Written by a psychoanalyst who specialises in the interpersonal aspects of personality disorders, “Why is it always about you?” is a piece of non-fiction that talks about narcissism, its seven deadly traits and how to handle them. The book is very informative and enlightening as it talks about why and how narcissism occurs. The birth of narcissism occurs in early childhood and every child goes through a phase of narcissism where it views its personality fused with its primary caregiver. So, whatever virtues the caregiver posseses, the child assumes it to be its own. However, if correct parenting is not provided at this age, the child would carry this narcissim ahead as a part of its personality, which would be seemingly unhealthy. This comes with a lack of boundaries and respect for others.
Narcissists often engage in shame dumping or projection. They project unwanted parts of themselves onto others to get rid of the shame associated with it. So, when a narcissist projects their shame or guilt onto you, it becomes a part of you. Instead of them feeling humiliated, you are the one who deals with the shame. But if you react to the narcissist’s claims with aggression or impulsiveness, their action becomes yours. Because the act of aggression might not be something you usually do. It is something they push you to do. To deal with a narcissist, one must assume that they are a two year old and differentiate your own self from theirs, eventually distinguishing their shame from yours. If you confront them on their flaws, they might never admit because their unconscious shame is kept unconscious for a reason and if you try to tamper with it, it might only escalate the situation. Establishing boundaries with a narcissist is a good strategy, however, the narcissist might not handle this well and might even try to intrude into your life further. If you can cut them off your life, that would be the ideal solution. But if you cannot, keep them at a distance and try and find healthy relationships instead.
Some traits of a Narcissism include false entitlement, shamelessness, arrogance, grandiosity and omnipotence. The two aspects that I really liked reading about are ‘shamelessness’ and ‘bad boundaries’. Narcissists, having grown up with parents who do not counter their bad behaviour with assurance, develop a deep sense of outward shamelessness and inward shame sensitivity. So, when they are confronted with their bad behaviour, they often tend to blame it on others and do not take responsibility for their actions. Their tendency to feel extreme shame makes them overly sensitive. Narcissists are also really bad at respecting other people’s boundaries. Since they were never taught to appreciate their “self” and they were never really taught autonomy, they tend to control others around them. For them, boundaries of others are an extension of their own self. They think it is okay to intrude into other people’s lives without their permission and make decisions for them.
And many of these individuals never come to the attention of mental health professionals. They are often diagnosed with depression, anxiety or relationship difficulties because they are so shame-intolerant to recognise their narcissism that they tend to blame their flaws on others when they are in pain. Projecting is a significant aspect of narcissism. They cannot tolerate criticism and their hurt is often expressed as outrage and blame. People who grow up with narcissistic parents are often attracted to partners with similar traits. People who tolerate boundary violations are generally those who also do not have a strong sense of separate ‘Self’ because they have been trained to accept intrusions while growing up. Others are sensitised to such intrusions and they erect rigid boundaries to protect themselves. All of us must have come across a narcissist, atleast once in our lives. When it comes to love, narcissists do not appreciate separateness. For them, merging with their loved one is necessary and inevitable. They do not allow their partner to have their own thoughts, dreams or wishes. They claim their partner to be their own and erase all personal boundaries. Narcissists are often charismatic since their love is like a drug. They seek the ones that can pump them up or the ones who can be dragged down for their benefit.
At work, narcissists use inspirational rhetoric and lofty goals to inspire and motivate employees. They don’t care for their personal needs or wants. They make them work overtime and they exploit them endlessly. Narcissism inflates with age. The thinning hair, sagging flesh and aches and pains deflate their ego. They become very hard to handle as they constantly demean others to feel better about themselves. Narcissism is not particularly treatable because to benefit from psychotherapy, the narcissist has to accept that there is something defective about their self and that is something he or she cannot do. The author explains how narcissism is not just an individual pathology but it is the social phenomena that upholds its pillars and normalises it. The book talks about good parenting and busts various myths revolving around it. One of them that interested me was the sexual overstimulation of children. Exposing kids to sex at an early age is a form of emotional incest, the author argues. Such children are more prone to become sexually precocious or may masturbate in public as a way of expressing their blurred boundaries.
The book was very informative, however, some parts got really repetitive which slowed my reading and made me skim through. Otherwise, I recommend this book to everyone who has to deal with narcissists on a daily basis!