In the Myth of Narcissus, a beautiful youth longs after his reflection in a pool of water. In the simple version, he is love with himself – so transfixed by his beauty that he cannot set his sights elsewhere, and eventually wastes away.
Narcissus loves to see his reflection because he cannot conjure one up himself. Without it, he has no self (and no self-love). Without a self, he doesn’t exist. He dehydrates because he cannot bring himself to disturb the water on which his reflection, his existence, depends.
Another interpretation by French philosopher Louis Lavelle in The Dilemma of Narcissus (1973) is that:
Narcissus’ crime is to choose his image and to reject his self. It is impossible for him to be united with it, and this drives him to despair. Narcissus loves something that he cannot possess … To join one’s own image and to become identical with it is, precisely, to die.
The sin of Narcissus is his inability or unwillingness to self-reflect, and so it is the hallmark of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In order to have a semblance of self, people with NPD must see themselves through other people (a camera will do). Furthermore, that image should be great; reflected back in the form of achievements, accolades, and a trail of losers they can measure themselves by. They are desperate for this reflection via affirmation because, like Narcissus, they are nothing without it. People with NPD may be, and often are, as charming, talented, intelligent, and attractive as they imagine. The problem is it’s not real to them without that reflection. The weakness that is an inherent quality of NPD is more like a fragile sense of self, as easily disturbed as a reflection in still waters.
The sense of inferiority that accompanies NPD is especially true for the people who are demonstrably the opposite of what they project, such as soon-to-be one-term ex-president Donald Trump. In “Too Much and Never Enough”, Donald’s niece Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist, describes her uncle as a textbook narcissist. She notes “an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis would require a full battery of psychological and neurophysical tests that he’ll never sit for.” But the psychologists who’ve spoken out say he doesn’t need to when it’s this obvious. The diagnosis is severe malignant narcissism, and it’s gonna be a problem.
Trump is facing a double whammy to his psyche here. Not only will his sources of reflection – the camera, Twitter, his sycophants, and the highest achievement of the presidency – be greatly reduced, but the self that remains – the mirror that he is desperately hanging onto – is breaking up before his eyes in the face of one public humiliation after another and massive celebrations on his own lawn.
Bandy X. Lee, a psychologist with Yale, says about his condition, “When there is an all-encompassing loss, such as the loss of an election, it can trigger a rampage of destruction and reign of terror in revenge against an entire nation that has failed him.”
She adds, “It is far easier for the pathological narcissist to consider destroying oneself and the world, especially its ‘laughing eyes,’ then to retreat into becoming a ‘loser’ and a ‘sucker’ — which to someone suffering from this condition will feel like psychic death.”
Whether to feel anger or pity will come down to if it’s him or America.