Everybody knows a narcissist, but not everybody has a parent who’s one. My mother is a huge narcissist — she makes everything about her, and the comfort of others is never her concern.
Recently, she hurt her back and called the ambulance (at 4AM) when the pain became unbearable. However, my mother didn’t like being in the hospital, so she checked herself out the next day, demanding that my niece come pick her up. It was fine … except she wasn’t fine; her back still had four fractures, and she needed medical care.
In order to have everything (including a possible stay in a rehabilitation center) covered by my mother’s insurance, she needed to go back into the hospital and stay for three nights. My mother lives alone and has never driven, so she needed to call the ambulance again to be taken back to the hospital.
A family member, who’d come to take care of her, offered to take her. But by then, my mother had become annoyed with the family member and cast her out of the house.
Among my mother’s more colorful traits, she hates being driven on the freeway; it’s back roads all the way for her. So, rather than call an ambulance during the day, she deliberately called them at 4AM, this way she avoided being driven in any traffic on the freeway.
Of course, the fact that my nephew was woken up at 4AM when Life Alert called, or that my mother called my niece at 6AM — and that maybe it would’ve been nice to take other people’s feelings into consideration — never crossed her mind.
And just like my mother, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder believe that the world revolves around them. This condition is characterized by a lack of ability to empathize with others and a desire to keep the focus on them at all times.
Which is why I was (not so) surprised when I found a study from Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. The study found that narcissists may talk and act confident, but their brains don’t lie. At a neural level, narcissists are needy.
A research team, led by David Chester at the University of Kentucky at Lexington, recruited 50 undergrad students and had them complete a standard measure ofnarcissism. Participants who agreed with statements such as, “I think I’m a special person” were given high narcissism scores.
Next, the researchers had the students lie in a special brain scanner that uses diffusion tensor imaging, a technology that measures the amount of connectivity between the brain areas, and how much conversation there is between the brain’s various functional hubs.
Chester and his team were especially interested in the density of white matter tracts between a region at the front of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) which is associated with thinking about ourselves, and another deeper region known as the ventral striatum, associated with reward and feeling good.
They found that narcissists may say they have high self-esteem, but the brain scan evidence suggests that narcissists actually have an internal deficit in self-reward connectivity. In other words, narcissists have to seek out affirmation from others to make up for the lack of it in their subconscious.
“Our findings do not suggest that narcissists are a ‘lost cause’ because of any perceived immutability of brain structure,” stated Chester in the study.
Narcissists need you to believe that they’re great, and while they don’t care what’s happening in your life, they need you to be focused on them at all times. They’re seriously needy.
This information is supposed to make us feel sympathy for narcissists, but it’s difficult to do that when they always seem to be screaming, “It’s all my about my needs.” [tc-armk]