Notes on The Last Psychiatrist

I love few things more than a great blog. My latest find: The Last Psychiatrist, an archived blog, mostly about narcissism.

I was so excited to learn his insights… I made notes.

What follows are his finest insights about narcissism and my comments.

Imagine a crowded subway, and a beautiful woman gets on. Hyper-beautiful, the kind of woman who can wear no makeup, a parka, earmuffs and a bulky scarf and that somehow makes her look even prettier. A handsome man about her age in an expensive suit gets up and says, “please, take my seat.” She smiles, and hastily sits down.

TLP (The Last Psychiatrist), as the author refers to himself, gives us two options as to how the woman should think about this:

  1. This was a sexually motivated act as far as the man was concerned
  2. He was just being nice

If you think of narcissism as grandiosity you miss the nuances, e.g. in her case the problem is narcissism without any grandiosity:

she is so consumed with her identity (as not pretty) that she is not able to read, to empathise with, other people’s feelings. Source

In another post, TLP explains why narcissism isn’t necessarily about grandiosity. This is a blatantly obvious point that escapes most people, unfortunately.

Being the main character of your own film isn’t necessarily grandiose. It is narcissistic though because all the other characters are only important because they help the viewer to understand the main story line.

Here are some less obvious traits of narcissism TLP outlined:

Shame over guilt (I think this is because shame is an emotion directed at the self, whereas guilt is an emotion directed at your victim)

envy over greed (greed would be a primary reason to look for something, whereas envy is only a desire to catch up because otherwise otherwise it’s a bad reflection on you. I liked how this was called “existential agency” here.)

He [the narcissist] thinks the problem is people don’t like him, or not enough, so he exerts massive energy into the creation and maintenance of an identity: if they think of me as X… (and that’s one of the reasons why we love brands)

The narcissist feels unhappy because he thinks his life isn’t as it should be, or things are going wrong;  but all of those feelings find origin in frustration, a specific frustration: the inability to love the other person.

And this really brings it back to the original myth that TLP broke down beautifully here:

Narcissus mother took him to a clairvoyant who said, “He’ll have a long life as long as he never knows himself.

Narcissus kept rejecting people who fell in love with him because they weren’t good enough.

One rejected lover was furious and begged Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, for retribution.  “If Narcissus ever falls in love, don’t let the love be returned!”

Nemesis  heard the prayer and caused Narcissus to fall in love with himself: he was lead to a  pool of water, and when he looked into it, he fell in love with what he saw.  And what he saw wasn’t real, so of course it couldn’t love him back.  But Narcissus sat patiently, forever, hoping that one day that beautiful person in the bottom of the pool was going to come out and love him.

Because he never loved anyone, he fell in love with himself. That was Narcissus’s punishment.

This brings up an interesting point: how are you meant to feel about yourself?

Let’s first look at what we want. What we pay for. A huge portion of marketing directly helps us to be in love with ourselves, because we’re worth it. They’re not even trying to hide that the feeling of being in love with yourself is what they’re selling. And it’s not punishment as we see it – otherwise we wouldn’t buy it. I suppose it’s a psychic equivalent of putting a person on heroin. You mightn’t feel it’s a punishment, but it is.

Then there are the more subtle “intellectual” publications that help you love yourself (see the distinction from being in love with yourself? Cause that would be shallow.) I wonder how many pages were dedicated to helping people see Narcissus’ infatuation as Buddhist acceptance or some other high and mighty concept.

There isn’t really anywhere that would tell you that you’re meant to not love yourself.

What happened to Narcissus doesn’t really sound so horrible in today’s culture. Maybe he wouldn’t have even retaken a selfie if he lived today and been happy with the first shot? That level of self-acceptance is just enviable! He’s winning at life by millennial standards!… Indeed, TPL calls narcissism “a generational pathology”.

TLP goes on to discuss Narcissus’ parents’ role, which I thought was priceless:

He will have a long life, if he never knows himself.

Forget about whether the prophecy is true.  Ask instead, “what would the parents have done once they heard it?”…

Next time I feel insignificant and weak, maybe I need to hold on to that feeling, because my culture will obviously infuse me with my own grandiosity without me ever trying.

TLP has another explanation for why Narcissus stayed looking at the primordial selfie lake though.

He didn’t stay there for years because the reflection had pretty hair.  He stayed because daydreaming takes a lot of time.

In other words, Narcissus didn’t recognise himself and spent all that time conjuring up images of how wonderful life would be with that person in the reflection…

And the DSM says exactly that, only it adds a grandiose twist: “preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love”.

I am confused now.

Narcissus fell in love with himself, only he didn’t know if was himself.

So, as far as Narcissus was concerned, he was genuinely in love with another human being – only they were unreachable. Their personality was entirely a figment of his imagination…

Wait, that’s not Narcissus, that’s Gatsby! (Who also dies in a body of water, fair dues to FitzGerald).

Narcissus’ crime wasn’t being in love with himself at all. Phew, it’s ok to let L’Oreal and #positivethinking to get money and likes.

Narcissus’ crime was not knowing himself.

Actually, no, again.

TLP puts it better:

The moral of the story of Narcissus, told as a warning for the very people who refuse to hear it as such, is that how Narcissus came to be is irrelevant.  What was important was what he did, and what he did – was nothing.

And that’s his main crime: he never cared about anyone real. To me that’s all one ever needs to know to understand narcissism.

TLPs advice on how to not be a narcissist is to fake it. I think what TLP’s getting at is that your behaviour is much more important than your identity.

Infatuation: Scarlett O’Hara vs Jay Gatsby

Ultimately, it is the desire, not the desired, that we love.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Seeing as how it is Christmas, I am spending some time in front of the piece of furniture I otherwise avoid – the auld telly. One of my favourite films of all time, Gone with the Wind, was on just yesterday.

I must have seen it a hundred times as a child. Those were the days of the Spice Girls and girl power, the economy was only growing and I was full of curiosity as to what it would be like to be an adult. I am not much of a vocal feminist, but Scarlett represented a kind of strong independent woman to me at the time. Naturally, I noticed that she has an unreasonable obsession with Ashley. I thought that that’s what they called love. Yes, Ashley was always a bit of a disappointment, but in my 10 year old mind, it made sense that love is love – and that’s it. Scarlett was obviously far from perfect: s a bit self-centred, a bit impulsive… But, boy, she kicked ass like no one else I’d ever seen before. I felt that the centre-stage relationship was between Ashley and Scarlett – and everyone else was a third-wheel of ill fate, the same kind that brought war and poverty to Scarlett.

infatuation in gone with the wind

Watching it now, it looks so different. Scarlett was an ambitious woman with more than a touch of insecurity and narcissism. There was no relationship. Her supposed love was in reality a crush that managed to solidify through Ashley’s response. Scarlett made the first move. There was a purpose to it, like with everything Scarlett did: she wanted to marry Ashley. Ashley told her he loved her, or rather, denied that he didn’t love her. She continued her infatuation for the rest of the film. It was fuelled by continued scenes where Ashley’s reluctantly reaffirms that he has a soft spot for Scarlett. I guess he didn’t want to hurt her – and he wasn’t lying either. It is obvious that Ashley is not the sort of man that Scarlett would naturally be interested in. There was always something odd about the extent to which she was drawn to him.

Scarlett was interested not in Ashley, but in how it made her feel to know that he loves her. The bitter sweet thought of a man trapped in a marriage to an almost perfect woman nevertheless constantly thinking of her, of Scarlett – that was what was playing on her mind constantly, yielding endless validation.

 I only spotted this now, in my late twenties. The reason I believe it is true is that in the scene where Melanie dies – and lo and behold, Scarlett falls into Ashley’s arms, the following  crucial dialogue unfolds:

Ashley: I can’t live without her, I can’t. Everything I ever had is… is going with her.
Scarlett: Oh, Ashley. You really love her, don’t you?
Ashley: She’s the only dream I ever had that didn’t die in the face of reality.
Scarlett: Dreams! Always dreams with you, never common sense.
[…]
Scarlett: lf you knew what I’ve gone through! Ashley, you should have told me years ago that you loved her and not me and not left me dangling with your talk of honor. But you had to wait till now, now when Melly’s dying to show me that I could never mean any more to you than than this Watling woman does to Rhett. And I’ve loved something that…that doesn’t really exist.

It’s bad enough to be infatuated – like Gatsby was with Daisy. However, it is much worse to be infatuated because of the belief that the subject of one’s infatuation loves them. Of course, there was an element of reciprocity adding fuel to Gatsby’s infatuation, but it wasn’t nearly as strong.

Gatsby was infatuated with Daisy from first principles; Scarlett was infatuated with Ashley as a reaction to what she perceived as his infatuation with her.

infatuation in the great gatsby
Leo never looked as intense as Robert

It makes more sense from an evolutionary point of view for a person to be obsessed with someone who already has a crush them , but it is also kind of… pathetic. It’s like the decision wasn’t even theirs. It is especially pathetic if they don’t have a crush on the infatuated person- and it’s only in their mind.

The dialogue above is so ironic. Ashley, the supposed dreamer, off with the fairies while Scarlett was saving Tara, saving Melanie’s life and just generally solving the most complex of problems, talked about Melanie as the one thing that was real. It finally hit her then that she was the one who was living in a dream. Ashley told her that they would never be happy together because they are so different. He saw reality much more clearly than she did – in this sense. On the other hand, Gatsby never even made it as far as Scarlett. What about Rhett – was he infatuated? I think he was hopeful, but still kept an eye on reality.

It’s tough denouncing Scarlett from her “super-woman who was unlucky with men” status to “needy super-woman who ruined things because she was too silly to see the truth” status. At least now, it makes more sense.

understanding infatuation great gatsby gone with the wind