A Man’s Narcissism – Part I
By Terry Malloy
The impetus for my writing this three part blog series, “A Man’s Narcissism”, is because it is a rare opportunity for women, including my teenage daughters who I love more than life itself, to get a firsthand glimpse into the behavior of a male narcissist. The term “narcissist” is an overused and in many cases misplaced description for a “self-centered” person. The reality is that Narcissism ranges from a healthy human level, all the way to a personality disorder, caused by emotional injury and fragility. The larger reality is that the downstream effect to women who encounter a male narcissist in the course of their lives, may be emotionally injured themselves by these self-absorbed, fragile men. My intent here is to equip women with this knowledge and signs to look for in their relationships.
The notion of a healthy level of narcissism is real and necessary in order to live a happy and well balanced life. Most people may not be aware of that. The word “narcissist” itself, however, resonates very negatively in society… and for good reason. Healthy narcissism doesn’t stand out, it’s perceived as self-confidence. However, negative narcissism presents itself much differently; over-confidence, grandiosity, exaggerated achievements, bragging -- these are just some of the signs. Take note women, a man with these characteristics may have some underlying and potentially harmful and hurtful inadequacies.
What You May Not Know
The seeds of a man’s narcissism come from feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame and injury. It’s not from self-loving but rather from self-loathing. Narcissists possess an ego so fragile, that it can be injured by the smallest interpreted slight. Trust me, I know. I’ve been there. I had spent thirty years of my adult life, first constructing and then nurturing a false self. Building a façade of a man that was successful, handsome, intelligent, suave, worldly, and brimming with confidence.
The interesting part of all of this is that I didn’t even realize that I was doing it. It was a defense mechanism to help me feel equal to others. All I knew was that it felt good when people recognized this façade as the real me. Underneath, I was still fragile, inadequate, guilty, shameful and injured. The image was a cover to hide all the injury, shame and depression that simmered beneath.
Foundation of a Facade
As a child in grade school, I was an under-achiever, wore thick glasses and was very shy. My parents never really got along with each other and were both self-absorbed, carrying a lifetime full of their own baggage. I was never abused but I was neglected, most of the time left alone to develop my own little world that I would escape to quite often.
As a teenager in the mid-70s, I didn’t have much going on for me. I made friends easily but I was still an under-achiever with thick glasses and no idea about the future. I come from a blue collar, middle class upbringing that didn’t provide me with much guidance. By now though, I had developed a pretty deep inferiority complex.
The Early Signs
Then, all of the sudden as a senior in high school, my now wife asked me for my senior photo. I had already had a crush on her but was way too scared to approach her. But right after this, I was crazy in love! I began to “idealize” this incredible girl just for wanting to know me. Ladies, this is a “hidden” red flag. While you may feel great to be so admired, put on a pedestal, to be told how loved and beautiful that you are, it is not normal to occur so quickly in a relationship. It may feel so right at the time, that you may overlook it. Remember that he may likely have drawn you in with his manufactured image to make you feel lucky to have landed him, which may have weakened your defenses.
The genesis of these profound feelings so early in a relationship, may unfortunately have less to do with the great things make you who you are, but may have more to do with his lifetime of inferiority. You may have simply entered into his life at a time when he is in need of “narcissistic supply” (affirmation, admiration) and in return, he has put you high on a pedestal. The danger in this type of “hasty love” is that it may be very fragile – a metaphorical house of cards.
The thing to be mindful of in a situation such as this is that the idealization that he has for you, which had surfaced so quickly -- can also change completely, in the blink of an eye, with the slightest injury to his very fragile ego. This is called “Splitting” or black & white thinking. There is no in between. This is a central defense mechanism for a narcissist. They will do this to defend their brittle self esteem. If you find yourself in this position, it should give you pause to think about the mental stability of this man and the overall health of your relationship.
In the Next Installment
In my next installment, “A Man’s Narcissism – Part II”, I will detail a 30 year period of my life from 19 to 49 years of age, which I refer to as my “Material Years”. I will identify additional signs that you may relate to, which could indicate that you may be in a relationship with a narcissistic man.