That's right, he's pointing at himself

In a previous post I noted the narcissistic tendencies of Mike “The Situation,” one of the Jersey Shore’s most vocal and prominent cast members. This statement may have seemed controversial at the time. After all, calling someone narcissistic is a rather intense accusation. In its most severe form it indicates a personality disorder capable of inciting significant dysfunction and conflict on an almost perpetual basis. It’s not a psychological death sentence, it’s not easily spotted from a mile away, but things can get ugly.  Moreover, through the first few seasons, “The Situation” has positioned himself as one of the more stable and pleasant members of the cast. Yes, that might not be saying much but it makes the notion of narcissism seem like a far cry of misguided, arm-chair analysis.

And while the always-superficial arm-chair analysis remains the same, the “far cry” part has been upgraded to “hit the nail on the head, sort of” after this past week’s episode, Déjà vu All Over Again. Here, the darker side of Mike’s personality structure finally comes out to play, which makes sense, because as research has recently shown, narcissistic individuals commonly give off interpersonal head-fakes in which they seem awesome at first but eventually crash and burn. In other words, narcissists make for memorable one-night stands but often fail miserably as marriage material.

The plotline for this recently-aired episode is essentially a laundry list of Mike-related conflicts. To begin the weekend, Mike exploded on Snooki for not leaving the club when he wanted to leave. Then he flirted with Vinny’s girlfriend even though Vinny has never hurt a fly and has all but proposed to her. Then he inexplicably yelled at a group of drunk guys at another club to the point that the whole group got kicked out. The list goes on. Then Mike - excuse me, ‘Sit’ - got the car towed because he parked where he shouldn’t have parked. Later he practically burned the house down cooking dinner. And, finally, Sit bombed as Pauly D’s wingman…twice.

Yes, this is all in a single weekend. See what I mean by "significant dysfunction and conflict on an almost perpetual basis." And, no, quoting oneself in one's own article is not a symptom of narcissism...though perhaps it should be.

This domino effect of disaster confirms that the lovable and light-hearted fellow we once knew as Sit has now become a much angrier and edgier version of himself. Why all the anger? Where did it come from? The answer is complicated because, among other things, Sit doesn’t even know. If you were to ask him point-blank, “Dude, let's look at the facts. You are clearly and undisputedly angry. What’s the deal,” he could probably dig as deep as “I’m having a bad day” or “other people are pissing me off” but such vague rationalizations and misguided deflections are as deep ashe'll likely go.

To properly locate and understand Mike’s anger we’ll need to remind ourselves of the pathology of which he MIGHT be suffering. According to the DSM-IV, the psychologist’s guide to effective assessment, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern (it’s in your pores and unlikely to go away anytime soon) of the following:

-Grandiose sense of self-importance (I am the greatest thing since sliced bread!)

-Need for admiration (I’ll never admit it but I need everyone also to enthusiastically agree…that I am the greatest thing since sliced bread!)

-Lack of empathy (How am I supposed to think about you when you’re not actively noticing my greatness??? Plus, I’m too busy looking at myself in the mirror)

-Preoccupation with fantasies (I am not just great…I am unique and the world deserves concrete proof!)

-Overblown sense of entitlement (Why don’t you know how great I am? Fool, you better ask somebody…)

-Interpersonally exploitative (You are not a friend or a partner…you are simply a stepping stone on my way to greatness…sweetheart)

Narcissism is about the power of the spotlight - needing it more and more, and freaking out when it starts to slip away. Observe Sit carefully during the little moments. There’s the incessant third-person chatter, the overblown smiles, the rehearsed one-liners and the glances directly into the camera. Sit is not just being filmed, he’s actively constructing a film about himself, as the protagonist hero, and he needs his story to be THE story.

But THE story slowly starts to unravel as it always does with narcissists (unless you’re a dictator…don’t get any ideas Sit). First, Snooki challenges his role as the family patriarch when she didn’t obey his timetable at the club. Sit then spends some time brooding and staring across the dance floor at a desirable girl who picked Vinny over him.

I should point out here that it’s harder to walk off little rejections when they feel like bombshells. Emotionally, he is being dethroned from the spotlight so his next move - exploding on some innocent drunken bystanders and getting everyone kicked out of the club - actually makes perfect sense.

The next day he’s looking for affirmation that the invisible throne is still there. So, he parks where he wants to park and dares society to dethrone him. One expensive parking fee later and Sit’s literally at a loss. It’s a fragile thing, this psychological throne. Now, he’s reeling - even if he doesn’t know it - so to puff himself up again he has to do what he always does, but he has to do it more intensely.

It should be said here that narcissism offers many hidden benefits that research is only starting to uncover. This makes sense as narcissists tend to be quick learners of the ways in which the spotlight can be garnered. Sit has many personality strengths and points of charm that have helped him along the way. In this case, he turns to his culinary talents and attempts to cook the group’s customary Sunday night dinner. But in an effort to patch up his wounded pride he literally cooks too much, and one of the fifteen burning skillets eventually triggers the fire alarm. Then, as a fitting climax to Sit’s weekend of anger, he hijacks his double dates (a modern version of date anyway) with Pauley D when he gets rejected by his girls. This is just too much for Sit’s already-wounded, slowly deflating sense of self. He goes on a tirade that forces all the women within a 15 mile radius to flee into the night. Pauly D is left scratching his head. Pauly D, you’ve got to understand, Sit has spent so much time learning how to get into the spotlight himself that he has no idea how to help others do it.

Now, having said all this, I should also say that things can end well for Sit. In fact, things did end well. The episode closed with Sit dishing out his sweet-smelling dinner and everyone digging in with glee (and some much-needed praise). However, as the short-term turns into the long-term the rest of the Jersey Shore cast is starting to pick up on Mike’s underlying, well-hidden, but unavoidably pervasive pathology. After all, he’s too relentless in his pursuit of power, he’s too sensitive to rejection, and he’s too angry when the invisible throne that nobody else knows about or understands starts to slip away….

Reel Therapy

Unraveling the mind through film
Jeremy Clyman Psy.D.

Jeremy Clyman, Psy.D., is a forensic and clinical psychologist.

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