Narcissists: Funny in Pop Culture, Awful in Real Life

There’s nothing like seeing family for the holidays that inspires you to write again. And no, fortunately most of my family are not narcissists (or narcs, as I’ll say throughout the rest of this).

What is a narcissist? There are several definitions. The most common version that we see of narcissism (which is coined from the name “Narcissus”, who was so in love with himself that he slowly starved to death) is narcissistic personality disorder, which can be diagnosed by a therapist. Someone with this disorder is manipulative, self-centered, has a victim complex, and is generally a wretched human being.

NPD is not the only form of narcissism that exists. There is a spectrum for those who have narcissistic tendencies, but generally don’t qualify as narcissists. It’s much more common and obvious to notice by outsiders (people outside the family), and are generally brushed off as negative traits.

So, I won’t go into any detail, but hanging out with family for the holidays got me thinking about the contrast between how narcs are portrayed in pop culture versus how they are in real life. Narcs in both film and television are often portrayed in a funny light. They’re self-centered, but that in turn makes them the but of the joke as if eventually works out against them. They are obviously bad people, who are bad at getting their way and only put themselves in embarrassing situations because of it. They are a perfect and easy way to add a joke surrounding the rudeness of people.

Narcs in real life, however, are awful and deceptive. They care only about themselves, and not about anyone else, including their own children. A good example of this kind of behavior would be to mention something I’ve witnessed. A kid was asked by an adult what they got for Christmas, to which they responded that they got nothing. Upon the adult investigating further, he found that this was allegedly because money was “tight”, according to one of the kid’s parents. Well, interestingly enough, this person had just come back from not one, but two trips, one on a cruise, and the other to Las Vegas.

The parent in question had also turned down a job offer (that would have offered great pay, great benefits, and a long-term job), in order to go on the cruise. Now that parent complains about not having a job, acting on the permanent victim-complex that narcs seem to have.

That was only a mild example of a narcissist. Scrolling through the subreddit r/raisedbynarcissists, I read about some of the horrors these people faced at the hands of their families, who were narcs. I won’t disclose any of these stories, as I don’t have permission, but I encourage anyone who wants to to view some of the stuff that these people must face.

The point of comparison is that narcs are hardly funny outside of pop culture. Yes, some of their behavior is odd and sparks a good bit of laughter, but for the most part, it is atrocious and scarring. They’re also manipulative, gaining favor and sympathy from others, which in turn turns them against the victims of the narc behavior. They’re not obvious in nature, which also contrasts from their pop culture portrayal, making it much more difficult for people to actually see when someone is a narc.

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