“It wasn’t until middle age that narcissists became depressed, because of their failed relationships.” So writes Zoe Williams in this morning’s guardian.com, quoting the authors of The Narcissism Epidemic. So how else could causation flow through these variables? Relationships failed because narcissists grew depressed and depression stemmed from hitting middle-age? Was it that relationships failed because depressives hit middle age and this aging process arose through being a narcissist? Or that it wasn’t until relationships failed that narcissists became middle-aged, and relationships failed because who the hell wants to cuddle up to a depressive? Where does narcissism begin and depression end? For that matter, where does middle-age end? In failed relationships? In depression? In a late blooming of narcissism? In a toxic brew? Most pertinent of all, where does middle-age begin? And have I left the solar system of youthful vigour and entered the Kuiper Belt of wrinkling despair?
“Don’t worry, son. You’re very much in the game. The solar wind has just died down a bit today. Take it from an old timer, you’re as young as the woman you feel.’
“Let me illustrate, Dad. It’s almost as if I’m cruising through deep space billions of miles from Earth. There’s Neptune out my starboard porthole. Still, I’m not sharing the view, if you catch my drift.”
“You don’t have to paint elaborate pictures. Come out and say it, son. You mean you’re lonely?”
“Hell, yes. I don’t feel women these days. Haven’t sniffed an opportunity since I left Earth. Tell me, how old does that make me?”
“Look at you. You look great for your age, lad. What I would give to have looked that good when I was any age, far less the age you are now.”
“You’re trying to imply I’ve entered my middle years without actually giving it an ‘official’ title, aren’t you?”
“Don’t be soft. I’m sure you’ll find someone who’s, er, not like the others, and you’ll put all your troubles behind you and she’ll be the one who’ll go the distance. And I mean to Neptune and beyond. You’ve got time still, lad. Oodles of it.”
“What are you trying to say? That I’ve flunked every relationship because I’m in a funk I can’t free myself from? A bit too self-absorbed, eh? No room for others? That’s basically what you’re saying.”
“Well, son. Now you mention it, you’re your own worst enemy. A bit too caught up in yourself, at times. Sorry to have to be the one to tell you, but you need to learn to consider others a bit more. Give a little to take a little. See ourselves as others see us.”
“You mean I’ve got narcissistic tendencies?”
“Well, hmm, narcissistic is a bit strong. It’s not like you’re always try to catch your reflection in shop windows or anything. When you’ve lived alone as long as you have, it’s not easy to give up all that self.”
“Your not really painting a rosy picture of me here, Dad. I can see my dating profile now: solitary, sociopathic type. Scores high for misanthropy, low for empathy – a real plus these days. Has the advantage of not often being wrong about anything. Loves watching people and animals suffer. Carries around a small vanity mirror for those times he forgets just how much of a catch he is. More boom than bust type of guy, although does love getting to the point(s) with women. Brilliant company by his own admission. A bit of a silver fox. Is aging so gracefully that he has been compared to Clooney, not once but twice. Age not an obstacle as his charisma is transcendent. Looking for a sexy twenty-something. Personality not such an issue as he will be doing most of the impressing. You thought the koh-i-noor diamond was one of a kind. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
That’ll go down a storm with the ladies. Tell me where I went wrong, Dad.”
“Well, I suppose we’ve all got to love something or someone, son. We’re only human, after all.”
Narcissists are by definition excessively preoccupied with protecting and aggrandizing the ego, and since the ego’s primary motive is the preservation of self, why not experience the inward tugging of the self-serving soul the closer one comes to their own eventual auto-destruction? So it stands the test of reason that it can never be too late to develop that life-saving proclivity for narcissism. And if narcissism got you feverish when you were younger, early middle age seems about the right time to let delusions of grandeur mellow into a warm mug of mindfulness, easy on the ego.
From the moment the toddler accepted it was not mum’s thirteenth paired rib bone, more a pivot around which the universe was spinning, is it not the case that narcissism cut a swathe through little Lord Fauntleroy’s life practically undetected? Vaunted self-importance ain’t the preserve of the selfie gen. We were over-inflating our tyres long before Mr Dunlop showed the wheel the way. The difference is, now narcissism has found an instant digital outlet for a population of smart phone-conscious lemmings where previously it needed developing in a darkroom. The difference is, now viral self-love drives extinction of countless species and the worst kind of relationships are those we have with nature. It’ll be in our species’ middle years that the aftermath of the man-nature abusive relationship will be felt as a source of mass depression.
It is axiomatic that only at the onset of middle age do we fall into a slump. It explains a lot about personal midlife crisis and catharsis, the slow onset of rigor mortis, adoption of new creeds (Scientology and Kabbalism not exempted), and all that other life-begins-at-40 mantra. It explains how the coming-of-age personality can crash and burn (by descending into anguish, alcoholism, discontent, pill addiction, and other chemico-ontological pitfalls) only to subsequently emerge rebuilt, lightened and more philosophically lean from the experience.
For all those failed relationships staring back at you from the millpond of your mind, for all the remorse of not reacting with the soulful completeness of the post-you instead of that room full of mirrors from where the pre-you used to look out in confusion, bear in mind that the task of being one of billions of little living deities is not simple when advancing years makes peeing feel like breathing fire through the urethra, and the stiffness on waking like one’s bloodstream has been transfused with embalming fluid while they were sleeping.
There are more reasons in this world of ours to be insecure than there are to be narcissistic. To make an omelette worth being, one needs to find mirrors worth cracking. The 21st century narcissist really is walking on eggshells.