Faithful readers of Dear Abby's advice column occasionally see a letter that seems to speak directly to them. It happened to me when I read one from a woman who said her daughter is self-centered, lies compulsively, and does not consider the consequences of her actions. The girl has been diagnosed with something called narcissistic personality disorder.
I was shocked, because the woman could have been describing my own daughter. Now I can imagine a letter that I might write to Dear Abby.
It would say something like this:
I knew, or thought I knew, about narcissism -- an excessive interest in oneself, originating from the Greek myth about a beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection -- but until now I had never heard it described as a personality disorder.
My daughter, "Connie," was an only child, and never played well with other children nor showed much interested in making friends. She has always been bright and beautiful. In high school the boys shied away from her because she was considered "a brain." The girls were jealous of her stunning good looks. I thought that explained her lack of friends, but later began to suspect something more. When she did acquire boyfriends in college, she treated them badly. Even when she married for the first time it did not appear to be a normal, loving relationship, and she soon left that husband for someone else. Men catered to her every whim in order to please her, which she then regarded as weakness, and even scorned them for it. I observed her being hostile and arrogant toward those who adored her -- often dropping them without any thought about the consequences, nor any concern for their feelings. She left one fiance literally "waiting at the church."
She and her next husband, "Jack," had a baby. When the child was three months old, Connie abruptly left Jack and took the baby with her. When she and the baby landed on my doorstep, I asked if she felt any sympathy for Jack in all of this. Her reply was a cold-hearted, "I never look back."
Since reading the letter in your column from the woman whose daughter has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, I have learned more about that condition and now believe that my daughter suffers from it, as well. James Masterson, an authority on mental disorders, writes that narcissistic patients can be extremely manipulative. Connie has shown a marked tendency to use people, often turning her back on anyone she cannot control and then lying about it to outsiders, making it appear that she is the victim. I saw her doing this to others, but never dreamed she would do it to her own mother. I was wrong. Now, her five ex-husbands and I have all shared the same fate. In the twenty years since she turned her back on me, my only contact with her has been one letter. In it she says that our relationship was "never worth saving," which is not only a lie but a cruel turning of the knife in the wound.
Nowhere have I seen that this disorder might be inherited, but Connie is very much like her father, from whom she also gets her stunning good looks. I also wonder if narcissism is more common to the "beautiful people" of this world. Do they, like the mythical Narcissus, fall in love with their own reflections, causing them to become abnormally selfish and self-centered?
Thank you, Abby, for making me aware of narcissistic personality disorder. It is heartbreaking to have one's family ties abruptly cut for no apparent reason, but there is some comfort in knowing about a plausible underlying cause.