|Louis Antoine de Gontaut-Biron 1757|
Included in this article are links to Ronningstam's description of "extraordinary narcissism" and Maccoby's "productive narcissism." They seem to be one and the same although I cannot say whether or not they'd agree with my comparison. There's not much literature for me to go on so I'm kinda wingin' it here, folks. Tell me what you think.
“Extraordinary narcissism is associated with genuine ability, an understandably--even justifiably--high self-regard, and largely adaptive functioning." ~Caroline Logan
"A narcissist may be either productive or unproductive. The difference is that the most productive narcissists, the ones who do change our world, have the charisma and drive to convince others to buy in to their vision or embrace a common purpose. They communicate a sense of meaning that inspires others to follow them, whereas the unproductive types retreat into their own world and blame others for their isolation." ~Michael Maccoby
Ever know one of those extraordinary/productive narcissists up close and personal? Maybe not, yet their celebrated media presence shapes everyone's lives in subtle and destructive ways: the way we measure ourselves, the way others perceive us, how we perceive and measure others. For example, tell your friends that after an honest self-appraisal, you decided to turn down the job promotion because you couldn't handle any more stress. Your job was affecting your relationships. Without even thinking, they'll say, "Oprah had a terrible childhood and look what she did with her life! Stop giving yourself excuses! You can do it!" Then as if comparing your fair-to-middling life to Oprah's bigger-than-life life weren't enough to make ya feel like a loser, your friend rambles off a list of famous people growing up on the streets, eating out of garbage cans, living in public restrooms, walking sixty miles to the nearest log-cabin school and they didn't let real-and-true obstacles like that hinder theirsuccess. They didn't go bawling their heads off to therapists when their toast fell butter side down. NO! They asserted themselves, set their sights on winning, and crawled to the top of Bunker Hill where they promptly installed WiFi to broadcast their victory.
Ordinary people are subjected to ridiculous comparisons and expectations in an image-saturated culture. American media is rife with Horatio Alger stories appealing to our Inner Wishers (the magical child) while undermining our general-state-of-happiness. When extraordinary narcissism is promoted as success because self-promoters self-promote, ordinary people feel like putzes for being contented with their simple lives. What is wrong with me that I don't have a desire to reach for the stars? I've actually asked myself that question numerous times. I'll bet many of you have, too. We've been groomed to define success in materialistic terms while lip-syncing discourse on the meaning and purpose of life, a predictable outcome when role models are Bunker Hillers.
|Peacock Profile by Edgar Maxence|
What we fail to notice is that people like Oprah are geniuses and and the vast majority of us AREN'T. I also believe an element of luck provides extraordinary opportunities and extraordinary support, although narcissists usually attribute success to themselves because of their extraordinary self-focus: their positive thoughts, powerful intentions, and other rubbishy self-admiration. In other words, people's negative thoughts, weak-minded intentions and lack of self-admiration is why they're still in the same town they grew up in with nothing to show for themselves besides a modest home, a happy kitty, dearly beloved friends and family.
Another reason extraordinary/productive narcissists can be breathtakingly self-congratulatory is because in spite of their heralded VISION, narcissists don't see the little people contributing to their success. They don't intentionally deny other people's contributions. Narcissists literally don't notice other people's contributions or the privileges they've had that other people didn't. When your hard work and loyal support isn't recognized, well...just remember it ain't personal. Nails in ladders are to be expected and should never stick out lest they prick the narcissist's Achilles heel on his/her climb to extraordinary success.
“Extraordinary narcissism is associated with genuine ability, an understandably--even justifiably--high self-regard, and largely adaptive functioning. Self-esteem and affect are mostly regulated and interpersonal relationships are on the whole acceptable although they may demonstrate more change, conflict and drama than generally featured in those whose narcissism is within normal limits. However, the risk of infringing the rights of others in pursuit of the individual’s own achievements, interests, desires and rights is elevated in those with extraordinary levels of narcissism.” ~Caroline Logan in Personality, Personality Disorder and Violence: an Evidence Based Approach (page 89)
Glue that in your Abuse Notebook.
Extraordinary narcissism doesn't mean narcissists are exceptionally healthy and confident. It means their narcissism is exaggerated without being pathological. Think of extraordinary narcissism as an exaggerated personality. Take any trait, behavior, or feeling and put a plus sign on it like heightenedentitlement+, heightened exhibitionism+, heightened individuality+ and there you have it: celebrity role models. If normal narcissism is defined as healthy self-love, then extraordinary narcissism would be exaggerated self-love+, leaving little room for loving others. This makes it easier to understand why people are hurt by extraordinary/productive narcissists who do not qualify for a NPD. The wounds can be significant+ for children raised by extraordinary narcissists.
Most of us are ambitious. We work hard achieving our goals, putting time and effort into refining our skills while also meeting social and family responsibilities. We struggle, at least I DO, balancing my desires and needs, with other people's desires and needs, often sacrificing a little bit of my narcissism, thus making more room for loving others. An exaggeration of narcissism heightening self-love, would foster exploitation, infringing on other people's rights. Especially children's right to be loved, not acquired.
"Whoever loves," Freud said, "becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism."
Self Esteem Regulation: Heightened self-confidence and self-worth, sense of invulnerability; Capacity for unusual risk taking and decision making, and to integrate unusual ideas, ideals and goals into real achievements or creative accomplishments
Affect Regulation: Exceptional capacity to feel certain feelings related to tasks or goals
Interpersonal Relationships: Heightened entitlement, ability to feel that one deserves extraordinary circumstances or endowments, ability to take on exceptional roles and tasks; Heightened exhibitionism, potentials for leadership, charisma and capacity to conceptualize and embody ideas or mission in relationship to others; Exceptional capacity for devotion
Superego Regulation: Superego regulation with exceptional ideals, high and unusual standards for performance and achievement, unusual sense of responsibility and commitment to a specific task or role (pages 72-73)
|Vrai Vanity by Katrina Rhodes|
"I overheard a conversation between a productive narcissist who is known for his tremendous work output and a colleague; the narcissist was ticking off the many projects he had undertaken recently, to which the colleague said, "Wow, no rest for the weary." The narcissist looked at him and said, absolutely straight-faced, "Why would you ever rest from what you love?" ~Michael MaccobyExtraordinary narcissists accomplish things average people never will because we won't get up at 3:00 a.m. for two hours of make-up then hair dressing to be on camera by six. We won't promote ourselves at other people's expense. Our conscience won't let us make choices productive narcissists make ten times an hour a hundred and seventy times a day. Yet in the background of our ordinary lives and ordinary morality, hums the persistent cultural message to manifest our destiny, to reach for the stars, to achieve our dreams, to BE productive narcissists. Of course, this message contradicts the values we purport to cherish. Little things like the golden rule; the eight precepts; the ten commandments; loving our neighbors as ourselves. Communal values.
Productive narcissists are visionary leaders with indefatigable tenacity and certainty, appearing to be Bigger than Life. We allow them to get away with things we deem unethical, immoral. Before we even realize what's happened, we've 'normalized' their behavior, mimicking what we see in the media because they've become our role models. (This IS the nugget gleaned from The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Culture is Seducing Americans).
But you know what? Productive/extraordinary narcissists rise to the top by doing things ordinary folks wouldn't, absolving themselves of responsibilities ordinary people can't, putting themselves first, their goals as the highest priority (for everyone--even their children) and then, after garnering a sizable audience, teaching self-actualization courses to the unwary ordinary. (please don't send hate mail. It hurts my feelings).
There is some evidence that extraordinary, productive narcissists do not experience the same sadness, anger, shame and rejection other people do. As most of us know from first-hand experience, pathological narcissists are hostile to perceived insults, even the hint of criticism. I think extraordinary and productive narcissists react too, but not self-destructively. Do they have better impulse control? A moral anchor stabilizing them? Maybe schema therapy? ha! What I'm suspecting is that they're better manipulators with extraordinary skills of persuasion--convincing people that hurting them was for their own good.
"Anyone who has big dreams and the daring to go after them, is bound to fail at one time or another. It's how a person reacts to failure that differentiates the productive personality from the unproductive one...productive narcissists refuse to acknowledge or even register their defeats." ~Michael Maccoby
See what I mean? The problems he faced would keep people awake at night, worrying about the impact of their decisions on other people. They'd be anxious about employees' pensions---the pressure would overwhelm them. So I get it. I get that we need extraordinary narcissists with such unshakable faith in themselves that they can direct companies keeping ordinary people employed with excellent benefits. But if we really need productive narcissists heading our organizations, what is OUR responsibility for holding them accountable? For countering the risks extraordinary narcissists are prone to make? As we've witnessed in the recent financial robbery, narcissists won't limit themselves. They'll go as far as they're allowed to go because they are uber-entitled. Because they are uber-special.
"The danger is that narcissism can turn unproductive when, lacking self-knowledge and restraining anchors, narcissists become unrealistic dreamers. They nurture grand schemes and harbor the illusion that only circumstances or enemies block their success. This tendency towards grandiosity and distrust is Achilles' heel of narcissism. Because of it, even brilliant narcissists can come under suspicion for self-involvement, unpredictability and---in extreme cases---paranoia. It is easy to see why narcissistic leadership doesn't always mean successful leadership." ~Michael Macoby, Harvard Review
We read about narcissists wondering where the line between narcissistic traits (normal) and a narcissistic personality disorder (pathological) might be. We want answers. People identify with the emotional and psychological damage caused by narcissistic relationships, but the criteria for a NPD doesn't fit. They can't put a pathological template on the high-functioning narcissist who maintains a job, doesn't leave a trail of broken relationships, is hard-working, loyal to his/her commitments, by all measures: extraordinary and productive. My main argument today is that while we use the NPD label to describe a range of narcissistic traits, patterns and behaviors, the person(s) we're describing may not fit criteria for a clinical NPD. That does not mean in any way whatsoever, that being raised by extraordinary/productive narcissists won't cause emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds. Children suffer when they are second-place to the parental need for admiration and power. Children suffer when agentic values are exaggerated.
I think the concept of extraordinary/productive narcissism might help us understand the "invalidation" children of narcissists experience. When asked about their family-of-origin, many ACoNs say their parents were not abusive, that people admired their parents and their family b-u-t, there's a few things that bother them, could we talk? I think this happens because had their parents been obviously ill or "broken" (as is often the case with pathological narcissists), their children wouldn't be as self-doubting, self-blaming, and confused as adults. Even though it's painful growing up with a parent who has a mental illness, the child's perceptions and feelings aren't invalidated by other adults. People agree their childhood must have been difficult and aren't they doing marvelously considering what they've been through! People would not be saying how lucky they were, what pillars of society their parents were.
Thinking about Ronningstam's description of extraordinary narcissism and Maccoby's productive narcissism may be the closest explanation we have for growing up in families that were not, according to clinical psychologists, pathological. Creating a twilight space for exaggerated narcissism may address the hurtful impact of "shiny apple" families.