Deborah Hill Cone: You're so vain you think my hobby's about you

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Everyone needs a hobby: the Hedgehog Rescuing League, stand-up paddleboarding, whatever.

My hobby is studying narcissism. I live in a good place for this. I go out to bars filled with those women who get blonder and thinner and wear more jewellery as love tokens. Absit iniuria verbis (no offence be taken please).

I go to Les Mills. There are lots of "somatic" narcissists there - people who generate "narcissistic supply" (a pathological or excessive need for attention or admiration) from their bodies. Politicians are usually cerebral narcissists who get their narcissistic supply manipulating others with their minds.

Insert a big apologetic shrug here: I'm acutely aware there is a vast difference between manifesting a few harmless narcissistic traits - yes, I posted a picture of my new Acne leather jacket on Facebook - and actually satisfying the criteria for a full-blown pathological condition of NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

According to the DSM-V (shrink's bible) the narcissist lacks empathy and is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others. The paradoxical thing is that people who have real NPD don't realise they do. So this can give the student of narcissism a secret birdwatching vibe, being able to spot details that others don't. See that guy over there with the statement glasses talking loudly about his property development: NPD or just a shithat? And don't forget that all male achievement is ultimately just a courtship display.

But even if that loud man had NPD, you wouldn't want to tell him. It is a very depressing diagnosis. If you lack empathy, it is like being colourblind; there's nothing you can do about it.

My hobby of narcissism-investigation comes into its own during election year. I thought maybe I would vote for the candidate that seemed the least narcissistic. No dice. All politicians crave narcissistic supply, yes, like sharks crave blood.

And be aware narcissism is not necessarily about being flashy. Lovely Leila Harre with her grey hair could be just as narcissistic as posh Jamie Whyte with his elite status-signifiers: ad captandum vulgus (appeal to the crowd).

But by their nature politicians need their image of themselves, as virtuous, as caring, as perfect, to be mirrored back to them by others. When this doesn't happen, they will turn on the people who criticise them and engage in "splitting".

This is another narcissistic feature where narcissists see things as all-good or all-bad. In order to maintain their image of themselves as being all-good they need to see the other as all-bad.

Sam Vaknin, a physicist with an IQ of 180 who has accepted his diagnosis of NPD, believes narcissists have lost their "true self", the core of their personality, which has been replaced by delusions of grandeur, a "false self".

The narcissist pretends his false self is real and demands that others affirm this confabulation, "meanwhile keeping his real-life imperfect true self under wraps".

Oh, I'm aware in a Carly Simon You're so Vain way there may be more than one Warren Beatty-type who will read this and think this column is about them. It's not. If anything it's about my own battle with my narcissistic tendencies.

What is this column itself, if not an attempt to generate some narcissistic supply? Check out the picture of me on the byline with this column: what a show-off (and I don't really look like that). Although the good news is if you worry you are a narcissist, you probably aren't.

So what can one do to try to be less narcissistic? I don't really have any easy answers. Even the things which one tries to do to be caring may just be sneakily ego-gratifying exercises. "Look at me and how empathetic I am!"

My latest theory is to try on a day-to-day basis to be just a little bit less grandiose. To choose to listen to my heart, rather than my ego. I am trying to accept that life will unfold in a way which may not be to my liking, but that I can be less of a special snowflake about it. There is a theory for this called Radical Acceptance: you don't have to like or even agree with something to accept it.

So maybe the only answer is to try to be aware of your false self and, even for a brief moment at a time, to make the choice to be real.

There is always someone who wants to confiscate our humanity, especially politicians. Don't let them.

- NZ Herald

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