Narcissism. From the Greek myth of Narcissus, a young man so fascinated by his own good looks that he fell into the pool of water where he was admiring his reflection. He drowned.
The self. A good thing. We all have one. But perhaps the self of the mental patient has been so shattered, they need attention, and get a lot of attention from other people.
Here we have the emotionally disturbed person in all his narcissistic glory scheming for attention….
The EDP sits on the roof and threatens to jump. The EDP finds a bridge, sits on it and threatens to take a dive. The EDP is in the street, ranting and raving, stopping traffic. The EDP is having tantrums.
Everyone scrambles to attention. The cops circle, the family is alerted, the crowds gather. The EDP, the narcissist, is happy. They’ve gotten attention.
One summer day, I walked with mom and nephew on an avenue in the Northwest Bronx. There was some sort of commotion. A young woman, naked from head to toe, was in the street. An ambulance was there. She just banged on the fenders and bared her teeth at the medics.
Then she paraded, stark naked, down the avenue. Crowds gathered on the sidewalks, nobody knew what to say. There was a hint of hilarity and a hint of shock. The woman led a caravan of cop cars and ambulances down the road. She was finally apprehended, covered with a sheet, put on a gurney and whisked away to the nearest psych ward. I would say she got enough attention that day to keep her going for a while.
A cry for help? Maybe this attention-seeking is just a cry for help. A way of saying, “I feel desperate and I need someone to really look at me.”
Yet it continues after the exhausted professionals and family have done their best to surround the EDP with gifts, soothing words, a treatment plan. The EDP grabs their chance and talks everyone’s ear off. The conversation is always about me, me, me. The EDP grabs the spotlight and won’t let go. The EDP feels slighted and stops their medicine. The EDP shows up at the doctor’s house when he is on vacation. The EDP swallows just enough pills to end up in the hospital and get more TLC.
I attribute it to megalomania. A way of saying, “I am important, so important. I can’t be left alone. I can’t handle my life. So you all have to make a circle around me to make sure I am okay. Forever.”
The attention-seeking continues for years. Luckily, in my case, I just got sick of it. It was too exhausting for me. And we all don’t need Life, Interrupted.
I still have tantrums, but they are in private in front of an imaginary God figure. It works for me. I feel relieved and then go about a quiet routine of housework, laundry, reading and writing. I have a cauldron of coping mechanisms that I dip into daily.
By now, I know better. At the hospital you get attention, but you are also imprisoned, a state I don’t relish.
When the EDP is faced with isolation, loneliness, and depression, it forces him out of his shell, to learn. Learn social skills, learn job skills, learn how to drive and use a checkbook.
Learn how to get positive attention. Learn how to be recognized in a socially acceptable way.
When the EDP is faced with cold and grey, when their spirit slacks, they must put their arms around themselves and practice self-soothing. They must learn a healthy self-love. They must be their own best friend.
Peer workers and professionals are all too familiar with the narcissist EDP. They call them, they meet them. They help them get hooked up with resources that will relieve economic stress- insurance, food stamps, cash assistance, and other social services. They accompany them to job interviews, they help them with their resumes, they assist in registering and finding aid for education. They tend to their emotional needs, listening, listening, listening.
There are many EDPS who are cooperative and appreciative, joys to work with. Many who learn and progress, many who become peer workers themselves.
And then there is the young female EDP sobbing, crying, calling 911. She knows of no other way to be surrounded by good-looking males with jobs. When the ambulances, police cars and fire engines arrive she renews her moaning and at the same time adjusts her hair and straightens her blouse, in preparation for her date at the emergency room.
There are the males who talk loudly about their sexual exploits, guns and “heroic” deeds.
There are the EDPs who are highly jealous of the peer workers who have somehow made progress with their lives. They insult and abuse them. Rather than accept their help and suggestions they engage in competition with them.
The peer workers let out a sigh, struggle through the encounter and go home, where, more often than not, they have to face an evening of struggling with their own demons.
I realize that the mentally ill are severely damaged and are asking for help with their antics. But do you have to express your suffering in such florid ways? Do you have to trample over social norms? Do you have to violate others’ rights and be inconsiderate? Suffering quietly may be effective in gaining the right kind of attention which might help you get over the need for a circus act.
And then there is the learning curve. I had a doctor who told me he would work with me.
“How long?” I asked.
“As long as it takes,” he replied.
That means I could make the same mistakes over and over until I finally learned how to be constructive, not self-destructive. The learning curve can be months or years. At some point, the maladjusted coping constructs have to be discarded for more appropriate and effective ones.
We all have a touch of self-absorption. Perhaps schizophrenics, bipolars and depressives are so damaged they need to pay inordinate attention to their distorted self-image. But it is good to be aware that antisocial behavior shouldn’t be encouraged, and a healthy self-image can emerge as skills are learned and true self-confidence is achieved.
Lest anyone fall in the pool and drown.
Flip the control on the cell phone camera. No more selfies. Look around you and see there’s a world out there, and it can be just as pretty as you.