Been struggling with this for a while: how a certain grandiosity / pride / certainty of one’s “specialness” is present in both good and bad people, villains and heroes, fat cats and philanthropists. “Narcissism” becomes an unhelpful term when it can apply to people so radically different.
For a while I used the distinction of narcissist / egoist, like this author:
This society feels more comfortable around narcissists with fragile egos than around egotists with selfless natures. – Falling Upwards, Lee Siegel (paraphrased)
but I felt that the definition was too incomplete.
Today I decided that I’d been led by the most common connotation of
mask = disguise
to think that
mask = ONLY disguise
When actually it can simply mean a covering. And the covering does not have to be a lie, even if it often is. The covering can accurately represent the contents.
Beautiful people are popularly perceived to be somehow better than everyone else, against all common sense. The fact that I’m pretty shouldn’t make my professors think I’m smarter; shouldn’t make people think I would be a good leader; and most certainly shouldn’t make anybody think that I would be a better choice for a girlfriend than someone else less beautiful and less crazy. And yet it does. I’ve had the good fortune of having had several phases of being beautiful / not beautiful in my life, and if I’d made a line graph of the quality of my interactions with other human beings across those phases, it would be clear that I was treated like a completely different person by something as seemingly minor as a switch from glasses to contacts, a different haircut or a drop of 30 pounds (okay, that last one is not so minor I suppose).
That’s a mask: beauty. Does it have to be a disguise? Of course not. I can change the anima to match the persona. I can change the persona to match the anima, too, if that’s what I wanted to do.
We need the masks because there are too many people in the world for us to be able to get to know the truth of them, deeply, one by one (the anima). Sad, I know, but even the Greeks understood this, and that was before the internet.
People respond to the masks, and that can make it seem as if building the mask was the whole point of everything. Of life.
Then you get a narcissist. A flamboyant mask, and nothing behind it.
The egotist builds her self first: her attributes, her values, her talents, training, the causes she devotes her time to, her work, the people she loves, etc. The mask is tacked on, an afterthought. It is nothing but the album art to the best record of the year, nothing but the cover to a wonderful book, nothing but the paper and ribbon on a present waiting to be unwrapped.