In the popular American sitcom Big Bang Theory, one of the lead actors is very eccentric but his character is a hit with audiences.
As the curtains fall on one of the longest show to ever grace our living rooms, and as the issues of mental health awareness continue to form part of our daily conversations in the country, it is difficult to ignore this character played by Jim Parsons.
What particularly stands out is his inability or unwillingness to empathise while demanding to be treated as special.
BELITTLES HIS FRIENDS
He will usually say mean and hurtful things to belittle his friends. He believes he is the smartest and looks down on the others’ qualifications even though they are all on the same level in their various fields.
He also acts selfishly and yet expects his friends to meet his every whim at whatever cost, regardless of the inconvenience. This strains relationships around him. His best friend and roommate seems to bear the brunt of it.
He has struggles with relationships with his close friends, at the work place, with his elder brother as well as with his long term girlfriend who eventually becomes his wife. Could this character have been narcissistic?
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is one of those mental disorders that can easily be dismissed. This is because unlike other mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia or substance abuse an individual with narcissism is usually fully functional and even a high achiever.
Like in the character mentioned earlier, NPD involves an inflated sense of self – grandiosity.
People with NPD believe they are special and unique and so everyone should listen to them and do whatever they want.
They completely refuse to see things from another person’s point of view. The problem comes in when they are opposed, criticised or given negative feedback by colleagues or loved ones.
They go into a rage that is usually not commensurate with the magnitude of the issue at hand. They use anger to coerce and manipulate others into submission.
Narcissists usually use threats and sometimes physical violence to impose their opinions on others. More subtly, they may also use manipulation.
This person tends to play psychological games such as lying, gas lighting or projecting their weaknesses on to their victim to make the other person doubt their sanity.
This together with constant put-downs lowers the victim’s self-esteem giving the person with NPD an upper hand in the relationship – whether it is spousal, parental, platonic friendship or at the workplace.
Research supports both genetic and upbringing as contributing factors causing NPD. So, could you be raising a narcissist?
As a parent or guardian, one needs to watch against excessive praise or excessive criticism to children.
Both of these extremes have been associated with children growing up with narcissistic tendencies.
Children growing up in an environment with excessive praise and admiration for good behaviour, perceived good looks or achievement -- being treated more special compared to their siblings or peers, end up with a sense of entitlement, expecting everyone to treat them superiorly.
On the other hand, children that grow up constantly being criticised develop fragile egos and later in their adult lives become very sensitive to any form of criticism.
GHOSTS OF THEIR PAST
They live life trying to run from that ghost of their past, trying to prove they have the ability to ‘make it’ and therefore unfavourable feedback or criticism triggers emotions of not being good enough.
It is therefore important to balance between affirmation and reality while raising children.
Second, it is important to teach children how to empathise from an early age. Instead of forcing them to apologise when they hurt someone else, it is more helpful for them to understand why they need to do it.
In the same way, instead of forcing them to practice sharing for example of toys or snacks, it is crucial they understand the significance of kindness and being humane.
They get to grow up with the understanding that other people do get hurt just as they themselves do and that also have needs just like them.
Third, children can also be taught age appropriate anger management techniques.
It is easy to ignore such emotions in children not realising that when a child adopts negative ways of handling anger from when they are young, it only gets reinforced and thus snowballs as they get older.
Amani Counsellors work at the Amani Counselling and Training Institute which strives to promote mental health in the society through clinical services, training and tailor-made workshops and seminars. Do you have a question for Amani Counsellors? Please email: [email protected]