As I’ve written previously, one way of understanding narcissism isn’t as “incessant, adoring self-regard,” but instead, as “the centrality of the regulation of self-esteem in the conduct of one’s life.”
This is me.
I emerged into adulthood with the twin convictions that I’m worthless/undesirable, and that the only way that could be disproved would be via the endless demonstration of women’s desire for me (see my core fantasy). Through my thirties, I was equally attached, paradoxically, to the fear that I might learn myself not to be worthless/undesirable, and so, even as I compulsively set out to medicate that feeling with sex, I ensured its continuation by paying for that sex, inoculating myself thereby against the possible conclusion that a woman actually desired me.
In my forties, I seem to have made some strides with regard to all this. I no longer respond to unwelcome emotional states by paying for sex. I no longer feel the need constantly to reinforce my own feelings of worthlessness. I seem to have discovered some of the pleasures in allowing myself to be desired authentically. And the chasm in my soul that is my sense of worthlessness and undesirability may not have vanished, but for the most part, most of the time, it feels less… chasm-y.
But as I write at the top of the post, I am, unquestionably, a narcissist. When my self-esteem is low, I often feel an almost physical hunger to acquire evidence that I’m not the undesirable, worthless man I feel myself to be. And conversely, when I’m feeling desired, not only does that sense of worthlessness recede – my ego, my self-esteem, leap.
I want to be clear that this isn’t, in any way I see, particularly related to what I’ve been writing about confidence and arrogance lately (though if I’m smart, I’ll remain open to the possibility that I’m wrong here, that maybe this lady doth protest too much).
Something I’ve observed in recent months is the volatility of my narcissism. If, for a moment, I feel desired – because of the attention I’m receiving from one or seven women – I may be buoyant. My posture is erect, my expression confident, my breathing deep, my perception acute. But all it takes is an e-mail, a text message, a word, to dash that all to hell. One little blow and my chasm opens up a bit, my breathing quickens, my chest tightens, and my perspective narrows. (Incidentally, I also become more selfish, quicker to judge, quicker to anger.)
The other night, I was chatting with a friend about this, and she asked me just how quickly this cycle can run, how volatile it is. I counted up and realized that, in the month of March (which is almost over, but not quite done yet) I’d been back and forth twice – high to low to high to low, and back to high again. She seemed almost incredulous.
Is there a lesson in all this?
Truth it sounds more like shades of bipolar disorder. You perfectly describe my oldest in this.. the feeling worthless, unworthy, not good enough to the swing of I am all that and a bag of chips.. painful terrible swings that break his heart and ego in a swoop. One word, one gesture and boom the bottom opens and down he falls.
Oh, except no depression or mania. I think it a disservice to our friends and family with bipolar disorder to leap from relatively run-of-the-mill emotional volatility to full-blown mental illness. I’ve known both mania and depression, and am lucky never to have suffered either.
During young days, I had self-esteem issues because people around me liked to tell me I’m stupid or silly, but as I grow older, I realize that there is no exceptionally clever or stupid people, each and every of us has our own sets of strengths and weaknesses.