There is a downside to reigning in these narcissistic impulses: When I encounter fellow narcissists flouting rules—the Alec Baldwins of the world who continue to play Words with Friends even as the plane goes into a kamikaze nose-dive—I erupt into monumental tizzy. On a recent flight I found myself indignantly buzzing the stewardess and ratting out adjacent teens who were tweeting and chirping to each other on hand-held devices, even as the plane was ascending. I am wearing my narciss-Spanx, restraining and containing my horridness; why can’t you?
Another unappealing narcissistic trait I have battled is forgetfulness. Hard-core narcissists lack the empathy that helps motivate us to remember stuff like, for example, the names of immediate family members. A highly narcissistic pal recently got a call from his sister. She sounded a bit blue. With a cracking voice she announced that “Ernie had been run over by a car.” After commiserating about the death of a person he took to be one of his nephews, and commending his sister on her stoicism, my pal hung up the phone. It was only after checking family photos that he realized that Ernie was the old toothless geriatric family beagle, and NOT his nephew, whose name he had been too self-involved to retain.
The lazy recall of narcissistic patients has many therapists of my acquaintance wringing their hands in agony. They dread the tedious sessions wherein these patients rehash slights and traumas for the umpteenth time, oblivious to their glazed-eyed listeners. Here comes Patient X with that same annoying old grind about how mummy humiliated him by picking him up in her dorky Volvo after a Rush concert.
Anxious as ever to proactively minimize the more alienating narcissistic tendencies, I strenuously attempt to unfurl fresh material when visiting my psychotherapist. In the workplace and at home, I make hernia-busting efforts to retain the names of others. This has always been a huge challenge. Like my above-mentioned pal I am quite capable of conflating pets and beloved children. For many years I combatted this problem by calling everyone “Blanche,” even my male colleagues. At first people would be delighted. Then, once they heard me refer to others as Blanche, their narcissism would kick in: “Wait! I thought I was Blanche!”
If you think you might have a problem in the narcissism department and are looking for verification then take this narcissism test at Psych Central.
At the risk of sounding narcissistic, I am proud to say that I scored a 32, which puts me in the Miss Piggy stratosphere of narcissism. (A score of 12 to 15 is average. Celebrities apparently often score around 18.) Please post your scores, along with a record of your post-test thoughts and emotions, on the comments page.
If you score high, then here’s some advice: Come out as a narcissist. Just being open about it and aware of the problem will make you seem like less of a self-obsessed nightmare. Remember, back in the ‘80s, when people would proudly announce that they were hypoglycemic? Suffering from that mysterious and fashionable complaint made them seem special. Now it’s the turn of Mr. Narcissus. It’s time to drag him out of the shadows and claim him as our own. We can make him the new syndrome du jour.
Let’s end with a great narcissi-tip from Miss Piggy:
“For the thin look, buy clothes two sizes too large. For the glamorous look, choose plain-looking dining companions.”
Also see our Magnum Photos gallery on narcissism.