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Get Your Narcissism On


We meet weekly for Memoirs, which I’m now instructing. Gently critiquing, we examine sentences and inspect each other’s lives.

Last week at the end of class, someone mentioned the first debate. Several people lingered to express apprehension about Obama’s poor presentation. What to do?

They looked at me.

They know I write political op-eds.

“I’m not voting, I said. “The system’s corrupt. To vote is to participate in corruption.”

But you must. It’s even more important since Obama did so badly.  People will be sending in their absentee ballots. They’re deciding based on this one debate. I didn’t place quotation marks to the left of “But” and to the right of “ballots” because I’m paraphrasing.

“I’m not voting,” I said, again.

On the drive home, I thought about their concern, the urgency, and I went to a what-if area. What if Obama was scripted to incite the psyches of all those “liberals” who are disappointed but think he deserves four more years to deliver hope? What if his handlers strategized, knowing that so many who affiliate with the Democratic Party are frustrated but fearful?  Of the coiffed, Ken-like Republican who threatened Big Bird (GASP).  As if a Romney victory will be unlike what we have, what we’re enduring now. There’s just something a little too fowls of a feather for me, here.

Later, I read many articles about why Obama “lost” the debate. Debate—the word or concept that when aligned with “presidential” always is a debacle, regardless of whose hand is raised in the ring’s center after the bell tolls. In one piece, the author assessed whether or not Obama’s a narcissist.  The comments beneath his viewpoint were interesting. This example got my attention.

…This guy may have read a lot of poetry but he is not actually clear on the clinical profile of a narcissist. Obama’s an introvert, yes, that’s obvious. A narcissist–not as clear. All politicians    have some narcissism to them, as do all memoir-writers, but the core of what makes someone a narcissist is an inability to feel empathy or love; they have a fragile-to-non-existent sense of self that depends on the constant admiration of others to reflect them back to themselves (= “narcissistic supply”). I don’t see that in Obama, whereas Clinton-style charm *is* typical of narcissists, who need to always be drawing people in to soothe their egos.

You can bet I spent some time with those words. Not on the politicians-are-narcissistic nugget (a given), but, instead, that memoir writers are as well. I’m sure a level of egotism, an amount considered healthy, is a survival requirement for all human beings.

To write one’s memoir or memoirs may be the ultimate in self-absorption. My story. My life. My, my, my.  Me, me, me.  Even writing an op-ed may be narcissistic.  Peacock like, big birds, displaying the plumage of opinion. Let’s take it further—an offer of advice—isn’t this another example of ego stroking?  That those thoughts, expressed so generously, are exquisite gifts of persuasion?

Learning opportunities can be nudges, shoves, or planes flown into towers.  It’s what we do during and in the aftermath that’s life affirming and life altering. I’m going to work on myself, the only person I can change.

And I’ll take that reader’s comment to class.  See what the participants have to say about narcissism and the memoir writer. I can report on their reactions. Or do you want to hear more about me?

Missy Beattie is in Baltimore. Reach out, not for advice, but to criticize or comment:


Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail:

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