Narcissism and Its Discontents | Ramani Durvasula | TEDxSedona

Narcissism has not only become a normalized social condition, it is increasingly being incentivized. The framework of narcissism with the central pillars of lack of empathy, entitlement, grandiosity, superficiality, anger, rage, arrogance, and shallow emotion is a manifestation of pathological insecurity – an insecurity that is experienced at both the individual and societal level. The paradox is that we value these patterns – and venerate them through social media, mainstream media, and consumerism, they represent a fast-track to financial and professional success. These traits are endemic in political, corporate, academic, and media leaders. There are few lives which are not personally touched by narcissists – be it your spouse, partner, parent, child, colleague, boss, friend, sibling, or neighbor. Whether societally or individually, the toxic wave of narcissism, entitlement, and pathological insecurity is harming us all. The enticements of charm, charisma, confidence, and success can draw us in or blind us to the damaging truths of narcissism. The invalidation inherent in these relationships infects those are in them with self-doubt, despair, confusion, anxiety, depression and the chronic feeling of being “not enough,” all of which make it so difficult to step away and set boundaries. The illusion of hope and the fantasy of redemption can result in years of second chances for narcissists, and despondency when change never comes. It’s time for a wake-up call. Health and wellness campaigns preach avoidance of unhealthy foods, sedentary lifestyles, tobacco, drugs, alcohol, but rarely preach avoidance of unhealthy or toxic people. Yet the health benefits of removing toxic people from a life may have a far greater benefit to both physical and psychological health than going to the gym. We need to learn to be better gatekeepers for our minds, bodies, and souls. Instead of habituating to the global shift of validating narcissism and other toxic patterns, it’s time to understand it and take our lives back. Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Santa Monica and Sherman Oaks, CA and Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, where she was named Outstanding Professor in 2012. She is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

 

today I am going to talk about the most
overused misunderstood problematic words
of our time a phenomenon a word that is
shaping all of our destinies that word
is narcissism narcissism is a word that
is being used to understand bad behavior
everywhere in national leaders in heads
of state heads of corporations fancy
academic types athletes celebrities we
actually no longer recoil at their
grandiosity their entitlement and their
incivility in fact too many people award
them grudging admiration for their
successes and that grants permission to
everyone to replicate these abusive
patterns of behavior with impunity now
things got confusing when people started
using narcissism as a clinical term it
became a way of medicalizing bad
behavior it’s actually not a diagnostic
term narcissistic personality disorder
is a diagnosis but it’s pretty rare
because these folks don’t show up to be
diagnosed anyhow so narcissism is in
fact a personality pattern it’s a sort
of way of relating to the world it’s an
adjective to describe their style much
like you could describe someone as
agreeable or stubborn or introverted
some of these patterns are valued by
society and others aren’t and the fact
is most people don’t receive being
called narcissistic as a compliment it’s
just however a descriptive term and no
matter how much we turn our noses up at
it paradoxically as a society we reward
it dr. Alan Francis was one of the
architects of the diagnosis of
narcissistic personality disorder and he
argues that we actually give badly
behaved jerks and out when we call it a
diagnosis if a person is a jerk then
they’re a jerk disliking a pattern of
behavior doesn’t make it a mental
illness that so-called jerk has to be
experiencing problems in their lives
and for their narcissism to actually be
considered a diagnosis
so if we were to cobble together all the
various things that make up narcissism
we land on a very uncomfortable summit
narcissism is comprised of certain
pillars as I call them

  • lack of empathy
  • grandiosity
  • entitlement
  • superficiality
    admiration and
  • validation seeking
  • hypersensitivity rage and a
  • tendency to manipulate and exploit people

it’s confusing because they’re simultaneously
under responsive they tend to be
emotionally aloof cold and distant but
then they’re hyper responsive they have
hair-trigger temper that set off like
that when their fragile egos get
threatened so narcissism however I
believe is synonymous with pathological
insecurity the key to understanding the
narcissist is that they feel constantly
unstable and empty their grandiosity is
actually an immature defense against
these threats to them their sense of
self and they’re desperate for the world
to keep validating them on their good
days they look happy they’re great
they’re grandiose but on the bad days
the facade crumbles quickly and we see
disproportionate rage shame and
vindictiveness I became interested in
narcissism through a couple of different
pathways but the most striking was the
fact that more and more clients were
coming into my office and talking about
relationships in which their partners
treated them with utter disregard
indifference coldness they lacked
empathy they would question their
reality they would lie to them at times
they were unfaithful they were
inconsistent and no matter what they
tried with their partner it didn’t get
better at the same time I started
working with more narcissistic clients
and would you know nothing we tried
really made things better in fact they
just remain difficult people and I don’t
think I’m not bad a therapist so it was
clear that these relationships were
being kept in place simultaneously by
hope and fear hope that someday it would
get better if they kept trying harder
but fear that if they left these
relationships they would be alone
forever without
partner or even without a mother and
some of them had the fear that maybe
this is as good as it gets the world has
become more insecure and the reasons for
that are varied galip’s annual global
emotions report said that in 2017 was
the most miserable in about a decade the
report indicated that sadness anger
worry stress and physical pain were more
frequently endorsed last year than in
the ten years prior
now Gallup speculated on a variety of
reasons for this but let’s pitfall for a
minute could it be that this increase in
misery could reflect the increase in
insecurity incivility and tolerance of
narcissism our world supports the
increasing insecurity in our world and
the platforms that capitalize on it such
as consumerism have created optimal
fertile ground for narcissism to
incubate and proliferate when human
value is driven entirely by external
incentives such as success then
qualities such as empathy do not have a
fighting chance because we no longer
value them and they’re no longer
valuable so why do we get pulled into
these relationships
we’re not flocking to narcissism because
we love emotional coldness or
invalidation or shallow people
we’re drawn in because narcissism is
seductive I call it the three C’s of narcissism

  1. charm
  2. charisma and
  3. confidence

that’s not to say that all charming and
charismatic people are narcissistic
however we do know that these traits are
so seductive that we get drawn in and
they can blind us to the more venomous
characteristics that are unfolding at
the same time such as entitlement
vindictiveness or lack of empathy so
then once a person is in a relationship
and it’s uncomfortable and is painful
why would they stay with a narcissist
all of us are vulnerable to those
narcissistic charms and in fact we may
be rendered even more vulnerable to
sticking around for the abuse by a
narcissist if we originated from family
systems in which the patterns of
narcissism were normalized such as
having a cold authoritarian
distant invalidating or abusive parents
our own insecurities render us
vulnerable and also less able to climb
out when the climate shifts from charm
and charisma to invalidation and abuse
most of us are great at giving second
chances and second chances are in fact
the accelerant for narcissism at all
levels when we are in a narcissistic
relationship we make excuses that’s just
how he is he didn’t really mean that she
means well ah that’s just her culture
and there’s the rub that’s how this
infectious virus of being in any form of
narcissistic relationship whether with
an individual or a family or a company
or a culture can slowly proliferate and
take over most of us issue second
chances with zeal our storytelling in
our culture is immersed in tales of hope
redemption and forgiveness and while
that’s all very healthy in the wrong
hands hope and forgiveness may not
represent an opportunity for growth or
change or restoration but rather
permission to just keep things going as
they are because with narcissists
forgiveness is interpreted as hey let’s
just keep the status quo have we created
a world in which narcissism as a pattern
as a personality is becoming necessary
to succeed in the new world order this
is where we hit a bit of a problematic
divide the very qualities associated
with material success are actually bad
for our health because while these
qualities may be festered and fostered
by our cultures and our schools and our
economies and our societies they are
never going to be good for our close
relationships and that doesn’t just mean
spouses and partners that means parents
children siblings extended family
friends colleagues narcissistic patterns
undercut the core of what’s necessary
for healthy relationships those things
include mutuality respect compassion
patience genuineness honesty and trust
things that are simply not possible with
the system or a person which is
narcissistic and it’s in that intimate
relationship space where we see the most
profound impacts of a narcissist what
did that be a spouse or a partner a
relationship with a narcissist is a
gradual indoctrination you slowly become
inured to their lack of empathy though
Tantrums their rage their insults and
their entitlement their lies and their
challenges to your reality they’re
insulting words slowly become your
self-talk and before you know it your
new mantra becomes I am not enough
anyone who’s had a narcissistic parent
will acknowledge that it shaped the arc
of their lives it instilled an
insecurity in a chronic jousting at
psychological windmills from an early
age narcissistic parents leave a legacy
including an inability to trust your own
instincts to safely enter close
relationships to trust your own
abilities and a lifetime can be spent
trying to gain the notice of the aloof
detached and disconnected parent the
proliferation of narcissism and
leadership in our culture governments
companies and world has made very
difficult workplaces the narcissistic
boss is the insecure tyrant
these are workplaces ruled by fear and
subterfuge abuse and vindictiveness
deceit and slippery ethics and in the
face of the me2 movement the top notes
of narcissism pervaded all of the
stories the entitled and untouchable
tyrant pillaging the workforce and in
most case with almost no consequences
the most painful realization is that
narcissistic patterns are just not that
amenable to change at a minimum for any
change to occur the narcissus has to
recognize the harmful pattern of their
behavior then they have to want to
change it and then they have to put in
the daily work of change there is a
small number of cases where that kind of
happened but under conditions of stress
and frustration the usual issues of Rage
will pop up the rubberband of
personality returns to its usual shape
and size
the small changes that could be made may
not be enough to make a close intimate
relationship sustainable and if somebody
is not willing to recognize that they
need to make changes because they’re
hurting other people there’s little
likelihood they will make a change but
there is a likelihood they will continue
to blame other people the world or you
for their bad behavior so that means
that the only remaining strategies are
to maintain your expectations and set
boundaries not to try to change that
person or waste hope on the possibility
of change but to recognize that this is
how it is and either accept it or slowly
step away from it now this is very
individual and it’s not always possible
if it’s your parents or your child who’s
narcissistic you may not be willing to
sever that tie finances culture children
or love can make walking away from a
marriage or a romantic relationship
seemingly impossible and that’s fine but
managing expectations on this pattern
can protect you from the downstream
effects of this ongoing abuse and allow
you to construct a more realistic
reality sadly most of us put 90 percent
of our hearts minds and souls into our
most dysfunctional unhealthy
invalidating relationships and save the
little bit that’s left for the people
who are good and kind to us it’s time we
flip this skewed calculus and start
giving the best of ourselves to our
healthy and reciprocal relationships and
really only give the bare minimum to the
relationships that really aren’t helping
us grow perhaps that’s a healthier way
of negotiating these treacherous waters
of narcissism without losing ourselves
in the depths of self-doubt and
self-criticism now this can be extended
to our thinking about the world at large
it can be small fixes such as turning
off the polarizing discourses we hear
and learning to measure our self-worth
and the worth of others with new metrics
of success

  • authenticity
  • compassion
  • kindness
  • and empathy

we can learn to
tend to our own gardens and not get
pulled into hostile interactions that
benefit no one so this begs a question
can there be happy endings or
narcissistic or
tagging istic personalities and cultures
are concerned I actually think there can
be the greatest challenge about happy
endings in real life is that they rarely
look like the ones we crafted when we’re
young and it’s easy to get stuck in our
own old narratives people who come from
narcissistic families may feel as though
they missed out on having a parent who
is an ally or a supporter even as they
go into adulthood people who married
narcissistic partners may find
themselves mired in a nightmare of
emotional abuse or simply finding that
they’re actually alone despite being
married few people write stories of
their lives that build in disappointment
I have found that survivors of all kinds
of narcissistic and antagonistic
relationships actually can and do have
happy endings they just don’t look like
they thought all of us are bigger than
this epidemic of narcissism any of us
can change that you are not enough
narrative that still resonates we can
repair it ourselves we can look at the
entitled shenanigans of people who
shriek don’t you know who I am and
realize that you don’t give a damn about
who they are where there are scars
beautiful things actually can spring
forth
khalil gibran writes out of suffering
have emerged the strongest Souls the
most massive characters are seared with
scars yes the world is in fact becoming
more narcissistic and insecure
don’t let the global epidemic of
incivility infect you inoculate yourself
find your communities find common ground
with other people instead of living in
polarization practice kindness and
empathy even when other people are not
choose your friends and your romances
with care every life story can be a
miracle or a tragedy it just depends on
how you write it
these days with the world in such
disarray anyone who is surviving with
their empathy unbroken their hearts
sound their integrity in place and
theirs
sense of humor intact is nothing short
of dauntless pushing back on narcissism
is a human rights issue all of us need
to stop giving permission to narcissism
and narcissists and start taking our
lives our souls and our world back thank you