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I originally posted this as a rather long comment in another thread, and was told by another commenter that I should post it as a standalone diary--which had already crossed my mind, so here I am. I understand people's frustration with how insensitive and stupid some people can be, which has been acutely evident in the wake of the recent Steubenville rape case. Particularly shocking have been the numerous callous statements of insensitivity by the perpetrators and their apologists, many of whom have projected blame on this poor unfortunate woman. I believe that what we've seen that shocks us most is the result of pathological narcissism, a prevalent spectrum of psychological dysfunction that includes Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I feel compelled in this instance to share my own thoughts on this phenomenon so it can be better understood what it is, and what I believe we can and should do about it.  

Men can be narcissistic creatures, more so than women in my clinical experience. Narcissists have a great tendency to be dismissive of other's feelings in deference to their own. And NO demographic group is more narcissistic than young men, from adolescence up until about 30. (I know, I was one of them.) But even narcissists tend to develop relationships with "idealized self-objects", i.e. certain other people to whom they value over and above others in their environment, such as spouses and children. These people are allowed into their circle of narcissistic self-regard.

It is lamentable how prevalent narcissism is not only in this culture, but humanity at large. But no amount of social change is going to get rid of narcissism as a phenomenon--that's wishful thinking to the extreme, one step above achieving world peace. The only way you can get through to sexist/narcissistic lunkheads on this issue is through such memes--to get them to imagine that this unfortunate young lady was somebody they loved. And we NEED to use such exercises in order to change people's hearts, including the lunkheads--if only one instance at a time.  

In my work as a psychiatrist I find every reason to be cynical about humanity--because it's amazing how stubbornly resistant people can be to making changes in their attitudes or lifestyle, even when it is painfully obvious how much their happiness depends on it. But there are also moments when people surprise me, and go through a transformative period of personal growth when I least expect it, even when I've long since given up on them. We use these memes because they work, because they break through people's resistance. Because a sexist/narcissistic asshole of a man can't imagine actually being a woman, but they can usually think of one they adore. It might be the beginning of more substantive change. We don't know until it happens.

We cannot give up on the lunkheads--but neither can we wish them away. We can only try to make them think about things a different way, the best we can. Belle Jar is right in lamenting the state of the world--but this meme is a tool that can be used to change it, one soul at a time.

Originally posted to Making Sense of Psychiatry on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 09:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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