Narcissism, Codependence, and Society at Large
Narcissism: self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects…
Codependency: a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.
The problems the nice guy faces are not easy ones. They stem from the fact that his nature is to let others run his life, while taking upon himself their responsibilities, as well as his own. Some would call him a fool for gradually, quietly digging his own grave so as not to bother the lives of those around him, most of whom have no appreciation for the work he is saving them. In the end, they will lay him to rest in the hole that he dug, say a few words, perhaps weep briefly, and then go about their lives. Perhaps they will later notice that the things he once did for them are not getting done. They might appreciate him then, but he'll be dead, unable to receive their praise.
The real tragedy, however, is the legacy that will live on in the lives of his children, who, through his example, learned the habits of codependency. They will continue to tolerate the bad habits of their narcissistic loved ones who continually shrug their own responsibilities off onto them. They'll cover for Uncle Bob, who is a drunk. They'll pay their own children's rent well into adulthood. They'll raise their children's children for them. The socio-economic state of their family will not improve. In fact, it will decline, because codependency is nothing more than an evil cloaked in a disguise of compassion and goodness. It is a liar, a thief, a cancer.
Society loves codependents, and society will seize every opportunity to congratulate the codependent for his compassion and good will. This is because society is a narcissist, and narcissists thrive on codependents like vampires thrive on ambitious youths seeking immortality at any cost. The goal of the narcissist is not the betterment and increased happiness of those around him, nor even of himself. No, the goal of the narcissist is the betterment of his own appearance. Remember, a narcissist is one who is captivated or in love with his own reflection. He knows nothing of self-love. In fact, he is secretly filled with self-loathing, which is what drives his constant need to bolster his reflected image. He cares for how others see him, being unable to see himself, himself.
As a Society, We are Narcissists
American society has come to reflect the narcissist mindset in many ways. Look, for example, at public education. In years past, a school was made good or bad by the quality of its teachers. A school filled with good teachers would naturally turn out good students. A good principal could do much to make a school better or worse, depending on his style of leadership, and by hiring good or bad teachers.
Good schools naturally had a healthy sense of pride in their teachers and students. Bad schools were motivated to better themselves to the extent that the people involved were motivated to better their school. Teachers could strive to be better teachers by seeking good instruction for themselves (ongoing education), by personal investment in their curriculum and lessons, and by encouraging one another. Principals could seek to improve their leadership skills, implement management metrics and teacher accountability. And parents could work with teachers and administrators, ultimately holding them accountable for the results of their work. All of them together could then be proud of their contributions, resulting in a healthy kind of community pride and school pride. This is healthy self-esteem on a societal level.
Today, unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Teachers are now given a prescribed curriculum which was written by someone in some remote government office, far away from the classroom. Principals have been relegated to little more than hall monitors for teachers. Parents, if they have any suggestions, are told why that's not feasible. And who even knows what the administrators do, other than keep the books (not the text books—those are largely obsolete now) and distribute the funds that come in from the state and federal governments.
Today the quality of the school is measured only by the students' scores on standardized tests. And what does it take to be able to score well on a scan-tron? Strong moral character? No. Fertile imagination? No. Independent thought? No. Compassion for others? No. Teamwork? No. Self-sacrifice? No. Do you see the issue here? What are test scores, but a reflection of a student's ability to test well? Other than the fact that he studied, what else do test scores tell us about the student? Nothing.
So a good school is still considered good even if every last student is morally corrupt, has no imagination or capacity for independent thought, no compassion, no ability to work with others, and no inclination to contribute more than just what is required to meet his own goals in life. This is why our public schools have no sense of school pride. This is why our best public schools are passing entire classes of narcissistic and sociopathic students—because the system we have built is geared to encourage narcissism, for the system itself is narcissistic, caring far more about its own reflection than its true character.
As another example, look at our public welfare system as an outgrowth of our War on Poverty, which was declared back in 1964. At that time the poverty rate was just under 20%, and already trending in steep decline. As government spending on public welfare programs commenced, and subsequently increased, the poverty rate continued its decline for about five years, then leveled off, remaining essentially constant at about 13% ever since. Meanwhile, public spending on welfare programs has never ceased to increase. In the most cursory analysis, it must be wondered just how public welfare spending has helped reduce poverty. In fact, the question of whether public welfare programs actually caused the halt in the reduction of the poverty rate could arguably be considered a valid question.
Completely aside from any consideration of the validity of any given welfare program, one must ask, what's wrong with this picture? What is keeping us as a society from saying, "Well, that didn't work. Perhaps we should try something else."? The answer is that society is a narcissist. Society cares not for its own internal health or strength of character because it knows not how to measure or assess those attributes. Society cares only for it's own reflection. Society secretly hates itself, but in its effort to find approval from without, it will go to extreme measures in its effort to receive said approval, no matter how self-destructive these measures might be. It's nobody's fault, really. It's just the way of the world. And it's everybody's fault.
Elected officials all have someone to please, whether they consider it to be their voting constituency, the corporate donors that funded their campaign, or the party that helped them get elected. In any case, they have an allegiance. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but even in the best case—say they feel most loyal to their voters—they act in accordance to outside influences: the consensus of the voters. See the narcissism here? Not for the man, personally; but for the machine—the body politic. The elected official has only a reflection of society by which to assess his own performance as a politician or legislator. By definition, therefore, in regard to his professional activities, he is a narcissist.
Don't get me wrong here. I am not saying that politicians are all narcissists. I am saying that their professional activities are fundamentally narcissistic in nature. It cannot be avoided.
What if a man were somehow elected to a position of power, and subsequently made every decision solely on the basis of his own personal conviction of right and wrong, and on what he considered best for the health of society? Would we not all hope that the man has his ideas pretty squared away? Would we, as voters, be tolerant of such behavior from an elected official? Wouldn't we rather hear that he had taken a survey to find out what his constituents wanted before making an executive decision?
Do you see the problem here, and the reason that society is a narcissist? We, as society, would insist that our leaders ask our opinion before leading. We would insist that he refer to our reflection for guidance, rather than our self as a society (or his own internal acknowledgment of our self as a society). We would insist that he act professionally as a narcissist, prioritizing how others see him over his own acknowledgment of himself—prioritizing society's perceived reflection of itself over society's own health and well being.
As a society, we cannot measure our soul. Its health and well-being is nothing more than a subjective construct of various opinionated individuals.
For whereas an unhealthy society will likely comprise citizens both happy and unhappy, a healthy society surely will contain its share of unhappy citizens as well. Every parent knows he can, at any given turn, make his child happy at his child's own unwitting expense. But it takes both courage and internal resolve to allow his child to be unhappy in the moment, while ensuring his happiness in the long term. The narcissist, however, holds no one's long term welfare in regard. The narcissist seeks only to bolster his own image right now, at any moment. And that's a pretty clear picture of modern American politics.
So why do we, as a society, continue to take, by force, more and more resource from those who are productive, and give it away to those who are unproductive, in the heretofore unsuccessful attempt to eliminate poverty? No judgment here—it's just a statement of fact. It is because we (as society) are a narcissist. We look at our self (as society) and see poverty in our reflection, which we find repugnant and intolerable. So in true narcissist fashion, we will do anything—no matter how self-destructive—to put a patch over the perceived character flaw; the perceived inadequacy. We are driven, beyond reason, to do whatever it takes to fix what seems wrong, so that we and others can look at us and say, "That looks nice."
Meanwhile the soul of the nation goes unaddressed, its health or sickness being nothing more than a passing curiosity, for who even knows: What is the soul of the nation? As a society, we cannot measure our soul. Its health and well-being is nothing more than a subjective construct of various opinionated individuals. But these things we know and we can measure: We know what our poverty rate is; it's a number, higher or lower than another. We know what our students' test scores are; they are a number, higher or lower than others. We have quantitative measures of our economy; they are numbers, higher or lower than others. We can compare these numbers to others, and isn't that what narcissism is all about—comparing oneself to others? Yes, as a society, we are a narcissist. We love our reflection, rather than our self.
As Individuals within Society, We are Codependents
So who are the codependents? The codependent sets his own observational conclusions aside, embracing instead the narcissist's perception of reality. The narcissist is abusive. The codependent thinks to himself, "I can withstand the abuse, and he (the narcissist) cannot handle the criticism that must be brought in order to correct his behavior. I will therefore do whatever I can do to make the whole situation better." Thus the codependent trains himself to think like a narcissist on the narcissist's behalf.
The codependent is the one who favors higher taxes. The codependent, in passive agreement with the narcissist, says to himself, "the poor and the unemployed need money, and this tax increase will not kill me, so I agree with it." The codependent, quietly digging his own grave (while unwittingly digging society's grave at the same time), is so distracted by the immediate needs of others that he fails to see the real source of the problem. He fails to see that the narcissist (society) is behaving badly, that the narcissist is tyrannizing him, that he is going along with a bad plan—a self-destructive plan. The codependent, having subscribed passively to the narcissist's world view, finds it easier to go with the flow than to rock the boat and make the waves that would result, were an honest discussion of the problem initiated.
Millions of Americans simply pay their taxes in order to stay out of jail—not because they feel morally obliged, or out of a sense of duty.
Look, for instance, at how intolerant society is of the individual who dares to question the constitutionality of the income tax, the federal reserve bank, our public welfare system, or even something as simple as a seat belt law. Society, the narcissist, puts up an immediate, full scale offensive, calling him anything from unpatriotic to ignorant, to self-centered and inconsiderate, hateful and vitriolic. This is narcissist behavior in its purest form. Psychologists call it "Narcissist Rage." It's what emerges when the narcissist's self-image comes under attack, or when he feels a lack of "narcissist supply." And all the codependents come running to his aid with supportive comments of affirmation. The narcissist desperately seeks out those individuals who will affirm him, irrespective of the truthfulness of their comments. These codependents might think they love him, but their priority is simply to make him feel better about himself, which makes them feel better about themselves. At the end of the day, however, the codependents are just as self-seeking as the narcissist, the only difference between them being that the codependents, in their search for self-affirmation, have acquiesced to a subservient role. They mistake their behavior for humility, and they find themselves noble. But they are wrong: they're not noble, they're just codependent.
The codependent wife acquiesces to her narcissist husband's perverted assessment of everything from his boss's unfair assessment of his performance to her own faulty opinion of himself. On the other hand, the codependent husband smiles and endures his narcissist wife's criticism of his character, endlessly seeking to make her happy, and to assuage her statedly righteous indignation. Neither of them choose to simply stand up for what is right, since experience has taught them the futility of such an endeavor.
Likewise, experience has taught us all the futility of fighting the IRS. We also know how fruitless our efforts would be, should we argue in court that it should be our right not to wear a seat belt. So we don't bother. We simply pay the fine, and get on with life. Millions of Americans simply pay their taxes in order to stay out of jail—not because they feel morally obliged, or out of a sense of duty, as though they feel that the government is spending their tax dollars responsibly or in a noble way, or for a noble cause. Society is a narcissist, and we are all codependents.
The recovering codependent has a hard road before him indeed, for at every turn he encounters a voice (whether external or internal) telling him he is wrong, self-centered, and morally deficient. Though he sees the truth, his vision is continually and aggressively obscured by the narcissist—the one who cares only for his own reflection.
How can a society recover from such a vexing and self-destructive condition? Is this not the universally begged question that is before us? Marriages are most often dissolved when one is found to be a narcissist, and the codependent comes to his or her senses. Recovery from narcissism and codependence is a very difficult process, and it always involves upset on a grand scale, for said recovery requires a hard-edged analysis and re-evaluation of the very basic foundations of the relationship.
Shall we believe that the signing of our own Declaration of Independence was some kind of frivolous action executed by a group of beer-drinking buddies who had nothing to lose? No, I would suggest that these gentlemen thought long and hard about the long-term consequences of their actions, knowing the irreversibility of the process, and knowing the risks involved:—that they could lose everything they owned and had worked for.
But this they did: they stepped out of their position of codependence, boldly proclaiming the wrongness of the king's behavior, while clearly stating what is right before God and men.
Perhaps the American People will soon awake from their codependent slumber, rise to the occasion, knowing the risks, and incur the societal upset and unrest that is required in order to bring clarity and sanity back to the fore. I wonder if this process is possible, short of political revolution, which I pray could be avoided. Only time will tell… but I fear that things cannot continue on their current course, for codependence is ultimately not the natural state for mankind, else whence have come every revolution in human history to date?
Codependence wars continually against self-determinism, the latter of which, I believe, is ultimately the stronger human instinct, the former being strengthened and supported solely by one's affection for another. But our patriotic affection for our country is clearly fading fast in the face of our government's narcissistic encroach upon our lives, leaving me to wonder how much longer the people will tolerate it.