In graduate school, I had to do a small assignment in a human behavior class; apply a song or poem to a theoretical perspective. I love a wide variety of music so that assignment was like asking a kid to go out and play at recess. I chose to look at Transpersonal Theory, and Pearl Jam’s “Unthought Known.” I examined how the song delineates Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs leading to a Peak Experience which one hopes would stay long after the moment ended and change how one navigates the world moving forward.
Along these lines, I can’t think of a song that exemplifies narcissism, the way I have come to understand real, run of the mill narcissism, more than “Behind Blue Eyes,” by the Who. People with traits along the spectrum of Narcissistic Personal Disorder lack the capacity for self-reflection which is necessary to make positive changes and grow. They are unable to see themselves clearly, to understand how their actions and words impact their worlds, and having no central ego of their own, they are stuck in a way, remaining trapped in their suffering, needing others to determine who they are. As they constantly look for support and fulfillment outside of themselves through others, causing confusion and pain to those that care about them, they too suffer, yet they have no insight and cannot attribute any questionable behavior to themselves. Knowing something is wrong, but being unable to attribute it to themselves and look within, life is a series of painful experiences and troubled relationships. This also exemplifies the defense mechanism of denial. True psychological denial is a basic defense mechanism used to protect the vulnerable ego from fracturing. In terms of evolution, it is akin to the survival instinct, but in this case, as in all psychological defense mechanisms, it is employed for survival of the mind or the ego. At the heart of narcissism there is person without a fully formed ego going through the world as a self-centered three-year old looking for parental approval while simultaneously striving for independence. Can you empathize with the emptiness and suffering which must be present in a grown individual who is the emotional equivalent of a stunted three-year old and lacks the capacity to really see or understand this forever limiting their ability to connect on an emotionally mature level?
When we think of narcissism, images of Hollywood and rock and roll come to mind, of individuals seeking adoring masses and believing they are some glamorized false image instead of a real, flesh and blood person, of grandiose CEO’s and business leaders who make their own rules and hold themselves above standards the rest of us live by, of serial killers and cult leaders. While that may be one aspect of what narcissistic disorders encompass, I’ve come across more of the everyday variety who aren’t so obvious in their narcissism, yet are equally incapable of a full range of emotions and suffer endlessly for it. They live largely lonely, unfulfilled lives, and always look outside of themselves for happiness, yet can never achieve or maintain any sort of real peace or contentment.
Give it a listen, and tell us what you think.
by Michelle Sicignano, LMSW
Staff Writer, SJS