Friday, August 7, 2015

Narcissistic Objectification and Dehumanization

Look to your immediate right and find a small object.  Perhaps it's a pencil, your phone, a bottle of water or a remote control.  In my case, it's a can of Cherry Coke. Now pick up that object and consider its feelings. What are its hopes and dreams? How could you best support its time on earth in a positive and constructive way? Ask yourself if you've ever abused it.  If so, apologize to it sincerely and make up for your past transgressions toward it. Empathize with it.

By now you should be feeling a little ridiculous and wondering why you've allowed some blogger to turn your normally rational self into a crazy person who has heartfelt conversations with inanimate objects.  And rightfully so, after all, objects don't have feelings, or hopes or dreams. They don't require companionship and support from their owners to become well-adjusted.  If you angrily toss a pen on the table during a frustrating call with your bank, it doesn't leave an emotional scar and require treatment to alleviate its PTSD.

And just as I view my Cherry Coke can as something to feed my sweet tooth and later to be discarded or recycled per my wishes at the time of my choosing; it is exactly how narcissists view the people around them.

We are things, used to serve their purposes. Whatever feelings or needs we may have are either completely unimportant, or are up to the discretion of the narcissists in our lives to decide if serving our needs will also benefit them.  If not, we are ignored, abused or discarded. Just as non-narcissistic people view the objects in their lives.

Now, some of us are better than others at taking care of the things we've accumulated in our lifetimes. And we own objects of different values. For example, while this open can of Cherry Coke next to me isn't likely to remain in my possession beyond recycle pick-up day, I have a music box that was given to me by my late grandmother as a child which I have carefully dusted once a week for nearly 3 decades in every home I have ever lived in. It's the thing I would grab if my house caught on fire and I would be devastated if anything ever happened to it. But it's still an "it."  No, I may not have ever abused it, and have kept from neglecting it, but surely not for its own needs.  Rather, my own desire to see it remain as pretty as it was when I was a child (and to keep a dust-free home) is why I tend to it so diligently.  I do not clean it so that it may flourish emotionally and I don't keep it on a safe shelf so it won't "die."  I keep it in a safe place so *I* will not suffer its loss.  Again, my own needs preempt the needs of the object. And I feel zero empathy for it.

Similarly, narcissists will place different values on the people in their lives that they have objectified.

Some will be kept in safer places so they are not damaged by every day activity (such as outright meanness, abuse and cruelty) because their untarnished presence helps the narcissist to feel as if they can care for something. Like an old High School Letterman jacket that's kept safe but only ever seen when the owner is feeling nostalgic.  Examples would be those who are kept under the narcissists benign yet somewhat relaxed control, and enable the narcissist passively.  These are the people objects which the narcissist shelves, only to be brought out at a time of need but are otherwise ignored.

Others will be kept in plain view for the rest of the world to see and will be touted by the narcissist as their most prized possession, and are also not likely to suffer direct abuse at their hands and even treated with an aura of protection by the narcissist. Think of this as a priceless antique vase kept on an entry way table for guests to comment on immediately after entering a home, or more generally as status symbols. As people, these are the "trophies."  Sometimes they are Golden Children, celebrity friends, highly successful relatives, over-achieving children and attractive, fit spouses. While they might not suffer cruelties, they are still however seen as objects.  They are still, in the narcissists eyes, *things* which give the narcissist a sense of importance and value. They are not humans with needs and feelings, they are show pieces meant to be seen by the rest of the world as proof of the narcissist's significance. And should the vase get a chip in it or the trophy person lose value, they will be quickly discarded and/or replaced without empathy.

Some objects will be kept hidden away out of disgust, and saved only out of obligation.  Such as the hideous set of bookends you received from Aunt Ethel as a wedding gift which remains stashed in your closet until and unless she visits. These, as people, are the scapegoats.  The narcissist finds them offensive, ugly and a threat to their otherwise perfectly crafted lifestyle. They are frequently targets of verbal and emotional abuse.  Sometimes, physical.  And the narcissist is entirely justified in their stance, since after all, it is the object's fault for being so awful.

And lastly, there are the tools. These are objects high in the narcissist's favor because they directly serve the narcissist's immediate needs.  As people, they are the aggressive enablers, or the more commonly termed "Flying Monkeys."  They are the hammer that smashes the damaged trophy vase, or the ridiculing box marked "UGLY" which holds the scapegoated bookends. It's the credit card the purchases the replacement trophy object, and the moth-balls that keep the Letterman jacket from being destroyed by pests. They are all objects which the narcissist uses directly or indirectly to serve their greater purposes, and the tools willingly oblige for their own senses of designed purpose in hopes of one day becoming one of the narcissist's most prized possessions.

Every human being in the narcissist's life, is no more than inanimate object in their eyes. Just as you, a person, hold yourself in higher esteem and importance than that small object you talked to, the narcissist holds themself above all other humans the same way. Each of us have our place and our purpose in the narcissist's carefully designed life. Our needs are not considered unless they also serve the narcissist's greater needs. We are undeserving of apologies, love, respect and support. We are not personified enough in their minds to carry emotional scars at the hands of their abuse.

THIS, friends, is what the DSM-IV is referring to when it says that one of the markers of NPD is a lack of empathy.  It's extremely hard for those of us who do feel empathy to fathom what that might be like. But through understanding that a narcissist sees the people in their lives as dehumanized objects, we can begin to grasp their actions and/or apathy toward us.

We stop asking ourselves questions like: "Why didn't my mom ever apologize to me?" "Why did my brother do that to me and not even seem to feel guilty?" "Why did my father push me into that career, never asking what I wanted?" "Why did my husband forget my last three birthdays?" etc. and most importantly, we stop asking those questions of the narcissist's themselves, hoping for answers we need to hear, love we need to be shown and respect we desperately need to be given.  Because we finally comprehend that these deep desires in us are impossible for the narcissist to grant.

By compartmentalizing the Narcissist into this new view, we can break the cycle of dysfunction. We are freed to grieve the loss of knowing they will never see us as we actually are: worthy of love, respect and support. We are able to separate our opinions of ourselves from the opinions of us our narcs hold. We are able to see that we didn't deserve the abuses we endured, we weren't unlovable and we weren't as devalued as they's made us feel.  And we are able to distance ourselves from their disordered personalities, knowing we are not like them and can stop comparing how we behave as a bar for how they should behave. It allows us the liberation of understanding that the way they see us, and the world around them, is WRONG, disturbed and something to avoid.

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