Guest Blogger: Alisa Stamps, MSS, LCSW
Who do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see your smile, your shining eyes, the incredible qualities that you bring to your life? Or do you see the “bad” traits? Maybe even the traits that were projected there by someone else. That you are lazy, stupid, too heavy, or maybe even not good enough? How do you feel about the face looking back at you? Do you feel pride? Or do you feel full of shame? Who do you see when you look in that mirror? Is it you? Or is it someone else entirely?
To answer these questions we must begin with the Greek myth of Narcissus. Narcissus was a hunter who was known for his beauty and love of all things beautiful. One day as he was walking in the woods a mountain nymph named Echo saw Narcissus and fell completely in love with him. Sensing he was being followed, Narcissus cried out, “Who’s there?” and Echo repeated, “Who’s there?” and tried to embrace him. Disgusted, Narcissus stepped away and asked her to leave him alone. Echo was heartbroken and spent the rest of her days alone until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, caught wind of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. One hot summer’s day, after many hours of hunting, the goddess Nemesis lured Narcissus to a pool of water deep in the forest. As Narcissus bent to drink, he gazed upon his own reflection and saw himself staring back in the prime and bloom of his youth. However, he did not recognize it as his own reflection, and so he fell in love with it as if it were someone else. Narcissus was unable to tear himself away from his own gaze, and after some time realized that his love could not be reciprocated. He eventually withered away from the passion burning inside of him and thus turned into a gold and white flower.
What does the myth of Narcissus have to do with what we know today as narcissism? The DSM V defines narcissism, or narcissistic personality, as a, “fixation with oneself and one’s physical appearance or public perception”. It also goes on to say that someone with narcissistic tendencies will have a need for admiration, will have a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, and will possess a lack of empathy. The terms manipulation and domination also come to mind when defining a narcissist. In order to succeed, the narcissist has to make the target (spouse, child, etc.) into an extension of themselves. This extension can pertain to both the emotional and the physical. The narcissist needs their target to believe that they are nothing without the approval of the narcissist. The narcissist will also, as is the case with many personality disorders, project parts of themself on to their target, and then attack those parts.
Does any of this sound familiar? Are you wondering if you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist in the past? Was that person your partner? Or maybe even your parent? What happens now that you’re aware of this? How do we get to the point when we can look in the mirror and see ourselves and not the narcissist? How do we recover from perhaps a lifetime of narcissistic, emotional abuse? Stay tuned as this and much more will be addressed in future blog posts. And be on the lookout for information about a new outpatient group starting in the fall, Shattering the Mirror—Support and Recovery for Adult Children of Narcissists.