. The emerging zone – the narcissist’s home turf presents multiple benefits – likability, emergent leadership, stellar positive self views, dating success, resiliency to negative feedback; in the emerging are far fewer – high status (public and person). The costs are significant for the narcissist in both realms of the emerging and enduring – depression, reduced likability, relationship issues, volatile leadership performance, to name a few. Do people interacting with narcissists gain anything? Despite all the negativity, people who mingle with narcissists do get some needs filled. Remember the confidence and fine pitch finely balanced with competence and wit, with that initial warmth? There is excitement. There is energy. And there is an emerging leader.
And then there are the costs – the overconfidence with harsh, impulsive decision making, aggression – and recall the narcissists' use of people and groups for sheer self enhancement – lack of depth. The fizzle fades. In the enduring zone, there are no benefits to others interacting with the narcissist, and the costs? – Aplenty. From feeling starved off of emotional closeness to confusion, aggression, infidelity and sexual assault.
Campbell poses the question: Why does narcissism persist if it is bad for the self and others? Per Campbell the standard answer is that it persists because of “the ability to alter reality by defensive processing of negative feedback and the augmentation of positive feedback, and by manipulation of others.” Here is the more complex answer (per Campbell’s contextual reinforcement model): both the narcissist and who he or she is involved with see a flood of feel good benefits in the emerging zone. As long as the narcissist circles within this zone – it’s victory. Narcissist also provide a range of positives for others in the zone, to the point that these people maintain a relationship with the narcissist.
Campbell’s assertion is that a “failed narcissist” – one who is unhappy can, if put back in their happy ever expanding self enhanced space, be “cured” since the emerging realm is the mecca of narcissist’s finesse. As long as the narcissist keeps the newness going. They could go to a new place, a new job, and meet new people. And repeat. This would of course be most viable to the young, attractive, and talented. When the benefits of breaking into novelty run low, so do the benefits and the fizzle of that confidence and pitch; competence and wit.
Do you have narcissistic traits or feel the stressors associating with someone who does? There are ways to manage. Reach out. Email: email@example.com
Campbell, Keith. “On the Self-Regulatory Dynamics Created by the Peculiar ...” Www.psypress.com/Sai, Psychology Press, 2009, wkeithcampbell.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/CampbellCampbell-2009-SI.pdf.
Green, John. Paper Towns. Dutton Books, 2018.
©2020 by Irem Choksy, LMFT