Category: Lisa Iris Written by Lisa Iris Views: 1148
The myth of Narcissus has never been more relevant; his presence is everywhere in our self-obsessed, image conscious culture.
To keep up with the Kardashians, first subject yourself to every esthetic procedure possible. Then script, stage, produce, promote and monetize what was once personal and sacred, to grasp your 15 minutes of fame. Extra points for jumping on the Bandwagon Du Jour! “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up!”
Celebrity shenanigans, political posturing, social media - and our own lives – begin to make sense when viewed through the lens of Narcissism. Thanks to growing awareness of this personality disorder, we’re more adept at spotting gaslighting: that dizzying rabbit hole of grandiosity, duplicity, denial, deflection, false and conflicting narratives, future-faking, blame-shifting and slander that plague our social and intimate interactions.
As ever, an ancient myth lays the foundation for understanding this phenomenon.
It’s All About Him!
Who was Narcissus, and what of his lovelorn nymph? Our story begins with Echo because she wasn’t always a shadow of herself.
In the forests of Mount Helicon, Greece, lived the wood nymph, Echo. Beautiful and good-natured, she was befriended by other nymphs, admired by Apollo and pursued by Pan. Above all, she was a gifted storyteller. Zeus, King of the Gods, convinced Echo to share her entertaining stories with his wife, Hera. This served as a distraction while he indulged in sexy-time elsewhere. When Hera learned of Zeus’ deception, she punished Echo with a curse: she could never again express her thoughts but only repeat the last words of others. Now shunned by former friends, Echo wandered desolate in the woods until she spied the hunter Narcissus, with whom she fell deeply in love. And that is when her misfortune truly began.
Narcissus – Fatal Beauty
Narcissus was the son of a river god and water nymph, and was blessed with great beauty since birth. As an infant he was brought before an Oracle, where his mother asked if he’d live a long life. The Oracle replied, “Only if he does not come to know himself.”
As a young man, Narcissus was sought after by women and men, and in his arrogance, he rejected them all. Narcissus was especially cruel to Echo, mistaking her words for weak-minded mockery. Broken-hearted, Echo fled into a cave and wasted away until all that was left was her voice, haunting lonely and empty places.
Echo wasn’t the only fatality. The youth Ameinias was also spurned, and fell on his sword in despair – a sword Narcissus had given him. Aware of lives cut short and the trail of broken hearts, the Goddess Nemesis decided enough was enough. She led Narcissus, thirsty after hunting, to a pool where, leaning in to drink, he became enraptured with his reflection. As Narcissus reached out to the beautiful youth, the image slipped through his fingers. Narcissus remained by the pool until he wasted away from unrequited love. The wood nymphs came to bury him, but found instead a bank of white and yellow flowers by the water’s edge.
Grey Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
This subject seems a strange and sorry choice of myth for November, with the holidays just around the corner. However, Narcissus is alive and well and there’s one in every family!
Holiday dinners and office parties make it difficult to avoid the personality disordered. How do you remain calm and emerge unscathed after being trapped with Narcissus?
Imagine yourself as an anthropologist on a field trip, or a student of myth, watching an archetype in action. There’s protection in recognizing a playbook or observing a drawing room farce. There’s a nod, wink and hopefully a smile to be had.
If your guest is a charismatic Narcissus, luckily, you’re blessed with the life of the party. Fun, charming and socially savvy, he or she will read the room and work it like a pro. It’s a performance, perfected over the years, but the good times will roll. On the flipside, if your guest is a wounded Narcissus, be prepared for icy glares, enigmatic smirks, smoldering silences and volcanic outbursts! This type of Narc has a penchant for commandeering conversations, relentless one-upmanship, remarks intended to provoke, contrived grievances and aggressive displays. If all else fails in their quest for dominance, they’ll p*ss in your fireplace on their way out the door, as did the artist Jackson Pollock!
Silence is Golden
There’s power in silence, neutrality and non-engagement.
Grey Rock is one method for defusing a narcissist, by showing minimal reaction. Don’t stir the pot, don’t poke the bear. This year, give Narcissus what he loves most - the sound of his own voice (shades of Echo!) Silence is an anathema to the narcissist but it’s easy to conduct a non-conversation: it’s a monologue that’s taking place. Your opaque detachment - Grey Rock - provides an audience the narcissist equates with boring, and they’ll move on. Congratulations – you escaped being ensnared!
There’s a predatory vibe, when Narcissus looks over your shoulder, zeroing in on a more promising target walking into the room. According to myth, Narcissus is a hunter. If you should hear above the party’s din, an instant replay of The Wonder of Me, have a good laugh!
It may hurt when Narcissus walks away, or looks through you. Your empathic self is wired to share confidences, gossip, make naughty jokes and enjoy human connection. But whatever you disclose may be used against you – as a source of belittlement, manipulation and deliberate misinterpretation - should the relationship go south. Keep your heart and sanity intact. Narcissus, incapable of truly loving others, can’t give what he doesn’t possess. His emptiness is not your burden to carry.
To frame narcissism as Villain and Victim, Us and Them, misses the point. We all possess a spectrum of narcissistic traits, activated by circumstances. It’s a matter of degree.
Narcissus’ problem is an inability to have authentic, uncalculated relationships. Self is the sole point of reference. Confusion and suffering stems from the narcissist’s skill in simulating emotion, in making the right responses in pursuit of an objective. The narcissist may come to believe their manipulations are sincerity - hence their success in acting, politics, religion and business.
Living with Narcissistic parents or siblings may confer delusions of specialness – the family operating like a cult. Behaviors are learned, traits are possibly inherited. The dysfunctional family curse is passed down, but the self-aware narcissist, cognizant of past damage (such as failed relationships, addictions or poor life choices), might seek to understand and rein in their destructive behavior. It’s a life’s work of soul-searching and healing.
Let Narcissus find a therapist – it’s not your job.
If myth is an archetypal blueprint, then the narcissist cannot change their nature. The empath, if lacking boundaries, becomes an engulphed, invisible Echo: isolated, devalued and without his or her voice. Those who are like Narcissus, are profoundly alone in their self-absorption. Trapped in a façade, their idealized self eludes capture, while everything real passes by. Spare yourself an exhausting drama. You deserve joy and love, not a power struggle.
“A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”
About the Author:
Lisa Iris is an artist and proprietress of MYTHOS Art and Counselling 289 High St., Fort Erie, ON. Her artwork is represented exclusively by crystalwind.ca and is featured in The Crystal Wind Oracle by Antonio DeLiberato.
Lisa enjoys opening her home to kindred spirits for conversation and for making magic happen.
Artwork: “Echo and Narcissus” by John William Waterhouse, (1903) Public Domain.
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