Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Important Stuff

Narcissism as natural self-love is a good thing, essential to survival. It's what makes us value ourselves. It's the root of our instinct for self-preservation. In fact, humans don't have a corner on the market. Animals have a healthy self-love too. In his seminal 1914 essay on narcissism, Sigmund Freud called narcissism "the instinct of self-preservation" found in "every living creature."

In infants, narcissism is critical to survival, and some failure of it to develop may have something to do with unexplained infant deaths. For example, as I mentioned above, their narcissism is what makes baby birdies stick their heads up out of the nest every time Mother comes near, stretching their gaping mouths wide and chirping their heads off. They are crying, "Feed me! Not him, not her — ME. Feed me!" Any baby birdie that doesn't do this well enough is going to starve. Thus the infants of every species compete with each other and run Mother ragged, so that she forgets her own needs in preference to theirs.

Their heavy dose of narcissism is what delights me no end about dogs. I think that's because their healthy, natural, good-natured narcissism is in such stark contrast to the malignant narcissism I have had to deal with in other people. Each dog thinks he or she is the greatest dog in the world.

They prance and strut and show off like crazy. And they will dominate just about any other dog, no matter how large. They will dominate you too if you don't watch out. They are entitled to and demand your attention! Now! And they know how to get it. They will get it by making you mad, if necessary. Nothing around here can be louder (and therefore be the center of attention) than a dog.

Them's the rules. Cairn Terriers for example have minds of their own. They won't do tricks to please you. Or for a treat, no matter how tasty. In fact they sulk at the offer, looking at you as if to say, "What do you think I am? a prostitute? Take that treat and eat it yourself. I ain't gonna do what you want just to get it." So, to "train" a Cairn, you have to persuade him to do what you want by making it a game in which he wants to do it to show off, because it's fun. Which is why he can never be loose — because if some varmint comes along, he won't care what you say: he's going after it. You can sort of train him to come when you call, but he will have to remind you first (by heading the other way for a moment) that he's coming only because he wants to, not because you told him to. I love it.

But malignant narcissism is perverted self-love. In fact, it isn't really self-love. It's self-hatred. The person "suffering" from NPD hates himself and loves his IMAGE instead. He makes it look good the easy way — by making others' images look bad by comparison. That makes him a predator on the image of everyone around him. Everyone.

So, at bottom, the nature of the narcissist is the nature of a predator on his own kind. The importance of that fact cannot be overstated.

The brain of a predator just does not relate to the living soul of its prey. If you don't believe this, just watch PBS. Watch the behavior, and look into the eyes, of predatory animals while they're making a kill. There's nothing there. They are like machines at that moment. They must be, or they couldn't do it. In other words, Nature has equipped them with hard-wired circuitry in the brain that takes over the moment prey is sighted when they are hungry. It suppresses what we could observe in that animal only a minute earlier while it was playing with its siblings or a waving leaf on a twig, tenderly nuzzling its offspring or mate. Perhaps it was even grieving over the death of a member of the pack. But that's all gone the moment it sights prey while hungry. Then suddenly it's a killing machine.

It likes killing. Nature has endowed it with a taste for killing as necessary equipment for its survival. It even considers killing fun. Which is why we sometimes see in nature killing made sport: Chimpanzees (who don't eat meat) will gang-up on and attack a monkey, cruelly tearing it to pieces and having a blast over its heart-rending cries. Killer whales sometimes play with baby seals like a cat plays with a mouse. Wolves sometimes bring down and eviscerate prey they feed on the guts of until it dies and then walk away. Sorry, that's just the truth. Humans are animals too and have that same predatory mode. Nature endowed us with it as hunters. It's in everyone. But in narcissists and sociopaths something has gone haywire. They go into this mode against their own kind. And they are permanently in this mode against all their own kind.

Why? Because they don't view themselves as of our kind. They are of a superior kind. They think we are here to feed them, just as we think cattle are here to feed us. Correction: we do (or should) treat cattle humanely. We don't relate to them as objects like narcissists relate to us = like we relate to bugs or plants. Compared to us, narcissists are gods. Alien beings.

They can't help it. They are not to blame for feeling this way. Today the prognosis is poor. There is little sign of any real success in treating these people. Those who commit prosecutable offenses are repeat offenders — such as pedophile priests, sexual predators, and serial killers. They get this way as children and demonstrate it by torturing animals or murdering other children on a whim.

Though they can't control their temptations, they can control their conduct. And this is what competent psychiatric care might help them with. It can show them better ways to deal with their problems, making them resistant to temptation.

And a lion tamer can walk into the lions' den. But they are still wild animals, so he can never be sure they won't give in to the temptation to attack the prey tantalizing them beyond their power to resist.

We don't morally condemn those lions for being lions. And the only thing more stupid and useless than morally condemning narcissists for being narcissists is trusting them. Don't tempt them. Just because a pedophile priest has behaved for the last five years doesn't mean he won't finally lose it and eat another altar boy. Indeed, it's cruel to tempt him daily thus! You wouldn't wave a bottle of whiskey in front of an alcoholic, would you?

I don't see what's so difficult to understand about this. Talk therapy isn't the answer with PREDATORS. We must do whatever it takes to minimize or eliminate their access to vulnerable prey as targets of opportunity. Period. For ever. Let's get a clue already and stop dangling bait before their eyes.

There are many ways to do this: prison isn't the only one. For example, don't let him teach school or be a police officer. Don't give him power over his fellow employees. Don't elect him to be President for Life. Don't let him live off his parents until they die. Don't follow him on a purge to cleanse the Holy Land. And if he steps over the line whack him, so that he thinks twice before doing it again.

And, especially, let's stop passing this curse from generation to generation by subjecting children to narcissistic parents. It takes the consent of the non-narcissistic parent for that to happen. So, just because your mother or father put up with it doesn't mean you should.