The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism
Growing up with the fear that your narcissistic sister might be crazy enough to kill someone is one thing a child should not be thinking about at an early age, but that has been my life. From early age, I have suffered a lot from experiencing my sisters narcissism, and some events have been scarring. The worst part of all is that in order to feel good about herself, she does so at cost of others such as parents, siblings, partners, and friends and does not seem to care. For example, my siblings and I have never felt like we have had a close relationship with her because she would be eager to blame us for her wrong doings, preferred to lower self-esteem and glorify herself, she wouldn’t control her words or emotions when talking to us, and while doing this it felt like it was her desire to make our lives miserable.
Honestly, living with her was a living nightmare because all of us, including her romantic partners, did not know how she was going to react or if she was going end up throwing plates at us. During those dark moments, some things that would have helped me understand these situations would have looking at the situations through the lenses of theories and concepts such as narcissism, social comparison, happiness, and self-regulation.
Narcissism is a personality disorder in which individuals have extremely high self-views and will do whatever is possible to keep this high self-esteem about themselves, they also have bad relationships because of these views, and if these are individuals do not get what they want then they can become violent (Twenge & Campbell, 2012). In other words, a narcissist is a person who is egotistical and cares more about their well-being than others, for example, they would much rather use people for their own benefit than have a good relationship with someone (Twenge & Campbell, 2012).
Narcissistic individuals also become aggressive and violent when others exclude them from social interactions and when someone takes a blow to their ego (Twenge & Campbell, 2012). Aside from becoming aggressive and violent, they also become angry when things don’t go as planned and they “blame others for the negative feedback rather than themselves” (Twenge & Campbell, 2012).
For many years I have tried to understand why my sister is so different from the rest of my siblings, but there may not be a full-on accurate explanation except for narcissism. Narcissism has helped to explain why my sister becomes aggressive when others try to hurt her ego, blames others for her mistakes, and she has bad relationships with almost everyone. Although, I now understand my sister’s narcissism, the concept does not explain how people get to that state. In the light of recent research by Ramsey, Watson, Biderman, and Reeves (2009), they found that narcissism is due to inadequate parenting, specifically, when examined they found that narcissism was correlated with the permissive and authoritarian parenting styles.
Looking back, I realized that this may be a major contributor as to why my sister developed narcissistic tendencies because my parents were not present most of her childhood, and when they were, they ruled with an authoritarian parenting style. Not only would my parents enforce many rules, but they also expected a lot from her at an early age. From the age of eight, she had to take care of my siblings because both of my parents had to work in order to provide for the family, so she didn’t really enjoy her childhood. This may be a reason for why she is egoistic, because she didn’t enjoy herself much as a child, so she would prefer to do so at the moment. Furthermore, although I have learned that my sister is a narcissist, there is no concrete way to help lower my sister’s narcissism as the researchers Twenge & Campbell have found. Moreover, I understand that I cannot change my sister, but I have learned a great deal from my experiences with her.
Another theory that can help explain my sister's actions is social comparison theory. Social comparison is the theory that describes how a person will compare themselves to others (Wood, 1989). Social comparison is a mechanism that has two directions—upward comparison and downward comparison (Wood, 1989). Upward comparison is when an individual compares themselves to someone that is better than them in order to strike motivation, or self-improvement, to become like that person or better than that person (Wood, 1989). For instance, if I was motivated in becoming a guitarist, I would compare myself to someone with better skills than me in order try to improve my skills to their level or better.
Downward comparison is when a person compares themselves to individuals that are lower in status in order to self-enhance themselves (Wood, 1989). For example, if a person does bad on an exam, they might downward socially compare themselves to a student that did worse on the exam than them in order to feel better about themselves. Although using social comparison sounds like a good idea, comparing with those that are similar to you may result in threatening feelings, but only for cases of upward comparison (Wood, 1989).
Examining my sister using social comparisons, there is overlap between the two. In my family, there is some difference between the way that my siblings and I socially compare ourselves versus the way that she compares herself. My siblings and I socially compare ourselves to individuals that are not part of our family, for example, friends, peers, and strangers. We can upward and downward socially compare ourselves without any problem because when we tell our family of our successes or our goals we are delighted and encourage each other because of the close relationship we have and it does not feel like a competition.
On the other hand, when Gabby socially compares herself, she socially compares herself to everyone, friends, family, co-workers, and most of the time she downward socially compares to self-enhance herself. For example, when she is downward socially comparing herself with us, she glorifies herself and all of the money that she is making now that she is a Registered Nurse and compares herself with my siblings who work as a chef, route manager, and at a school employment agency. Social comparison explains this, but would it be that my sister feels threatened by us, her siblings?
Aside from narcissism and social comparison theory, another concept that also helps better understand my sister’s behavior is self-regulation. Self-regulation is usually paired closely with self-control and it is the ability for an individual to control their behavior, mood, and actions before acting upon them (Baumeister & Vohs, 2012). An individual is responsible for their actions because they have the ability to decide which response they enact based on multiple response options (Baumeister & Vohs, 2012). For example, if your partner is unfaithful then you have the ability to choose how you respond to the cheating—burning his clothes outside in the front lawn of your house, cheating on him as well, or wait until you see your partner and communicate with them about the situation and asking them why they committed that action.
In this example a person with good self-regulation skills would regulate their emotions and communicate with their partner about the situation. Moreover, self-regulation comes in different forms, one of which is mentioned profoundly is the delay of gratification when in a tempting situation, which involves cognitively transforming hot cognitions (i.e. pleasurable situations) into cold cognitions (i.e. imaginary situations) (Baumeister & Vohs, 2012). Therefore, it has been found that the individuals that have good self-regulation skills are able to delay their gratification, thus they do better in domains such as school, work, and in social relationships (Baumeister & Vohs, 2012).
Self-regulation and self-control are qualities that my sister does not enact in her life. She is mostly driven by her hot cognitions because at times she would rather receive what is pleasurable at the moment than what could have happened when if she had waited. This makes sense because my sister will not regulate or control her actions, behavior, or mood which will result in something pleasurable for her but bad for others.
My sister will make hurtful comments in intense moments in order to get pleasure from hurting others. For example, she has said things such as “I have no family” and “I hate you” in arguments with our family. Although my sister does not have great self-regulation skills in social aspects of her life, she has self-regulation in other aspects of her life, like persisting in cold cognition during nursing school and is doing well at her job. However, I’m unsure if there can be a balance or middle ground in which an individual can have self-regulation in one aspect of their life, but not in another?
Moreover, narcissism alongside self-regulation make more sense due to a person, like my sister, not having great social relationships with people because they have bad self-regulation, thus not regulating their behavior appropriately. Furthermore, both self-regulation and narcissism combined, can explain why my sister may have had good self-regulation in school and it must have been because she wants to feel grandiose and important in the position of nurse compared to those that don’t have such a high paying job.
Aside from narcissism, social comparison, and self-regulation problems that explain my sister’s differences, I know that she just wants to be happy. What makes people happy? One thing that happiness does not come from is from materialistic things that money can buy, thus the cliche phrase “money can’t buy happiness” is accurate (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999).
Many individuals in society believe that having money and material wealth is going to inevitably give you happiness, but this is not the case. According to Csikszentmihalyi (1999), in order to feel happiness, first you would have to experience flow. Flow is an autotelic automatic experience in which an individual is whole-heartedly involved in what they are doing, they have no worries while performing the task, and time passes by rapidly without feeling it. Flow can result from anything like working in a factory to painting, but one important characteristic is that while doing the task a person should not be thinking “this is making me happy” but instead should be living in that moment of pure bliss (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999).
Happiness is what we as humans strive for throughout life, but some individuals get happiness from different things. While analyzing my sister, she has the perspective that material goods make a person happy, but as Csikszentmihalyi (1999) found, material things do not bring happiness because the person will continue to socially compare themselves with those that have more money or material things and it will turn into this vicious never-ending cycle (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999).
Might have this tendency for my sister to buy things in order to make her happy arise from being raised in a low-income community and not having money to buy things that she wanted? Anyway, my sister may feel flow from certain things like working as a nurse, but I believe that she also experiences flow from actions that she does as a narcissist. For example, talking to guys that she is not in a relationship with while being in a toxic relationship herself, she may experience flow from this action due to the timelessness and natural flowing tendency of her narcissistic nature. Moreover, I innately feel like my sister is content and happy being a narcissist because she does not regret things that she has done and she has no plans of changing the way that she is.
In the past, I used to think that I could help my sister change her way of thinking, and change the way that she treated others, but I understand now that it is impossible if she does not decide to change herself. Through these experiences with my sister, I have abundantly learned several things; not only do I understand what narcissism, social comparison, self-regulation, and happiness entails, but I have learned valuable lessons to apply in my life as well.
From these experiences that have impacted my life, I have learned to value others because we all are all social beings, that always having high self-esteem is not the best thing for a person, and that being humble and respecting others is key. Most importantly, I have learned that every self is different, so others must choose to change their self, you cannot try to change their self for them.
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