BY NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU
My first encounter with what a ‘Narcissist’ looks like goes back to my years watching wrestling on Tv in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. There was this wrestler called ‘The Narcissist’ who spent most of the time posing before full-length mirrors before every match. The wrestler was called Lex Luger and he has been described as a muscle bully who loved to beat people down and show off his huge muscles. Like most people I have grown up with the belief that narcissists are people who are in love with themselves; individuals who are vain and bigheaded.
However over the years and after some reading I have learnt that this is not strictly true. I now know that every person has a certain level of ‘narcissism’ in them, which is acts as a natural defense mechanism; narcissism, at least in low doses, is therefore a normal human trait that is termed as responsibly taking care of oneself.
However when it goes to the extent of an egotistical preoccupation with self, personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how he/she is perceived by others, it becomes a problem, and these are the people the rest of us call ‘narcissists; a situation where natural self-preservation has been triggered into overdrive. However a true narcissist actually operates on two levels; the public façade defined by a huge self-esteem (ego) that most of us find distasteful; and a second level that is emotionally weak and with very low self-esteem. The second level is usually the true person.
This situation, which I will hereby call ‘true narcissism’ to distinguish with normal narcissism, comes about mainly as a result of some kind of long term emotionally damaging subjective experience and/or abuse. It usually starts with a significant emotional wound or a series of them, culminating in a major trauma of separation and/or detachment from ‘normal realities’. No matter how socially skilled a true narcissist is they will always have a major attachment dysfunction;-problems socializing with others. A true narcissist also seems stuck in a time wrap of a major emotionally traumatic experience.
Somewhere more often than not, in their formative years as a child or young adult, and through no fault of their own, a true narcissist lost sight of who they really are due to some traumatic experience. This failure to develop an authentic, durable sense of ‘self’ leads to them developing a false ‘self’. The end result is a situation where an outsider sees someone who is ’self absorbed’, ‘self-obsessed’,’ self-admiring’, ‘self-involved’, ‘self-ish’ etc; while in reality the real picture is someone who is consumed by a struggle to maintain a ‘façade’ that they themselves know is not true.
The machine of narcissim is therefore driven by a fundamental lack of self.
A true narcissist develops such a false sense of self worth based on an over-supply of attention, adoration, adulation, power, etc; which they know they are not worthy of. They then use these to abuse and/or slander everybody around them; showing off and putting other people down in order to make themselves feel and look good. In pursuit of the ‘recognition’ of this false self narcissists will easily self-destruct. Ironically even as they look down on others in contempt, they also treat themselves with contempt especially in how they dress and deliver on their responsibilities.
Amongst true narcissists the ‘King’ of the pile is what I will call the ‘Alpha Narcissist’. An Alpha Narcissist is loud, brash, intimidating … and scary. They stand out in any crowd not only because of this obnoxious personality but also in outlandish dress, usually colors and/or accessories. Alpha narcissists are usually extreme smart intellectuals, but they are also experts at psychological manipulation and mental abuse and whenever they are confronted with a situation that challenges their public persona and threatens to reveal their true nature, they will immediately project the situation to look like everyone else is wrong while they are right; and in fact they are being victimized because of being right.
An Alpha Narcissists grandiosity soars to such heights that when they don’t receive the attention they consider their birthright they will go to any length to get their own back at those who have refused to give them this recognition.
Alpha Narcissists exhibit arrogant behavior, lack empathy for other people, and need continuous admiration. Where the true narcissist has developed a false sense of self for self-protection, the Alpha Narcissist will use it for self-advancement, and as a defense against public scrutiny and manipulate any platform available to them to fight against anyone challenging this identity.
Psychologists say that Alpha Narcissists suffer from a condition called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and as I watch Miguna Miguna enjoy his 15 minutes of Fame, especially when compared to what happens when aides of other powerful people leave office across the world, I cannot help but wonder whether Kenyans are witnessing a true Alpha Narcissist, in action. Time will tell.