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Pandemic Effect: An Unexpected Gift to Narcissists

Views | 14 May 2020
Image Illustration
Illustration of narcissism. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com/NOWJAKARTA

When Covid-19 hits the world, mental health in general took a back seat to physical health, which is only natural, making sure hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed and that as many lives as possible could be saved.

Schools closed, work from home became the new norm, restaurants and other public places closed down and getting together with friends was no longer possible, and then Zoom meets and hangouts became our much-needed source of social interaction. In the news, story after story highlights number of cases and casualties, soaring unemployment levels and other distressing events.

Any one of these shifts could be expected to cause an increase in mental health issues.

Now, in the interest of keeping a positive view, we will explore how the pandemic could potentially be a gift to narcissists. Whether you are struggling to rebalance your personal perspective, or you suspect you have a narcissistic inclination, or know anyone who is, hopefully this short podcast can be useful for you.

Covid-19 – The Recovering Narcissist’s Boon

We all know someone with this problem. Whether they realize it or not, the narcissist is that person who always seems to crave admiration, often acts entitled and selfish, and more often than not seems unable to experience genuine empathy for the emotional hurt and suffering of others. Major studies concurred that the problem usually comes from their own deeply embedded insecurities or poor parenting, which failed to teach the importance of humility, emotional generosity, and the ability to put oneself in touch with the feelings of another.

Narcissistic tendencies in a person often lead to relationship problems, drug and alcohol abuse, anger management difficulties, and depression. These problems often show themselves when the narcissist is denied what they believe or expect is their “right” to have.

You can also listen to the audio version of this article from our brand new NOW! Jakarta Podcast.

In many cases, hours and hours of therapy is futile in changing the narcissist's unrealistic demand that the world and people be and act exactly the way that they “should” behave. They demand unconditional control.

But according to psychologytoday.com, something quite fascinating has occurred with many of these patients since the coronavirus pandemic emerged. They have been forced to give up the precious control that they felt they must have to keep their lives in order and to be happy. Their ideas of how the world “should“ treat them have been turned upside down and have challenged them to seriously rethink their deeply held beliefs about their importance and superiority over others in their lives.

The following are several real cases of patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder who made extraordinary breakthroughs thanks to recent changing times, as shared by Barry Lubetkin, a Therapist based in New York City.

A young man in the entertainment field has labeled himself a sex addict. His sexual appetite was voracious and he had little regard for the feelings of his many partners. As a consequence of being quarantined in place indefinitely, and unable to cohabitate with anyone, he is now considering the idea that he can survive and develop joy and satisfaction in his life in other ways. No therapist in the world could have matched the power of the forced “reset” in his thinking about how he had misused people and disregarded their feelings.

A young woman had little understanding of why, for years, other women would not remain friends with her and failed to reach out to her to plan time together. It became clear that she always one-upped them and frequently interrupted them when chatting. She demanded control, thought she was smarter than any of her friends, and displayed little interest in their lives. Since she is now only able to interact remotely, she has been able to practice active listening and sharing her own insecurities with others. Not being face-to-face has allowed her to be more introspective, more vulnerable, and more willing to accept others' opinions without immediately dismissing them.

Another patient would spend countless hours and money shopping obsessively to capture her ”perfect“ look, hours more applying and reapplying her makeup, and then regularly complaining to her friends about how she coveted attention from every man she met. With television and internet messages of human suffering and horrific hospital images bombarding her, her awareness that there was a world around her that she had always dismissed as unimportant grew. 

The period of lockdown is helping her to reset her demand for physical perfection (in truth, right now nobody gives a damn), and she is, for the first time in her life, volunteering to deliver food to the elderly in her neighborhood.

The Covid-19 horror is affording self-involved, entitled, unempathic individuals an extraordinary opportunity to pause, to take the foot off the self-aggrandizing pedal, and to take a good, hard look at themselves and what their lives really could be about.

Reflecting on Mental Health

While I don’t believe there’s any silver lining to our current global crisis, I do believe it is forcing us to rethink many of our ways and choices in life. As we go about embracing dozens of new normal, remember to tend to your mental health from time to time. Instead of letting fear for the unknown weaken and stress you out, see the many forced changes as an opportunity to change yourself for the better. I daresay, we have been given the gift of time. Let us use it to build ourselves, others, and to ensure we not only survive this plague of our time, but that we survived and became a better version of ourselves.