On Narcissism

“I've been arguing with my wife. My kids are flunking school. I hate my boss and my job. I got back problems, high blood pressure, and my dog has diabetes. Do you have a sliding scale?”

”Johnny is going through something. We don't know what's going on with him. He won't clean his room or do his homework. He's been getting angry and talking back. All he wants to do is play video games all day. I'd like to drop him off and have you take a look at him.”

Our American society probably has the highest expectations in human history. We really do expect to find deals, short cuts, or a pill to fix our marriages, our jobs, and our kids. We expect that we can get something for nothing and, thus, escape the work required to improve our situations. Weeks ago, while on the presidential campaign trail, GOP front runner Donald Trump was asked by a reporter who he consulted with on foreign policy matters. He said, "I talk to myself. I know a lot." 

From the client who desires a therapist fix all of their problems, for a reduced fee, to the parent who believes psychotherapy is like auto repair, or the politician who thinks he can govern the United States of America without input from others, narcissists see red when their expectations are not met, when they are handed a reality check that really does require payment.

Narcissism seduces therapists, too. It's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking one really does heal people. In one forty-five minute session, a therapist can think he is really going to say something that will alter the destiny of a client who has been sabotaging himself for years. It's easy to forget that psychotherapist collaborate, facilitate, and communicate, but they don't actually lay hands on and heal anyone. Years of training and experience can cause a therapist to overestimate how skilled he is, and underestimate the tenacity of a client's problem. For talk therapists, narcissism can lead to doing more work than the client, or it can make one personalize the client's progress (or lack thereof).

Narcissism is at the heart of wanting what we want, right now. Inflated by grandiosity the slightest difficulty can puncture our sense of who we are. We can get angry at the world for not complying with our expectations and become disillusioned with our partners, our kids, and our jobs.

When our narcissistic fantasies go unsatisfied we don’t just get disenchanted. Our unhappiness can trigger behavior straight out of a reality TV show: rudeness, defiance, anger, profanity, dishonesty, belligrence, whining, and aggression. "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" have nothing on us. Just look at the current election campaign.

There's no easy way out. No one is going to save us from our own self-centeredness. When life fails to bow to our expectations, we have to accept it without turning into jerks.