Does Narcissism Make Good Writing?
Let’s Start With Narcissus…
There was a young man named Narcissus who was good looking, but loved nothing more than hunting. When a mountain nymph named Echo saw him, she immediately fell in love.
She followed him for awhile, and Narcissus eventually sensed someone on his trail (any good hunter would).
He called out, “Who’s there?” But she only repeated back to him, “Who‘s there?”
When she finally had the courage to approach him, he turned her away coldly.
Heartbroken, she faded into nothing more than the sound of her voice echoing in the mountain valleys.
But this Greek blockbuster doesn’t end there…
The Goddess of Revenge, Nemesis, wasn’t pleased (with a name like that, that’s the last Goddess you’d want to piss off). Turns out she doesn’t like hubris. After all, Narcissus could have at least gotten to know Echo a bit more, even if out of common courtesy.
So, Nemesis led him over to a pool where he saw a reflection of himself, and immediately fell in love. There, he wasted away for the rest of his life gazing at himself, an image that could never love him back.
The conclusion comes at the end of the story, but first some context…
Today, a narcissist refers to a person who only cares about themselves, usually to the detriment of all around them.
But do the traits of a narcissist sound familiar to most writers? If so, what’s going on here? Is it possible such traits can be used for good?
Let’s find out…
The 9 symptoms of narcissism made functional through writing…
Writers see the life and events as so grand they feel the need to capture it with letters to preserve and share the insights. If they didn’t find life, or even themselves, so grand. Why bother?
#2 Excessive need for admiration.
There was once an extremely wise man who had been through many trials and tribulations yet still always emerged triumphantly, each challenge only making him stronger. One day he appeared on a mountain and told the “7 Sacred Truths” (yeah, they had listicles back then).
Everyone there was changed from that moment on and began to live richer, more productive lives. But when he and his audience died, the wisdoms died too.
There was another extremely wise man who went through the same stuff, but he wanted to impress an empress in a nearby nation (he had a “need for admiration”) so he wrote down the words, put his name on them, and posted his wisdoms around her town. The words were copied down and went on to help millions over many lifetimes.
#3 Superficial and exploitative relationships.
The dysfunctional narcissist uses people romantically, and that’s a big no-no. But to have “superficial relationships” for a writer can simply mean good networking for writing gigs. And everyone knows it’s “no strings attached,” so no harm done.
#4 Lack of empathy.
Most writers start life with too much empathy, able to see and feel life through the eyes of many. But successful writers learn how to rein in this emotion.
When I was a new reporter, I had to cover a truly heart-wrenching story of a sweet young girl who was dying of cancer. She had her last wish fulfilled of meeting a famous country music star (Miley Cyrus’s dad, Billy Ray, to his great credit).
I was told that my article brought a sense of eloquence and reverence to the event, and then I had to cover her passing. But it was so much for me, I felt so worn down I needed time off…
Now, I realize a successful writer must not be a slave to any emotion, including empathy. For all I did by backing away from the grief I experienced in covering such a story was preventing my words from perhaps bringing solace to another.
Writers can still do everything we can to help, but don’t need to get lost in the grief.
#5 Identity disturbance.
This relates to how narcissists have fragile egos, they don’t like their fabricated reality disturbed. As writers are often paid to “fabricate reality,” they also don’t like those realities disturbed (from a screenplay to a novel to an ad). But it does go deeper, as most writers have fragile egos, and the ones who say they don’t usually have the most fragile egos of all.
#6 Difficulty with attachment and dependency.
Most of writing is sharing intimate things with readers in a “no strings attached” arrangement, with none of the guilt.
#7 Chronic feelings of emptiness and boredom.
Words can transform the mundane into the magical, an awkward meeting into laughter, a sharing of souls into love. People who are hunky-dory with how “reality” is don’t need to do that, so they don’t become writers.
#8 Vulnerability to life transitions
Anyone who has to make a living from writing can tell you how vulnerable of a profession it is. In my case, with more than me to support, I also work as a web developer. But even still, life transitions are not my cup of tea.
#9 A suicide risk.
This is no joke. From Ernest Hemingway to Sylvia Plath, even great writers take their own lives. I’ve been to the bottom as well, most writers go there because of seeing and feeling the full spectrum. Just realize, that’s actually a gift! The best teachers are ones who’ve been to the bottom and eventually rose back up to help others. The strongest people aren’t those who have avoided adversity, but those who gradually conquered it.
Does this mean all writers are like narcissists?
No, generalizations always fail to capture reality. Writers are just as a diverse group as any trade.
But do writers have more narcissistic traits than other professions? Sure, because writing can be a lot like acting and singing or any other work that may require self-reflection. The key is to then turn that into compelling copy.
Now, back to our character, Narcissus…
After falling in love with a reflection that could not love him back, Narcissus died. But something sprung from the ground next to that pool where our tragic character passed: a flower … called a Narcissus, more commonly known as the daffodil.
So the story is saying, that if transmuted and resolved, narcissistic traits can turn back “outward” to serve others, even like golden flowers heralding a new spring.
Or, if that sounds just a bit grandiose, well now you know why…
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