I enjoyed watching a recently released DVD this weekend, called Morning Glory. One of the main characters was Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), a veteran TV journalist who loved to list his famous interviews and numerous awards. Other co-workers frequently referred to him as the “third worst person in the world.” He treated his colleagues with casual disregard and at times sabotaged others to get his way. He was divorced, had lost touch with his children, and lived in an apartment which looked like a museum. The movie was a comedy, and Mike was fun to watch because he was easy to hate. Yet, there was something very sad about him. Mike Pomeroy is a great example of a classic narcissist.
Narcissists are usually charming, attractive people. They often are successful in their chosen careers. We find them interesting and make them the center of attention. Life around them feels exciting and spontaneous. We ignore the fact that they become disinterested when the conversation drifts away from their favorite topics. We excuse their thoughtlessness and selfishness. We don't mind doing their favorite activities or going to their favorite restaurants because they are endearing. We are drawn to them. We feel special when they choose to hang out with us. Their successfulness and good looks seem to rub off on us. We are somehow “more” when we are with them.
Life is good with people who have narcissistic personality traits until the relationship becomes serious. A developing relationship begins to emphasis reciprocity and mutuality. It is no longer about what one gets from being with the other person, but also what one gives to nurture the relationship. Narcissists cannot do this well, if at all. The relationship always must be on their terms, allowing them to maintain control. They avoid true intimacy by keeping everyone at arm's length. Instead, they tend to use people to meet their constant need to be idealized and idolized. When things go wrong, they are never to blame. They rigorously defend themselves and attack others when problems occur. Once the relationship moves beyond the admiration stage, it is no longer fun to live with narcissistic individuals.
What causes this disorder? Is it environmental factors or genetics? In the next article we will define the characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder and explore some theories about how this condition develops.