Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Since writing last month, I have noticed myself feeling heavier. But things constantly ebb and flow, and that reassurance has been helpful, as the current atmosphere is intense causing me to feel overwhelmed.
While reflecting on why I am feeling this heaviness, I have uncovered what is at the root.
Witnessing so much extreme narcissism play out publicly, especially when so many are suffering emotionally and physically, seems to be activating my sadness and feelings of melancholy.
Narcissism has always affected certain individuals and groups; however, I feel strongly that these personalities are finding greater comfort in their toxic narcissistic behaviors, mindsets, and goals during a highly vulnerable time for most of us.
A high-functioning narcissist is nondiscriminatory in terms of who and when they hurt someone. Their ability to consider how others might feel and function is not part of the equation and will likely never be.
In my experience, a forceful narcissist will always find someone who might be less grounded. This provides them with an opportunity to serve their often insatiable needs to dominate others and situations. The needs of a narcissist are constantly shifting, making it very hard to ever please them on any lasting level.
Narcissists are everywhere and won't be going anywhere. And as a therapist, I understand that it is my job to approach them, as with anyone else, with informed empathy and sympathy.
As with any other mental health disorder or personality disorder, I continue to assess narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder using a spectrum-based mindset.
Utilizing a spectrum model in understanding mental health has helped me see various conditions and how they may correspond to emotional traumas, unsupportive past environments, and an overall root feeling of insecurity or not feeling emotionally worthy.
I am encouraging all my readers and those who want to understand the diverse dynamics of mental health to also adopt a spectrum-based approach to mental health.
A spectrum-based approach to mental health allows mental health to be less stigmatized because more than we want to admit it, we all fall somewhere on the spectrum of most mental health disorders.
Whether it's depression, anxiety, or even narcissism, we all have some experience being in these spaces. Another reward that comes with embracing this way of examining mental health disorders is to garner a greater understanding of how healthy and unhealthy levels are at each end of the spectrum and what that looks like.
When we comprehend that the lower and middle end of the range provides balance, we can see how the end of the spectrum often represents very unhealthy and possibly toxic situations and personalities.
I believe that we all fall somewhere on the narcissistic spectrum, and I know that we all need to be (healthy!) narcissists when it comes to surviving and thriving in this world. When we have a goal that helps us get to where we want to be, when we practice self-care, and when we are aware of our emotional boundaries, this can be viewed as healthy narcissism.
When narcissism becomes unhealthy, we can actively see how a person's need for physical and emotional domination often makes them their own worst enemy and makes it hard for them to peacefully exist in any community.
The film The Lion King is a timeless representation of the benefits of healthy narcissism, as well as a perfect example of the dangers of unhealthy narcissism.
Mufasa was the Lion King when we began this story. He was kind, wise, and full of dreams for the future. He had a phenomenal ability to connect to all the animals in his kingdom without judging or thinking that he was better in any way.
He was also confident, and he needed to rely on his natural confidence in order to be the most balanced and fair king that he could be. He used his faithful lion confidence to rule with authority, but he never abused his power. Everything Mufasa did was aligned with making his animal kingdom the safest it could be, so that everyone felt welcome and purposeful.
He was a leader who put others first and possessed an awareness that others might not always be capable of. Mufasa himself saw the dangers of the malignant narcissist, and it was perhaps growing up with one as a brother that fueled him to cultivate his fair and kind ways.
If Mufasa was a healthy narcissist, then his brother Scar embodied how unhealthy narcissism can be rooted in evilness and danger. When we first see Scar, we can automatically see his narcissism at play. As he is playing with and tormenting a mouse when his brother visits him. Mufasa is upset that Scar chooses to blatantly not attend the presentation of the new lion prince, Simba. Scar is apathetic, because it's not about him, and his fractured ego can not tolerate itit.
He has very little ability to empathize with others. His desire to be king dominates his personality, making it seemingly easy for him to abuse others as he finds fit.
Although Mufasa and Scar are brothers, they could not be more different in the way they treat others and themselves. The showcasing of two narcissistic lion brothers can be seen; however, their narcissism is intrinsically different, enabling them to have vastly different experiences with their power and impacts on their environments.
Mufasa was narcissistic, but he did what was best for the whole community within his kingdom. Scar could not do this; his insatiable desire for control and power was much bigger than his desire to lead with integrity and fairness.
As a therapist, I can safely assume that Scar had many emotional "scars" that kept his unhealthy narcissism alive.
I have always heard that life imitates art and vice versa. A modern-day representation of the differences I see between Mufasa and Scar also fits the narcissistic characteristics of Andrew and Chris Cuomo. We can see within this story that here again are two narcissistic brothers; however, the levels of their narcissism are vastly different, highlighting how each brother functions within the world.
Chris and Andrew again are brothers, and we can employ an informed understanding to examine how both lie on the narcissistic spectrum.
I have always been somewhat entranced by the Cuomo brothers, often thinking of them as sources of positive power where nothing negative or narcissistic was in the mix. I think many of us felt like this and felt the safety that each brother seemed to create. I genuinely admired both, probably too much, so the realization that I was misguided in thinking that neither one was on the narcissistic spectrum was shocking to me.
Chris has always been someone who I felt was authentic and honest with his energetic presence. He has empathy, and I can feel it, making it even harder to grasp Andrew's lack of empathy.
Andrew was able to hide some of his narcissistic features while being in a place of great power. Though many could say that he was a deserving leader, instrumental in New York's COVID response, the later evidence of his ability to abuse others and not exercise awareness and accountability symbolizes his malignant narcissism.
A malignant narcissist is on the highest end of the spectrum, where there is great potential for that personality to harm and abuse others. In many cases, a malignant narcissist's ability to spread their selfishness and lack of empathy can be compared to a toxic, cancerous tumor that can spread everywhere it can.
These tumors spread their toxicity, impacting others while making themselves bigger than anything else. It's no surprise that many malignant narcissists have a team or army to do their dirty work. Scar had his hyenas, and Andrew has his many aides and lawyers who have enabled his narcissism to continue, even when it is detrimental to all of them.
Chris is on the spectrum too, and that's okay. To report the news to close to one million people throughout the week requires him to have narcissistic features. I believe, however, that he has greater awareness of his impact and treats this responsibility with respect. Chris uses his narcissism in healthy ways, and I think that his brother's narcissism has harmed him. Recovering from a narcissistic relationship, whether it’s with a partner, friend, or family member, is challenging, and I am wishing him and his family well in there healing.
The women who came forward are courageous, and their healing from this highly narcissistic exchange needs to be prioritized. When a malignant narcissist abuses someone, it takes a tremendous amount of strength and self-agency for this individual to find ways to face the abuse and their abuser.
Again, as unfortunate and damaging as it has been, this story can help to show us how narcissism works on many different levels. Healing from any form of narcissistic abuse is a long journey, but it does happen, and it can later be seen as a representation of resilience.
I feel better knowing that this is a space where I can write about issues that I see happening correlated to poor mental health. By shedding light on these issues, I always intend to help others advocate for their mental health.
Whether we are dealing with a Scar or a milder narcissist, let us always remember that we have the resolve and conviction to separate from anything that is not serving our mental health.
Till next month, please take care and know that you are seen, heard, and valued more than you think.
Hillary Schoninger LCSW