More Thoughts on Subjectivity, Objectivity and Narcissism
You decide what you do, other people decide who you are.
Tobe Nwigwe’s Spotify bio starts off with “Tobe Nwigwe is an enigma.” That’s fine if someone else wrote that about him, but it feels a bit icky if he wrote that about himself. It’s fine if someone else thinks he’s an enigma, but if he walks around thinking, “I’m an enigma”, then there’s something wrong there. That’s a great example of “You decide what you do, other people decide who you are.”
Narcissism has strong associations in most people’s minds of vanity, self-centeredness, and grandiosity. The Last Psychiatrist’s entire point is that narcissism is not vanity, self-centeredness, or grandiosity — it is precisely what the Greeks were trying to illustrate in the story of Echo and Narcissus. Just as ”literally” does not mean what it meant ten years ago, “narcissism” does not mean what it meant two thousand years ago, no matter how great of a case one makes to the contrary.
Part of the reason (I think) that the word’s meaning has changed is that it’s difficult to summarize the original meaning in a few words (the Greeks used an entire story), whereas it’s easy to remember “vanity” or “grandiosity”. The Last Psychiatrist’s attempt at a succinct definition of narcissism is more of an indirect description: “Shame over guilt; rage over anger; masturbation over sex; envy over greed; your future over your past but her past over her future…”.
Perhaps it would be best to make a distinction between colloquial narcissism and Greek narcissism by giving the latter an alias, like “identity complex”. This way, it’ll be easy to distinguish between the colloquial and Greek versions of narcissism.
Defining the Identity Complex
The core issue behind the identity complex is that the person suffering from it is constantly trying to be something or become something. Being and becoming are concepts only meaningful to the viewer, not the subject, and describe what the subject means to the viewer. For example,
“She was a stranger to me, but after I got to know her, she became one of my closest friends.”
To the speaker, the subject starts out as a stranger and becomes a close friend. Both “stranger” and “close friend” describe the subject’s relationship to the speaker, not any independent characteristic of the subject. An identity complex arises when the subject starts viewing themselves in terms of how they relate to others and not in terms of independent characteristics. An independent characteristic might be, “I can run five miles”, which is likely to be true or false regardless of the people this person is around. “I am a good friend”, however, is true or false depending on who this person is around. Some people may think this person is a bad friend, and some may think this person is a good friend.
The severity of someone’s identity complex lies in how much they define themselves using independent characteristics (i.e. abilities, tendencies, preferences) versus relative designations (i.e. descriptive adjectives, roles). The greater the proportion of relative designations, the more severe the identity complex.
Treating an Identity Complex
An effective treatment will help the subject transition from an identity orientation to an action orientation. Someone with an identity orientation is concerned with who they are. (Am I the best? Am I a good person? Am I a righteous, morally-sound person? Am I a good parent? How do I make sure I am a good parent?) Someone with an action orientation is concerned with what they are doing and what they are going to do.
The Last Psychiatrist’s recommendation was fake it until you make it — that is, modifying the identity complex to redirect the subject’s energy towards the happiness of the people around him or her, instead of focusing on their own happiness.