In this article I show you why some of the conceptions of narcissism are fallacious and I will propose a new perspective on narcissistic tendencies.
Narcissism should be re-conceptualized as social defeat resistance behavior, an attempt for an individual to prove they are not deserving of social defeat, advertising one’s pros and diminishing one’s cons.
This is a clip from an article about narcissism. Notice that the author admits having a failure of empathy/theory-of-mind regarding people who appear to have faulty empathy/theory-of-mind. Somehow this is paradoxical. This is because we fail to empathize with those who are different and this describes how the author views people who are different from her. Try to imagine what it’s like to be a mollusk, this proves exceedingly difficult compared to imagining what it’s like to be a human. Even imagining what’s it’s like to be a dog is easier but far from the simplicity of virtualizing another human in your mind. It is obvious that humans are not simpler than mollusks, but somehow virtualizing humans is far more doable.
This sort of conundrum is a problem for a lot of mental health, quite an ubiquitous problem in fact. The way we pathologize many conditions is probably a result of a failure to comprehend the perspectives of these individuals. Consider autism, a disorder we often see as a failure of theory of mind, all while professional mind theorists still struggle to understand the subjective experience of autism. Perhaps autists do not inherently lack an ability to use theory of mind, but instead there is a fracture in the comparability between themselves and others, perhaps their nervous system behaves just differently enough to produce experiences that progressively deviate from the norm, pushing them out of normal culture due to being outcast for their deviant reactions to stimuli, dropping out of culture, being left behind to such a degree that they can’t relate to society and vise versa. I’d expect even a degradation of regions associated to theory of mind to occur simply do to nonuse. It is the case that neurotypicals would similarly not engage in theory of mind towards the autistic, viewing them like a strange creature or alien, much like in this initial quote.
We become tribal, racist, bigoted often times when confronted with humans who appear unimaginably different. With racism we may perceive the cultural and socioeconomic outcomes of a race and assume the behaviors or tendencies are purely and arbitrarily linked to their race rather than as a byproduct of complex circumstance differences that have shaped the person. The ones who are more exposed to differentness may develop skills in abstracting and understanding differences without identical overlaps of experience or state of mind. The mollusk is so simple yet incomprehensible to our theory of mind, revealing that we don’t process other minds based purely on observing their minds but by comparing it to our own.
The way that left and right politics both attack each other and assume their own superiority is an analogous or even almost identical dynamic between the narcissist and society. Both the left and the right fail to empathize with each other and might perceive each other as cold and un-empathetic. It is anger or perceived threat that seems to turn off our empathy, which is valuable for survival as you don’t want to empathize and submit to your attacker. Political party tribalism is similar to the example about racism above, we generalize and link many behavioral tendencies arbitrarily to the tribal affiliation. In the case of those who are at risk of social defeat, consider that their tribe is themselves, the lone individual who is up against the rest of their society. It may not always be an entire society, but a small tribe may have created the context that feeds this dynamic. The narcissist and those at risk for social defeat would be under the spell of perceived threat. The very fact that narcissism is stigmatized will spur attempts to justify one’s emotions and behaviors. The diagnosis itself is a form of invalidation, it is a statement of brokenness on the ‘afflicted’ individual. Once perceived threat causes a withdrawal of empathy, others appear cold, evil, inhuman. Once the others see this loss of empathy, they too will lose their empathy, viewing the defensive person as an enemy.
Outside of this dynamic, people are also conditioned to not give empathy to narcissists as part of our culture, while the narcissists are often begging for it and trying to induce jealousy or attempting to signal desirability “look what your missing out on” or “I’m too good for you anyways” yet too desperately, too impulsively, fiending for empathy like it’s cocaine. Most of us do not think to praise someone who is boasting excessively. Culture tells us to deprive the narcissist of any validation. Shame him. He’s too greedy. But it’s actually a sort of validation deprivation disorder.
I’ve observed that disagreement and nonconformity in general invokes narcissistic reactions on both sides. Those who become defined by these reactions become compelled into further defending of their ideas and behaviors, and ultimately labeled the narcissist. The habitual responses of the narcissist paired with the habitual reactions to narcissism by society that are normalized by our culture perpetuate the dynamic loop between the narcissist and society. Even when they find new friends they have lingering habits and insecurities and an expectation of criticism and rejection from prior conditioning that will ultimately escalate into true criticisms and rejections once again. Their fears/traumas/Pavlovian conditioning will manifest into reality.
Disagreement on the consensus side of the debate will appear as a defense of the crowd, the person defending the majority may appear as the hero speaking for the masses. It comes off as selfless or at least something that people dismiss without noticing the similarities to narcissism because of the different social context, and importantly, a bias to empathize, justify, and rationalize the position of those who we relate to. In essence, we retain our theory of mind for those we agree with, which allows us to fully relate to those on our side, to humanize our team members. In toxic narcissistic relationships, this humanization is found where lovers justify the narcissistic behavior of their partner. Love has the opposite effect of anger, where love creates a bias of understanding and anger creates a bias to prove that the person is irrational or incomprehensible. Understanding and empathizing with someone who is dangerous to us would result in our own demise. Imagine that a robber breaks into your house and you understand that they are going through extreme hardship and desperation and you forgive them in the moment and allow them to take your stuff.
Those who attack a narcissist will appear to have many of the narcissistic traits during the interaction which will often be unnoticed, almost hilariously so.
This comment from Instagram reveals one of these humorous interactions. The original post that this person is replying to was not an insulting post but something portrayed academically (an infographic post), although of course expressing information that supports veganism which is against their tribe, the Paleo dieters. This is most fascinating because there is a stereotype of vegan narcissism or elitism being employed as an attack and this person is calling others ( vegans) mentally deficient, irrational, and evil. This all implies that she is superior and seems to be very narcissistic and ultimately quite hypocritical. This connects back to the first clip, where vegans are the alien robots from another planet in this scenario, at least to the nonvegans. This alienation and stigmatization of veganism is deprivation of validation. The mere idea that veganism is considered invalid by the majority is inherently a risk factor for a defensive narcissistic response from the vegan when in conflict.
Its worth noting that when a minority identity is heavily criticized by majority society, there is a serious problematic dynamic that occurs. Being nonvegan means going about society without feeling threatening by about 98% of society (the percentage of nonvegans) while the vegan tiptoes on eggshells around the majority of society (98%) who they are conditioned by constant conflict. Basically every meal as a vegan sitting among nonvegans can feel tense and strange. People have a lens expecting tribal conflict or subtle insults which drives paranoia on both sides. This has been my experience with going vegan. Both sides will fear that gossip occurs behind closed doors. Gossip seems narcissistic as well. But again, the majority side will consider their gossip as reasonable while seeing the enemy as unreasonable. Veganism is typically a socially defeated culture.
Genes that are linked to nonconformity and linked to ‘openness to experience’ are also linked to psychopathy, which has overlapping characteristics with narcissism like grandiosity and low empathy. Both are personality disorders under the umbrella of “dramatic personality disorders”. Although I found no associations in the research between narcissism and openness, there does seem to be an association to low agreeableness. It would seem that having ideas that diverge from the norm would have similar effects of having oppositional political viewpoints, or result similarly to the case shown above with veganism. The difference would be that the deviant narcissist isn’t inherently a part of any tribe but simply latched onto some nonconformist opinion in which the deviant may be the sole representative of their opinion, and in the case of narcissism may often be habitually defending opposition to their opinions or behaviors. To the outsider this appears as if the narcissist believes they are always right and everyone else is making inferior choices, a very similar pattern to vegan stereotypes. Common vegan stereotypes include the belief that they feel morally superior or more informed on ethics, health science, or environmental science. The tribe is pressuring conformity while the low agreeable types are defending their nonconformity and attempting to justify it.
Those who react most impulsively to disagreement may be most prone to becoming the narcissist because of the dynamics that will unfold. Others may be equally as narcissistic on the inside, but the impulsive ones will act without regard to the consequences and fall prey to these social dynamics. Quickly they become the scapegoat of the situation, it is something like a game of poker. People hold facades of high status and the impulsive ones succumb to their most natural instincts, making them appear brute-like.
There is this concept that is often touted known as the narcissistic supply, a sort of ego fuel to protect the narcissist from feeling bad. I believe everyone needs narcissistic supply but most have a secure source of it while the narcissist behaves in shameful ways that results in deprivation of their supply. It is like having cooties. Sometimes people lack narcissistic supply because cooties causes everyone to reject you and then you become a validation beggar. The impulsiveness that is associated to the personality disorder could be because it is our first instinct/impulse to become desperate. Beggars of money who scream and cry would most likely get the least money while the ones who exercise a lot of self control and low impulsiveness will be able to gain money.
Genes would not necessarily be the primary mechanism of becoming narcissist, but simply being different and having an urge to defend one’s differentness should be expected to manifest in the personality disorder. The defensive tone will quickly have one responding insecurely and viciously towards others, asserting their rightfulness in the face of conflict. As conflict becomes the common pattern, pavlovian conditioning causes more immediate and habitual response to conflict, and an increasing bias to perceive even the most subtle conflicts, essentially developing skills in conflict detection, or the infamous hypersensitivity to criticism that is common to narcissists. Those who are not conditioned like this will see the narcissist as paranoid and unreasonably sensitive to criticisms. It is something like a PTSD, a hyper vigilant response to criticism to detect future criticisms more quickly and efficiently, ultimately making one look like a hostile, defensive, insecure, and reactive type. Those who become familiar with the narcissist will form their own kind of PTSD-like response, developing skills in detecting defensive reactions. Both sides may begin to undergo power plays, poking, or trolling after becoming aware and bothered by these tendencies. The outsiders will poke at the narcissists ego, feeling justified, while the narcissist will boast as if to make others feel inferior.
We often see the internet as a breeding ground for narcissism but the reality is that the internet is a platform that streamlines conflict and different opinions, which ultimately manifests into the tribal dynamics I’ve proposed in this article. Narcissism is a natural response to conflict. Prior to the internet, ideas and memes would pool locally and geographic cultures would tend to be more homogenous, with ideas slowly changing on a gradient as you travel outward. The method for ideas to travel is word of mouth or telephone. People generally associated with the locals rather than many long distance associations. The television is an exception to this, a platform for popular culture but of course this medium is heavily censored. We see the culture of today is obsessed with being uncensored. The Internet dissolves these limitations and allows for the locality of ideas to diffuse. This results in a lot of conflict because ideas are no longer changing on a smooth geographically oriented gradient, and so the pattern of idea exposure is more chaotic, people are confronted with conflict more constantly. This all facilitates the development of narcissistic traits. In the far future we might expect a new popular culture that is more homogenous than our current state of society.
It appears that this pattern of narcissism could be extremely common and nearly universal to human behaviors, while some are consumed by these dynamics for various circumstantial reasons, such as being insulted for being insulted, which is what diagnosing narcissism by doctors or even just peers/family does. Nationalism is like a national grandiosity, responding to cultural differences. Tribalism, elitism, xenophobia, disagreement on almost any level appears to result in these patterns for many, just not always in a way that transcends the appropriate context. It is those whose identity becomes invalid that may manifest into the personality disorder.
It’s important to note that in the face of conflict there are two possible outcomes (or potentially a spectrum between two extreme outcomes):
Social Domination – Winning, superiority, grandiosity, alpha position and basically the seemingly narcissistic side of things, although narcissism could be resistance to defeat which is often times seen as cringe. This is characteristic of mania, which will be explored thoroughly in an upcoming article titled Domination.
Social Defeat – Silence, shame, embarrassment, submission, weakness, inferiority, sometimes the scapegoat (pretty relevant to the case of narcissism in which scapegoating is commonly talked about in family dynamics involving narcissists). Defeat is like psychosis and depression, which also be explored in the new article, but luckily I’ve explored defeat a bit more already!
In regards to scapegoating, it may be that the narcissist often feels scapegoated and in spite attempts to scapegoat others for revenge. I believe that schizophrenia is closely linked to narcissism except a differential outcome in the face of conflict, typically manifesting from social defeat.
My articles titled Dynorphin and Nexus are an exploration of defeat, and this battle between social defeat and winning is also a major theme in Xenotypy which explores deviation psychology. These are worth exploring to understand more of these social dynamics at play. Nexus is best to explore social defeat, which I recommend reading next!
When someone criticizes your personality or behaviors, what is your gut reaction? Is it to admit defeat and accept that you’ve been a loser all along? Or do you attempt to defend and justify your ways of being?
Comment below about your experiences, I want to hear.
We should create a culture of forgiveness that comes into play after initial backlash against immoral behaviors. We can forgive rather than apply a permanent stigma. The punishment could help generate fear of future immoral tendencies and the forgiveness can prevent social defeat sickness or narcissistic identity permanence.