The Selfishness of Others

fear of narcisissm

The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism, by Kristin Dombek. Published in 2016. 160 pages.

I found this bizarre little book at the library and read it in an evening. I didn’t know what to expect when I started it, and am still slightly unsure what the overarching message of this “Essay on the Fear of Narcissism” was supposed to be. There were a lot of interesting insights, and the author’s concern that the Internet has turned far too many people into armchair psychiatrists diagnosing everyone who ever hurt them with a personality disorder rings very true.

Dombek convincingly makes the case that far too often,  people are able to transform their pain, a universal human condition, into blame with the right keywords and a few choice clicks. Suddenly their all too normal friends, lovers and parents are possessed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and they don’t have to own any of their own stuff.

She rightly ponders whether this desire to search out the evil in others (and the technological wherewithal to do it easily) is a problematic development. After all we can find others to empathize with us in an instant:

If you’re a herd animal, and prey, you need to be able to understand in a split second what to do: you mirror the other alpacas, not the wolves, and you run. P. 103

She also note show often the herd encourages other members, virtual strangers, to leave relationships despite not having any way of judging the accuracy of the information the “alpaca” is expressing concerns about. The craving for empathy is great:

At this point, the Internet bubbles creepily up at the edge of our view, above and below and all around us just beyond perception, glimpsed only briefly through the peephole of our devices, not some “superspreader” of individual narcissism, but a laboratory testing for empathy, even basic intraspecies recognition, at a scale and speed beyond which we have ever been capable. p.103

Smack in the middle of her treatise is the contrast of what women stumble upon when they begin these searches versus what men stumble upon. Women enter things such as “boyfriend turned cold” or “boyfriend rejected me” and are treated to comfort from fellow victims at sites such as the Narcissist Abuse Blog or How We Got Here. The number of websites and forums dedicated to comforting those whose lives have been shattered by this new “epidemic” of narcissism is massive.

In contrast and very tellingly, she asserts that men who enter the same keywords using “girlfriend” or “wife” instead of “boyfriend” or “husband” find themselves in the midst of the red pill sphere reading sites such as The Rational Male, Chateau Heartiste, or Alpha Game Plan. Sites, Dombek asserts, which teach men that in order to be the kind of men women want, they need to behave more like narcissists. While she has very little good to say about these sites or the men who frequent them, she does drop in a bit of reality; namely, that women do seem inexplicably drawn to the very men who send them clicking around online trying to find a reason why their suffering isn’t at all their fault.

She rounds out this little book with an in-depth look at both the original story of Narcissus, as well as an exploration of Freud’s studies which put NPD into the psychological forefront in the first place.

As I said at the start of this post, this book was strange, and it was pretty hard to get a firm read on what ultimate conclusions she had drawn.. To her credit however, she was clear on the fact that all this mass diagnosing of clinical personality dysfunction in response to things that are often the normal way of humans and how they behave in relationships is not a good development.

Grade: C (The writing was difficult to read at times).

Content advisory: Smatterings of profanity and very frank sex talk.

30 thoughts on “The Selfishness of Others

  1. Elspeth says:

    It is something I have seriously tried to avoid armchair psychology. My own neurosis (no I am not really mentally ill) is more than enough to keep me from trying to diagnose others.
    Also, I clicked on a couple of those narcisissism/online diagnosis sites. During our more immature years as a couple, either me or my husband could have probably found ample evidence that the other is a little off, LOL.
    But it would never -like in a million years- occur to my husband to go looking for husbanding solutions online. So I guess I got lucky.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Robyn says:

    “… often the herd encourages other members, virtual strangers, to leave relationships…”

    I’ve experienced this very thing … although not through the internet; church people, yes Christians told me that I don’t need to listen to my husband (or allow him to have any say where the kids are concerned) because he’s not a believer. In all fairness (and frankness) … this was my fault, for sharing what should have been kept between me and God. In lots of cases, I witness people sharing information because they want to be validated in what they know is not what God would have for them.

    ”…despite not having any way of judging the accuracy of the information the “alpaca” is expressing concerns about. ”

    It’s true. I see this SO often. I’m like, “Wait a minute, what about this, that, or such and such.” There’s *always* two sides to every story. I find it discouraging when I see sisters and brothers in Christ doing this to each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. annasach says:

    I still say “personality disorder” is just a fancy way of saying someone is extremely immature. It’s not as if actual psychology is much better than the armchair variety – it’s where we all get it from in the first place with garbage like the Duluth model and checklists for diagnoses. We could probably all be diagnosed with something given the constant expansion of the diagnostic and statistical manual for mental disorders. Every quirk becomes pathology. It’s quackery.

    In short, it’s mostly a load of bollocks wherever it comes from. Before anyone goes talking at length about how awful their spouse or ex-spouse is, they should consider how it reflects on them. It takes two to have a shitty marriage.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elspeth says:

    I had one or two occasions early on when people tried the “he’s not a believer” line. Usually unasked and with no reason other than they didn’t like the hold SAM had on me.

    But the “domineering” thing? Heard that. Whatever…couldn’t pry me away from him with a crowbar, LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Robyn says:

    to Els: I think creds mean “some”…. experience WITH creds is better. Loads of experience*, in my opinion, is the best.

    *loads of experience plus the counsel of a mature Believer.


  6. Elspeth says:

    I won’t discount credentials out of hand 100%, but I will discount most ’em 3/4 of the time when it comes to psychology. Psychiatry gets a wee bit more benefit of the doubt because you know, actual physiological training is included.
    But loads of life experience coupled with good fruit and maturity trumps most all psychological feeds in my book mainly because of exactly what Annasach said.
    We build an entire culture based on deification of desires, then feign shock and appall when the only fruit such seed can produce seems to increase exponentially.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. OKRickety says:

    “Suddenly their all too normal friends, lovers and parents are possessed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and they don’t have to own any of their own stuff.”

    Sounds familiar. During the separation before my divorce, I found my ex-wife had a copy of Malignant Self Love which is described as the “BIBLE of NARCISSISM and NARCISSISTIC ABUSE”. I rather suspect she self-diagnosed me to be a narcissist. After all, she couldn’t be part of the problem, could she?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Elspeth says:

    Because I have witnessed real mental illness, I find myself annoyed at this rapid increase in the tendency to diagnose everyone who says or does anything that they don’t like or which hurts their feelings. This used to be called “life with humans” or in the most grievous cases, “people suck.”

    Now it’s mental illness. But of course if your partner is “sick”, shouldn’t you offer compassion?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Robyn says:

    To Els,

    How do we define ‘mental illness’? Is this a postmodern word? I guess what I’m trying to articulate is, what do we mean when we say, “mental illness”?

    -is it something you are born with, like an anomaly
    -is it something that happens to you, as in a response to something that was done to you
    -is it something can be healed, as in an “illness” of the flu or a “broken” leg

    Liked by 1 person

  10. OKRickety says:

    “But of course if your partner is “sick”, shouldn’t you offer compassion?”

    And if you’re hurt by someone (they sin against you), you should be ready to forgive them if they repent. That attitude seems to be a rarity today, especially in marriages.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Elspeth says:

    Good morning, Robyn.

    You asked, “How do we define ‘mental illness’? As I am not a doctor, I will make it business to ask a doctor and get more learned answer.

    Ignorant layman’s answer:

    When a person is clearly and unambiguously disconnected from reality, I would argue that a mental illness is present. I know there is an argument to be made for the presence of demonic possession, and I am not at all dismissing that, but having known a couple True Blelievers who were afflicted with mental illness, I am not one who automatically jumps to that conclusion. Demonc “oppression”? I don’t know.

    Given the rapid increase in the numbers of such people over the last generation or so, and yes I have done extensive research because of concern for a loved one, I would also submit that there are environmental factors at play. Food, water, contaminants, hormones, lifestyle changes that take away naturally occurring hormonal balances such as exercise- all of this make it easier I believe for people to slip into depression, bipolar, etc. There have even been studies that have shown that girls who lose their mothers during a particular age window (9-12, pre puberty) are at increased risk of having some hormonal wiring go awry and show up post puberty relating to bipolar disorder.

    I don’t think people are born with it. I do believe it can be triggered by events that happen to you at a pivotal time of life, whether the thing was done to you or was a thing beyond human control. I do believe that in many cases, it can be healed or greatly improved. I don’t believe that current traditional medical approaches to mental health take environemtal and lifestyle factors into the equation enough. They automatically assume, that if medication alone isn’t working that the patient is either not taking it right, or need a higher dose.

    I think people who have blind faith in traditional medical approaches suffer longer.

    And absolutely, I believe that a strong Christian life and faith, environmental controls, and sometimes meds, coupled with good self- care (not a good phrase I know but it’s all I have at this early hour), one can be healed enough to live a productive, balanced life.

    Now, the reality is that we have an entire culture which -quite literally breeds the kind of behavior that our grandparents might have considered evidence of a person being a little “off”.

    It is unfortunate that when people realize something if a little “off” with themselves, they are often encouraged to find someone to blame for their issues rather than take a hard look internally.

    Conversely, to touch on OKRickety’s point, people are far too inclined to want to find a way to put people’s behavior into a neat little box that they can check off as an excuse not to do their duty to love for better or worse.

    Think about it. If you can write your mate off as “damaged beyond repair” in some way, then you are suddenly free to leave them and head off to find another less flawed human being.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. hearthie says:

    Some won’t repent… but even the mentally ill are capable of choice until they’re at the point where they should be in an asylum.

    As an example, consider those of us who get emo on our cycles. Our current culture (I agree with Els’ post above soooo much) encourages you to act out and be rewarded with sympathy and chocolate ice cream. A more Christian response is, “Oh. Emotions cycling out of control. Right. Time to find somewhere to be away from people and put my responses on lock-down if I can’t get away.” You might not be able to fix the emotional uproar – but you can make a choice about handling it.

    A solid spiritual house-cleaning is something I undertake at least annually just for personal maintenance. I’ve done them with other folks. It’s intense, there’s work to be done, but it’s NOT that time-consuming. IMO, why not go to God first, get right with Him first? Then you can deal with the invisible enemies, if they’re hanging out (invisible: can’t see ’em). If you’ve swept up and gotten right and you still have a problem, go to the doctor.

    Having habitual and/or unconfessed sin in your life is just as healthy as having a foreign object wedged underneath your skin – and as likely to result in nastiness. Consider how much worldy psychology depends on dusting out the corners of your psyche, things in your past… it’s because that stuff gets stuffed and it rots. We do that with sin, we do that with unforgiveness. And that’s the kind of stuff that leaves us open to oppression. Did I ever get you to read Bondage Breaker, Els?

    I think we should address the things we can address on our own or in the body of believers *first*, and then be grateful for modern medicine for its ability to help with the rest.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. OKRickety says:

    Elspeth said: ‘If you can write your mate off as “damaged beyond repair” in some way, then you are suddenly free to leave them and head off to find another less flawed human being.’

    I didn’t realize that insanity is grounds for divorce in many states. I don’t see that it is biblical grounds, but I know some would argue that abandonment is biblical grounds and that permanent insanity is a form of abandonment.

    “Damaged beyond repair” is a good excuse but seldom an accurate assessment. I think Jesus might suggest applying the idea of “speck in the eye” compared to a “log in the eye”.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Elspeth says:

    I didn’t realize that insanity is grounds for divorce in many states. I don’t see that it is biblical grounds, but I know some would argue that abandonment is biblical grounds and that permanent insanity is a form of abandonment.

    Insanity as a grounds for divorce is on the books in many states:

    You’re right that this doesn’t offer Biblical allowance, but many people, including many Christians (particularly in America) mistakenly cross Statuatory law as personal license.

    I also agree that DBR is seldom an accurate assessment. Few people are beyond redemption, but the ability to believe that this is the case makes it easy for people to abandon one another when it suits them.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Robyn says:

    I agree Els,

    “Think about it. If you can write your mate off as “damaged beyond repair” in some way, then you are suddenly free to leave them and head off to find another less flawed human being.”

    My own mother believed me to be “off center” because I wanted to submit to Darrell. As a couple we do and have done lots of weird and wonderful things. We’ve lived and are continuing to live a life of adventure. As an example, once we gave all of our furniture away and moved into a 17 ft trailer … in the winter LOL. We weren’t forced because of any financial hardship … it just suited us to try it.

    All that to say, I think more is revealed by the person doing the “diagnosing” than the “diagnos-ee”.

    I too, believe that people are NOT throw-away. Regardless of the state of their wreckage. I mean, you either believe in a supernatural Creator … or, you don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Elspeth says:

    Yes, I remember Bondage Breaker/ Good book for deep work.

    Contrary to many post modern Christians, I think daily confession in prayer is essential. Also, when I recently said in anger something that was out of order to a person, I made a point of confessing out loud to my husband that I knew deep down what I was doing before I did it, even though I felt like I had a very good excuse.

    I find things like that helpful for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Scott says:

    On the issue of healing (whether or not people get better, which I did not address in the response Chris posted).

    You can’t “get better” from psychosis. You can take meds that make the voices go away (or at least get quieter). Folks in categories like that are the biggest conundrum for me from a moral/religious perspective. I do a lot of forensic work these days, and the ones who come up with legitimate diagnosis in the realm of thought disorders (and some others) are found to be not competent to stand trial, and not responsible. And I agree with this. If you have ever met someone like this (the real ones are extremely rare) you will understand. There is no reason, no intact conscience (in the way we commonly understand it), no soul to connect with. At least not when they are experiencing their worst symptoms. I wonder how God will handle them.

    Everything else is on a spectrum, in terms of getting better. And the old adage that people do not change until remaining the same comes with too high a cost is actually true.

    Its important also to understand that in order to classify someone as having a disordered personality, you have to first 1. accept that personality exists, and 2. have some idea in your mind of what a non-diseased personality (functioning) looks like.

    Upon these two point there is great variation within the mental health professions. The old skinnerians (who went to graduate school in the 60s and 70s and are still around) do not believe there is a personality at all.

    I am of the belief that personality does exist, is mostly the product of very strong inherited temperament that immediately begins to interact with the environment (in utero even), and becomes less and less plastic as the person gets older. (You cant’t teach and old dog new tricks, etc).

    And then you have to map all that on to the persons MORAL upbringing, which informs them of the hard left and right limits or right and wrong regardless of their temperamental tendencies. That part is function of shared experiences (culture) and the religious/moral values of the parents and community.

    In other words, you can say “I’m Irish so I drink and fight alot, and I know that drinking and fighting a lot is not good, because my parents, who were also Irish taught me to try to hold my termper, especially when I am drunk.”

    I am now about to start a training in a particular form of equine therapy so that I have a marketable skill for the veterans who retire in Montana. The therapy will be conducted on my ranch, with my horses, and is probably not very cross cultural. I won’t get into the details, but there is a type of person is likely to benefit from that modality, and many of them live there in the area. They are cowboy/wounded vets. They respond to it because it works for them, in the context of all the above.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Elspeth says:

    Thanks Scott, for adding some further insight. (Thanks to Chris as well for his contribution!)

    I agree that we certainly become less and less able to change as we grow older and that we are born with certain personality traits from birth.

    Of course, and you hit on this a bit, we have to be very, very careful -partiuclarly as Christians- how much weight we put on that as it relates to what we expect from people in terms of behavior. We’ve had this conversation in myriad ways and from various angles, but if the Bible says that anyone who is regenerated in Christ can grow to exhibit certain characteristics (See Gal.5) then we are obliged to believe Him over our own finite experiences.

    But at the end of the day, we have a culture here that has labeled any and evrything that makes a person *happy* as accecptable. Even when such behaviors are clearly abnormal or even abhorrent. If everything is lawful except delcarations of impropriety, then where does that leave us?

    It seems to me that we are basically an entire society of mentally ill people, LOL. People who are *too kind* are doormats. People who look out for their own interests are “narcissists” if their significant others don’t like their actions, but are simultaneously “go getters” if their actions bring money and notoriety.

    It’s a real mess, and like I’ve said before, it’s kind of like the current rape hysteria. If everything is rape, then those who are the victims of actual, violent sexual assaults fall between the cracks.

    I wonder what percentage of psychologists/psychiatrists practices these days consist of treating people are more victims of our sick lifestyles and cultures than any kind of real physiological ailments born of neurological chemical imbalances.

    And I offer all this, remember, as someone who actually believs that mental illness is a *real thing*, if not as prevalent as people tend to think it is.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. RichardP says:

    The questions raised and thoughts offered in this thread are why I do the following. This little routine helps to better focus the mind of folks who don’t have a good grounding in biology and chemistry:

    There are three main types of reality:

    1. What Is.

    2. What is perceived (with our five senses)

    3. Problems created by the discrepancy between Point 1 and Point 2.

    We don’t respond to what is. We can only respond to what is perceived.

    When the difference between “what is” and “what is perceived” becomes large enough, the ability to generate a response appropriate to the moment becomes seriously compromised. We have then entered the land of “mental illness”. This gap between Point 1 and Point 2 above is caused by many things, some of which have been addressed above.


    A, How good are our fives senses at registering the stimulus? (example: the one with the higher threshold for pain is going to have a life different from the one who has the lower threshold for pain, etc.) How good are the nerve pathways at transmitting this stimulus to the brain? How good is the brain at interpreting the incoming stimulus from all five senses and generating an appropriate response? Add to this whether the lymph and hormonal systems have developed properly – as these systems are also involved in the brain generating a response to the incoming stimuli.

    B. A little careful thinking will highlight the fact that there are a multitude of places for incoming stimuli to be improperly captured, improperly transmitted, and improperly integrated in the brain. And likewise, there are a multitude of places for the response going out from the brain to be improperly formulated, improperly transmitted, and/or improperly carried out. (From registering the stimulus all the way through to final response; consider a fly landing on your forehead and your hand “automatically” swatting it away.)

    C. Focus on something close by that you know well. Look at it. Now imagine that view in your mind. Which is real? We develop mental maps of our reality. Consider the fella coming home late, walking through the living room to the bedroom in the dark. He hits something and hollers out in pain. Wife rearranged the furniture before he got home and he didn’t know. He hit something because he had a mental map of what the objects in the room looked like – and reality no longer corresponded to his mental map. That exercise demonstrates that we do carry mental maps of our daily reality. Open your eyes and see something. Close your eyes and imagine it. Which is real?

    Our ability to generate a “normal” response to stimuli is determined by all of the things discussed in Paragraphs A and B above. Errors can occur anywhere along the path from “sensing” the original stimulus all the way through to carrying out the final response. We carry maps of reality in our minds that correspond very closely to “what is” in the real world – as demonstrated by the example in Paragraph C. What is it in our brain that tells us whether we are looking at what is out there versus what is in here (in the mind)? What is real – the stuff out there or the stuff in my mind. There is a kind of mental illness that springs from the inability to see a clear boundary between what is “in here” versus what is “out there”

    Our knowledge of the biological, chemical, and electrical components of the pathway from initial stimulus to final response has become much more complete. As has our ability to measure and record what is going on with the biology, chemical, and electrical all along the pathway from start to finish. Therefore, our ability to indentify specific categories of disorder has increased as well.

    I worked in Washington, D.C as a young man and lived on upper Connecticut Avenue. Took the bus to work. A crazy man often rode the same bus down the hill into town. He was forever talking to someone only he could see. One day I was feeling my oats a bit too much. He was across the aisle and down two rows. “I know you are there. Answer me. I know you are there.” Round and round with various iterations, ending with “I know you are there.” My youth got the better of me. The next time he said “I know you are there” I quietly said “no I’m not”. He twisted around in his seat to see who was talking. “Jesus???” he asked, wide-eyed and with amazement in his voice. (My beard was quite long and bushy then.) He was not swearing. He thought I was Jesus. I couldn’t convince him I was not. Stimulus –> Interpretation –> Response. Something was very wrong somewhere along that pathway for this fella and many others I encountered on the sidewalks along K Street and L Street.

    When one learns all of the things that can go wrong and interfere with the signal from stimulus to interpretation to response, it is easy to be amazed that any of us ever gets to “normal”.

    Liked by 1 person

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