I have corresponded for years with a friend in prison. I thought an excerpt from one of his recent letters was interesting and pertinent to a discussion on racism. What do you think?
The recent stimulus to what I have to say, comes from an excellent book review on narcissism by Joan Acocella (NY, 5/ 12/ 14). She cites (p.17) the DSM –V traits of narcissism, a disorder of “grandiosity.” Narcissists “exaggerate their achievements… and are certain of future triumphs. They believe they are special and can be understood only by special people of high status. They feel entitled to extraordinary privileges. (They have the right to cut in line, to dominate the conversation, etc.) They show no empathy for other people. They envy them, and believe that they are indeed in return. They cannot tolerate criticism.” Obviously they see no need for therapy.
(Although) I believe we all have a few of these characteristics in greater or lesser degree, in the last six months I have stumbled on two inmates, both black, who have them all, fortissimo. First I’m curious if you know any such people with all of these habits and vulgar display? You can certainly see how such habits and the behaviors they mandate could lead to prison, so it’s no accident that prison should contain a high concentration of these people.
I wonder about their prevalence in the general population because I seem to notice this absolutist grandiosity popping up everywhere, even in Congress that won’t compromise. Do you stumble on such people?
I found two. One (Sampson) is the guy who’s bizarre handwriting I sent you **. Everyone, black and white, hates him, but foolish me, I persisted in trying to be civil. One day he told me (not asked me, but directed me) to analyze his personality using graphology, which we had discussed. He assured me he wanted the truth above all else. Silly me, I believe him. Like the wife who asked the husband if he thinks her butt is too big, there is only one answer, and I gave the wrong one. One hardly needs graphology to analyze his handwriting. From memory, you can probably concur with everything I told him. Briefly, I pointed out that his handwriting showed he wanted to call attention to himself, screamed it in fact. I delicately, but apparently not delicately enough, alluded to his grandiosity and to the other DSM qualities, even suggesting that such pomp masked low self-esteem. Okay, so you can’t tell anybody that s—- and expect him to like you, especially a narcissist. He, predictably enough, hasn’t spoken to me since that analysis and won’t return a book I loaned him BUT, oddly and perhaps significantly, he is quieted down a lot, which may indicate some self-awareness.
The other guy** is the one who did your card. He’s as bad as Samson, above. I have definitely decided not to let him illustrate my story, despite his obvious talents. The emotional cost of dealing with him is too high.
The Acocella article sites psychologists who believe narcissism is due to “a mother’s failure to support her child’s natural sense of omnipotence.” I wonder. I absolutely believe a child needs “affection and empathy” to develop high self-esteem, but I don’t feel that encouraging a sense of omnipotence is healthy. Narcissism is omnipotence internalized. If that’s what you learn, that’s what you do. Samson’s parents gave him for names, all pompous and grandiose. My guess is that his “sins of omnipotence” was encouraged from cradle to the rest. And I don’t think it’s racist to note that I found a sense of entitlement largely blacked. I understand (and sympathize) or that sense comes from. Parents whose children were discriminated against and never got fair or equal treatment wanted to instill in their progeny a feeling of quality, even superiority…which backfired. Some of these kids develop a sense of near absolute entitlement, which made them obnoxious and alienated them from the world.
Any thoughts on this assessment? I’d like to know where we differ, so I can get pissed at you for obliquely suggesting I’m less than omnipotent. They don’t call me Brill* for nothing.
I have no dog in this fight. Anyone who is as narcissistic as you site is someone I will be around once and then avoid like Ebola, so my observations of such a species is very narrow. Regarding the narcissistic black man – I can accept this as a valid explanation but I do not think that overreaching self-confidence necessarily has to come from a parent. I think it can come from role models in the media –Neon Deion, Muhammad Ali in his prime – or in life. In fact I think that is more likely the source than from a parent. Beat down generational poverty (and crime) seems to me the more likely outcome than narcissism. Maybe your assessment that they often end in prison is correct.
Do I know any fortissimo narcissists – Jerry Jones! comes to mind but personally I do not. There was one fellow who used to show up at our house and tell us he was going undercover or on the PGA tour. The last time he came over he had been free basing something out of a plastic bottle that had reacted with his lungs. He was scared s—–s. I told him he’d be OK if he quit. Haven’t seen him since – he’s either OK or dead. Who knows? But he sure fit the definition.
*An explanation of Brill
From a letter from Bill: “Say what you will Mr. Critic, but I still maintain that the Brad Pitt comparison is accurate. I have been told that many times, by whom I don’t recall.”
I replied: Now I see the likeness and henceforth ye shall be BRILL!