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.