Narcissus was a hunter in Greek mythology who was an incredibly beautiful man. He was also very aware of his beauty and could find no match he thought worthy and as a result was unable to have any meaningful relationship. Many were in love with him including one man who allegedly committed suicide because he couldn’t have him.
Mythology has it that Narcissus saw a reflection of himself in a pool of water and fell instantly in love and could not tear himself away from gazing upon the image and so he died unable to eat or drink for fear of losing his love. Nowadays his name has been eternally linked to self love- Narcissist, narcissism, narcissistic.
Philosophers and students of human behaviour have identified narcissism as that trait in human beings, which, while an essential part of survival, in large doses, is a source of great distress and unhappiness in the world.
Narcissists today are people who are so self absorbed and self-loving that they are unable to relate to others in a way that is mutually beneficial. It’s a one-way street for the narcissist. They can be incredibly charming and smooth and make you feel so special, but they can also turn into raging dangerous adversaries when crossed.
The narcissist feels he is superior and as long as the person he is interacting with maintains that image, he will be great to be around. The moment anyone disagrees with or challenges the notion of his greatness, the rage starts to evolve. They are often unable to form meaningful relationships with significant others yet go to great measures to convince people in general how good a friend/sibling/child/partner/lover they are.
They also refuse to get help in relationship settings because they cannot see fault in themselves. They can come across as being conceited or arrogant and will always want to be associated with famous people or powerful people whose names they drop in conversation with gay abandon. They spend a lot of time in self-grooming and take seriously things like wardrobe, status symbols and resisting ageing. They are always looking for novel ways to make themselves feel good and so at times end up becoming addicted to drugs.
There are many postulates around how a narcissist is formed - genetic inheritance, developmental environment, parenting styles, etc. It was believed that narcissists are born that way and evolve into the full-blown personality irrespective of whatever circumstance their lives follow. So you can be a narcissist in the squatter camps of Cato Manor as much as you can be one in the rolling green hills and uber metropolis of Umhlanga. So one can almost predict as a child is growing how the personality may evolve.
We live in a world of instant gratification. Technology, the Internet, online access, easy commutes, globalization and credit make it easier to get almost anything you want and get it now. The pursuit of knowledge and self-growth has become a click of button away courtesy of Google and its various cousins. The superstars of the world are social media phenomena, actors, singers and sports gods. In India certain Film actors are so revered that people build literal shrines to them and pray to those shrines!
So its no wonder then that there has been a rise in Narcissism over the last few decades. It must be incredibly difficult to maintain a grounded sense of balance when millions of people idolize you. You have to start believing the myth eventually!
Hand in hand with this has been the rise of the wannabes.
The average Joe’s who discover that you can reshape your bodies to look like a Greek God, or the idolised movie star and then you can post pictures on a public platform for your hundreds of friends to adore. Enter the next generation of Narcissists.
The acquired narcissism, which follows the six-pack. I see many people in my practice who display no traits of narcissism initially, and once they get into the whole muscle building subculture, suddenly become raging narcissists.
They don’t necessarily have the genetic predisposition nor grow up in the environment, which would have predisposed them. Its almost like Bruce Banner and the Hulk! ( although to be fair the Hulk is the furthest thing from a narcissist). Its great that there has been such a massive increase in people obsessed with eating right and exercising and staying away from all the usual vices their generation indulge in, but does it have to come at the price of the preening?
All over our country young, and not so young, men, mostly are spending hours a day at the gym building muscle and shaping their bodies, cutting their fat content down, not to be able to excel at any sport or prevent cardiac disease or diabetes, but purely to look good. And because we live in a world of instant gratification, they don’t want to wait a few years to build muscle and strength naturally, they want it now!
Say hello to the “’Roids”. Steroids, Testosterone, Human growth hormone and their many derivatives. These are a group of drugs used to supplement the human production of these compounds, which are an essential part of human growth and repair of muscle tissues amongst others.
The anabolic steroids most widely used are essential in normal physiology to build bone and muscle tissue. In gyms across the country the subculture is growing. Young men mostly, often starting in their late teens, are introduced to the ‘Roid revolution.
Its freely available in the injectable and oral forms and many “regulars” at the gyms make a good living dealing it to the novices. It accelerates muscle growth and allows the user to repair and recover much faster than normal.
But it does more than that. It affects blood pressure, erectile function and testicular size, secondary sexual characteristics, hair growth, skin changes and most disturbingly personality and moods. Increased aggression and mood lability together with agitation and almost manic like racing thoughts. Paranoid psychosis- believing that people are after you or talking about you, auditory hallucinations- hearing voices when there’s no one around and panic attacks characterized by excessive sweating, palpitations, tight chests and chest pain, dry mouth and sense of dread are all possible effects of these substances. In addition they develop tolerance- needing more and more to get the same “buzz’.
In addition to these stimulating effects (uppers) they then need something to bring them down- so they use Cannabis or Flunitrazepam (Raffs). If that’s not bad enough, there’s the pre work outs- caffeine and ephedrine loaded mixtures to get the motivation and energy levels up. These are stimulants, which increase the brain activity levels and metabolism and are often the gateway to the steroids.
So the cycles continue over time with increasing amounts of chemicals and muscle sizes and eventually you get the caricature of the huge, agro, bulging muscle, testosterone fuelled, self loving, believing he is invincible, with perfectly gelled hair and tight tee alpha male out to take on all comers. Unfortunately sometimes this includes partners. Relationships are suffering as a result of this rising trend. It’s hard to love two people equally- yourself and your partner! So something has to give.
It’s worrying! The increased level of self-absorption. The aggression. The rampant use of dangerous drugs. The effect on relationships and families. The culture of violence and disregard for human integrity. The bullying. The celebration of it all in the social media and mainstream press encouraging more young people to pursue it.
Its symbolic that the Greek Narcissus died in the pursuit of self love. We have the death of humility, gentleness, caring, compassion and empathy in the pursuit of a six-pack.