An ongoing survival guide.
Take the Test.
There isn’t an adult child of a narcissist who hasn’t asked themselves the question once or twice.
Am I also a narcissist?
Because despite no longer living in caves or mud huts, we humans still have a hard time not believing that crazy behavior is somehow contagious. So the longer one is around a narcissist, the deep tendrils of that personality disorder have had years to warp sensibilities, influence perceptions, misjudge actions, etc.
It is also possible that what the adult child is responding to, unconsciously, is the guilt of how the parent narcissist has treated others (not necessarily themselves). The child of a narcissist is often in a position to do much of the “repair” caused by a narcissist’s inconsideration to others.
There is good news and bad news here.
The bad news: some crazy behavior can be contagious. Group think for one. Suicide as well. But one does not simply become narcissistic by being exposed to another narcissist. If anything—and a major point of this guidebook—the adult child of a narcissist is very sensitive to narcissistic behavior and that sensitivity can over time become self destructive in nature, unhelpful, and an all around bad template for emotional engagement with others.
The good news: you can take the test and find out for yourself. In the spirit of transparency, I already took it and scored a 6. What’s your score? Can you get the narcissist in your life to take the test? Good luck, if you can.
I included the test because I read this article about Simon Doonan of Barneys of New York. Simon’s article speaks to the other, more commonplace, use of the word narcissism. Simon and others like him are choosing to behave in a certain way. They can be modest, they can be less grandiose, but his point—and it is a good one—is that he chooses not to. Our popular culture certainly rewards narcissism, and if you can make that form of narcissism work, everything in the western world seems to bow down and presents itself to you. Look at how much the cast of MTV’s Jersey Shore get paid.
This kind of narcissism presented not just by Doonan, but Oscar Wilde himself, is one where the relationship is purely the one you have with yourself. The kind of grandiose, fulfilling love you often see characters in Tom Robbins’ novels professing to have. This is not the same as the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which centers around maladaptive behaviors the individual has with others in their life due to their own behavior and beliefs.
Oscar Wilde didn’t blame others for this bad hair days, in other words. Nor should any of us.
The kind of narcissism that gets classified as a mental disorder is not something one has a choice about. The narcissists that cause all the trouble, the ones with the DSM IV code of 301.81 can’t just stop being narcissists.
If there is one really good question a person can ask themselves to help determine whether they may or may not be a narcissist, it might be this one, and I will get to the explanation afterwards.
Do you always feel entitled to special or privileged treatment by others—strangers and friends alike—and when this does not occur, do you fall into a terrible depression and/or withdraw from the situation or do you respond with aggression and anger toward the person(s) who did not do what you expected them to do?
Narcissism is about unrealistic entitlement and either depression/rage when people in the environment don’t mirror back to the narcissist whatever their unrealistic agenda is: I am the best golf player in the world, I am the most beautiful, I am a gracious tipper when I eat out and make uncomplicated requests regarding the fixed restaurant menu, I am the most patient mother, I am the most powerful emperor the galactic empire has ever seen. Whatever.
Chances are if you have a narcissist in your life, it is exhausting you. Writing about them is even exhausting. So, to wrap up this week: be more like Oscar Wilde.