A Method To My Madness

I recently read an article on a study researching the connection between narcissism and personal happiness. Let’s call it “stress tolerance.” The study found that narcissists could handle stress more effectively and were, overall, happier than those who didn’t display narcissistic characteristics.

I found this particularly interesting because, a long time ago, I was diagnosed as a ”narcissist with grandiose self perceptions.” I was given the Minnesota Multi-phasic Personality Inventory, the MMPI. It’s a 1000+ question test that is supposed to dig into the deep recesses of your psyche and reveal the “real you.” So, three hours later, I finished the test. One short interview by Army psychologists later, I was pronounced a narcissist. It changed my career but not for the worse. I thoroughly enjoyed my service.

The MMPI is a strangely transparent test for being a psychological tool. The symptoms the test is looking for are painfully obvious when reading the questions. After the first page or two, I picked up the pattern of the questioning and decided to remain consistent throughout the entire test. Because whack-jobs are all over the map, right? I took a “fuck everyone else, me first” approach to answering the questions. Not because I really felt that way, but because it was an obvious pattern in the questioning. Apparently it worked because that’s exactly what a narcissist would do.

As I’ve gotten older, I often ponder the results of that test and the experience in general. Was pretending to be a narcissist while taking the test mean that I am actually a narcissist? Trying to outsmart the system to make myself seem like something that I wasn’t? Maybe the test was correct since I had the idea in the first place. Maybe I was being just as transparent as the test in my attempt to game the system.

I haven’t gotten into the how’s and why’s of the MMPI and how it’s scored to determine a diagnosis. I suppose a clever test writer could leave obvious tropes for different people to pick up on and follow, thus revealing themselves. A less clever (i.e. an 18 year old budding narcissist) could, plausibly, miss the obviousness of the breadcrumbs and follow them. Congratulating himself on how clever he thinks he is for seeing right through the vail and figuring everything out on their own. Or, maybe, as an 18 year old, narcissism is just part of who you are as a teenager and I was/am completely normal.

Since then I’ve read more about narcissism and other anti-social personality disorders and see some of myself in many of the descriptions. I understand that most people have some of the traits, but not all of them. Or you will have tendencies, but not to a degree that would create a diagnosis. So, maybe I am. Or maybe I just over analyze myself and my motivations too much. I don’t usually advertise it, but it’s one of those voices you hear in the back of your mind on occasion.

After reading this article though, I’ve again revisited the inner me. The article struck chords I recognized. A lot. As a rule, I don’t second guess myself. Nearly every time I have, I come out worse than I would have with my initial response. I’ve learned that my “gut instinct” is reliable the majority of the time. This tends to give me a strange “peace of mind” that other people seem to always look for. I can let go of the stress connected to a situation easily.

My strategy is simple, at least to me. Any problem has three possible outcomes. You can make it better, make it worse, or have no effect on it. Only one of those outcomes involves action on my part. If I can make it better, I will. Once I’ve done what I can, the rest is out of my hands. If I can only exacerbate the problem, or not even impact the outcome, I’m wasting my time and efforts. The best I can do is prepare for the outcome of said problem, which is in itself, a huge advantage. I’ve identified the problem and sandboxed likely or plausible outcomes and have time, best case scenario, to prepare for the inevitable. Worst case, I’m aware of what’s happening and why.

Given all of this navel gazing, where does that leave me? Ironically, it leaves me stress free. Mental illness, specifically narcissism, isn’t “treatable” to my knowledge. Since I can’t make myself “uncrazy” my only move is to be aware of it and deal accordingly. I’m not a heartless psychopath. That much I’m sure of. Maybe, like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, I’m a “high-functioning sociopath.” I doubt that as well. Although there’s a lot of overlap between narcissism and sociopathy, I don’t think I’m a sociopath. I can compartmentalize my feelings and emotions, but not to the degree of a sociopath.

Regardless of my mental functionality, I don’t believe I’m broken in anyway. I’m a conscientious and courteous person. I love my children and would do anything for them. That extends to people I consider my friends. Loyalty is important to me. Once you have my loyalty, I’m on your side no matter what. What side that actually is isn’t important to me. There’s probably not a small number of people that have it and don’t know it. It’s my own list that I don’t share as a general rule.

So, there you have it. A brief ride-along on my personal introspection. I’m not sure if it accomplished anything, or if I’m in a different spot than I was before. But that was really never the point.