Subjectivity, Objectivity and Narcissism

Subjectivity and Objectivity

In any observation there is a subject and an object. The subject is the person observing the object and the object is an actual object or another person.

Every observation has a subjective component, an objective component, and an interaction component.

The subjective component is the part of the observation that can be attributed to the subject. We can isolate the subjective component of the observation by having the subject observe a variety of objects and finding the commonalities between the observations.

The objective component is the part of the observation that can be attributed to the object. We can isolate the objective component of the observation by having a variety of subjects observe the object and finding the commonalities between the observations.

The interaction component makes up the remainder of the observation. It is the part of the observation that cannot be attributed solely to the subject or the object but represents an interaction between the two.

Here’s a helpful mathematical analogy. Let’s say that an observation is a function of the subject and the object.

observation = f(subject, object)

Now let’s define this function.

observation = subject² + 2*subject*object + object²

The subjective component of this observation is the subject² term since this is the part of the observation that can be solely attributed to the subject. The object component of the observation is the object² term, and the interaction component is the 2*subject*object term.

Identity and Narcissism

You decide what you do, other people decide who you are.

There are two types of identity: internal identity and group identity. A person (generally) has one internal identity and as many group identities as groups they are a part of.

A person’s internal identity is how a person sees themselves.

A person’s group identity is how the group sees the person. This identity is defined by roles and categorizations. For example, someone who is part of a friend group may be considered the funny weed dealer, where funny is a categorization and weed dealer is the person’s role in the group.

Someone with a solid internal identity has defined their internal identity based upon their abilities, preferences, and patterns of behavior that they learn about themselves through experience. This is essentially what the person can do (abilities), wants to do (preferences), and will do (patterns of behavior). If they have defined themselves in this way, their internal identity is independent from any of their group identities.

Let’s say someone is a top ski instructor at the local ski school. To the students and employees at the ski school, this person is a skilled ski instructor. On the weekends the ski instructor skis with a group of experienced backcountry skiers. If he or she has no problem transitioning from “top ski instructor” to “amateur backcountry skier”, this is an indicator of a solid, independent internal identity.

The degree to which a person’s internal identity is coupled with their group identities is the degree to which they are suffering from narcissism. Stated in another way, the severity of a person’s narcissism is the degree to which a person’s view of themselves is linked to other people’s view of them.

This definition is my systematic breakdown of narcissism as described by The Last Psychiatrist. I did my best to break it down in a clear, structured manner based upon my interpretation of his work and personal experience.

Combatting Narcissism, Take 1

I am going outline here out to combat narcissism in accordance with the definition I gave above. In the next section I will go over The Last Psychiatrist’s recommendations.

Combatting narcissism, according the the definition given above, is a matter of decoupling one’s internal identity from one’s group identities. The way to do this is by developing an internal identity based upon what you do, want to do, and will do. That is, your abilities, preferences, and patterns of behavior.

This type of internal identity is purely subjective. No, subjective here does not mean based on opinion. Purely subjective here means that the internal identity is built from patterns that have been observed across all your experiences. The more varied and numerous your experiences are, the stronger your internal identity.

Building a solid understanding of your abilities requires you to do a wide variety of activities in a variety of contexts, again and again until you start to see a pattern of competence.

Building a solid understanding of your preferences requires you to expose yourself to a wide variety of stimuli for an extended period of time until your start to see a pattern of preference.

Building a solid understanding of your patterns of behavior requires you to put yourself in a wide variety of situations and immerse yourself in a wide variety of environments for enough time until you start to see patterns in your behavior.

The key here is to balance variety and volume. No variety with lots of volume only tells you about yourself in that particular context. Too much variety with too little volume won’t give a large enough sample size to confidently identify patterns.

I realize this recommendation is very abstract and unlikely to be helpful in most situations. A more practical translation might go something like this:

  • Abilities: If you’re only doing what you’re good at, expand your activities so that you spend more time doing things you’re not good at.
  • Preferences: If you spend all of your time in a comfortable, agreeable setting, put yourself in a new or uncomfortable setting every once in a while.
  • Behaviors: If you can predict almost exactly how your day is going to go, put yourself in a situation where you’re unsure how you’re going to react.

Combatting Narcissism, Take 2

The Last Psychiatrist has several posts about combatting narcissism. The common thread in these posts is that you can only start to curb narcissistic behavior if you are doing it for others. Trying to combat narcissism for your own happiness in mind simply reinforces your narcissistic tendencies. If you want to do it correctly, you have to be doing it for the right reasons, and if you’re doing it for the right reasons, you’re already on your way there.

But what if you realize you’re not doing it for the right reasons? Then fake it — that is, instead of pretending to be the person you think you are, take on a role in someone else’s life with their well-being in mind.

Can Narcissism Be Cured?

Instead of trying to stop playing a role — again, a move whose aim is your happiness — try playing a different role whose aim is someone else’s happiness. Why not play the part of the happy husband of three kids? Why not pretend to be devoted to your family to the exclusion of other things? Why not play the part of the man who isn’t tempted to sleep with the woman at the airport bar?

I am nervous about recommending “the Classics” because it sounds contrived and pretentious, but anything that has withstood the test of time and is not something that was created to be consumed by current narcissist adults is as good a place to start as any.

Do the opposite of what the narcissists did. They wanted to know enough to fake it. They read just enough to use the book to build an identity, so they read about books, but not the actual books.

If nothing else, reading will keep you out of trouble: every moment reading those books is a moment not doing something your current adults created for themselves that you’re stuck with by default.

The Other Ego Epidemic

A little egomania isn’t a bad thing, especially if it spurs you to be better at whatever you’re supposed to be better at. Thinking you’re the best kid on the playground is not nearly as destructive as thinking you’re the only kid the playground. If you don’t believe me, try it.

But you think you’re the best? Good. Get to work.

“Help me, please, I think I’m a narcissist. What do I do?”

There are a hundred correct answers, yet all of them useless, all of them will fail precisely because you want to hear them.

There’s only one that’s universally effective, I’ve said it before and no one liked it. This is step 1: fake it.

You’ll say: but this isn’t a treatment, this doesn’t make a real change in me, this isn’t going to make me less of a narcissist if I’m faking!

All of those answers are the narcissism talking. All of those answers miss the point: your treatment isn’t for you, it’s for everyone else.

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