One day while surfing the 10000 TV channels currently available to couch potatoes, I happened upon an episode of Jane the Virgin.
One character in particular caught my interest (in addition to the show’s wonderful Emmy-nominated narrator, Anthony Mendez). That character was Rogelio de la Vega, played by Jaime Federico Said Camil de Saldaña Da Gama. Rogelio is the quintessential narcissist. Nothing happens in the storyline that he can’t find a way to somehow twist into being about him. But he does it with such charm and grace and a ready, knowing smile and a raised eyebrow that he totally gets away with it. All we can do is laugh. Rogelio is the kind of narcissist that I long to be.
Narcissus Are Us
As the Talmud points out, we’re all narcissists to one degree or another: “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.” Because of the way our brain is structured, because of how our five senses process the energy and information of the world, it cannot be otherwise. But as brain scans have underscored, the narcissist I am is mostly a matter of degree.
Unfortunately, the kind of narcissist I too often show up in the world as looks more than a little like Donald Trump. We’re both builders, for starters. Being able to build something, to bring something substantial into creation, whether we say it out loud repeatedly like the Donald does or not, conveys God-like powers. As futurist, Stewart Brand articulated in the throes of the Hippy Sixties: “We are as Gods so we might as well get good at it.” One primary difference between God and The Donald is that God seems to have no great need to go around letting everyone know how great she is. The Donald – not so much.
Other common traits of a Trump Narcissist that I sometimes mirror include a lack of authentic empathy and a disrespect for boundaries (I’m pretty good with cognitive empathy – I know how I should feel across many social circumstances). Active narcissists tend to be free-wheeling with their arrogance and sense of grandiosity. Psychologists John Gottman and Robert Levenson cite one particularly destructive behavior that narcissists demonstrate: seeing and treating other people with contempt. For Gottman, contempt, constant criticism, defensiveness and withdrawal, are part of the “Four Horsemen of the Narcissistic Apocalypse.” Look to Trump’s current behaviors towards his fellow Republicans in the current primaries to see the Four Horsemen in flaming, living color. Happily, for me – not so much.
The Narcissism Meter
There’s a structure in my brain that serves as a kind of Narcissism Meter. It’s called the Cingulate Cortex. Those of us who most often light up the middle of the Cingulate Cortex tend to fall into the Rogelio Cohort for Narcissism. Those of us who light up the far right side of the Scale (the posterior or ass end of the Cingulate Cortex) tend to be most associated with the Trump Cohort for Narcissism. Those who tend to light up the very front part of the Cingulate Cortex fall into the Saint Realm. Their lives tend to be wholly devoted to selfless service.
But even though The Donald might be happy being a Trump Narcissist, I’m not. So, how do I transform myself from a Trump Narcissist into a Rogelio Narcissist? Three steps. 1. Recognize there’s an addictive quality to both being a narcissist and being “entertained” by a narcissist. There’s something compelling about watching flaming narcissism in action in very much the same way that it’s compelling to watch a car stalled on Union Pacific’s railroad tracks. The crash is coming and it’s not going to be pretty. Step 2. Begin paying attention to which narcissist is showing up in your own daily life on a regular basis. When my Inner Trump Narcissist is working hard to grab center stage, like a kind, understanding parent, I can gently take him by the hand and lead him back to his seat in the audience. Step 3. Mindfully practice, practice, practice.
And now, to remind you all of just how perpetually thoughtful and wildly creative I am, here’s another Enchanted Loom graphic review, this time of Lou Ann Brizendine’s book, The Female Brain.