“Let’s talk about me…”

There is a lot of talk about narcissism. People who used to curse a swindler now debate whether he is narcissist or sociopath.  Does everyone want to be a psychologist?

To my psychological mind a lot of what we now call narcissism is the mere ‘pathologizing’ of traits from the familiar list of the Seven Deadly Sins. Nothing new is plaguing us. We are merely emerging from a bewilderment of choices and riches–the perfect storm of consumerism. Terrible greed corrupts us beyond measure and jealousy makes us murder. Shakespeare knew this.  So did Chaucer. Before the DSM IV was invented we knew what it meant to be sound of heart and body. Now, lust is ‘addiction’ and we are all ‘powerless’.

What’s up with the psychobabble?  As a psychologist I find it frustrating—it draws attention way from real suffering. The game of pathologizing may derive from the media publication of psychotherapy—from Analyze This, to The Sopranos, to The Treatment. People in therapy are fascinated with the other side of the couch. Having watched and read about it, they become armchair psychologists.  Perhaps it is easier to be be sick than wrong or admit you have made a mistake?

Before we label people narcissistic we have to ask what values our culture of acquisition embodies? We are the people who adored Donald Trump as he pointed his scrooge-like finger and pronounced: “you’re fired.” We loved the idea that others didn’t make it. We still revere reality TV shows in which only one man or woman survives.

The culture of loneliness dangles objects up before us to consume and then we are called materialists. If we feel terribly lonely despite our millions of Facebook friends; we may believe we are have ‘borderline” personality disorder. If we become frantic to perfect ourselves through a bit of Nip and Tuck we may be called ‘hysterical.’

This is, again, an anxious and hopeful time. We have a new President. Women are working. We are poised to think mindfully about our lives.  We may remain terribly separate, ordering pizza and Netflix galore. Or, I hope, we will understand that we need to be known.

We can learn the name of the women or men who sell our coffee, wrap our flowers, the local grocer.  We can teach our children how to prepare a meal, and write or draw. We can make time for the joy in dailiness, study the ways of making our homes and lives a haven. E.M Forster once wrote, “Only connect.”  He was right.

Photo credit: Cliff. Painting by William Merritt Chase.

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