I recently realized that many of the male characters in my novels were narcissists. Most of us know that this type of person is full of self adulation and grandiose self love. However, one the most deleterious characteristics of narcissists is listed on on HealthyPlace: America’s Mental Health Channel .
“Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special and favorable priority treatment. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her expectations.”
I am well acquainted with this side of narcissism, as I was raised with it. The problem was made more intense by the fact that my parents had opposing goals for me and so I was in constant danger of enraging one or the other of them. However, this same article also claims that this kind of disorder is usually bred in people when they are very young as a protection against trauma or abuse. I truly believe that that was the case with my parents, so I know rationally that I cannot judge them.
The problem of many children of narcissists, including me, is that we confuse narcissism with love, as that is the only kind of love we are familiar with. In my case, I was blessed with a husband who was as far from a narcissist as anyone could be. However, it was an adjustment, because I was constantly looking to him for cues as to how he wanted me to behave. He gave none, nor would he venture opinions on such things as how I dressed or wore my hair. I had to adjust and find out who I really was apart from other people’s expectations. It took me years to discover my own personality.
I suppose that is why narcissism always comes up in my fiction as a form of “false love.” However, my heroines are always strong enough to ward off the “love” of such men, continuing to be themselves. And usually, though not always, the men guilty of this behavior, reform, learning over time to love the heroine more than their “ideal” of her.
Romance novels are full of narcissistic men who are changed by their beloved objects. Two of the greatest and most beloved classics, Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, have the supreme narcissists: Rochester and Darcy. And why do we love these novels? Because they show the tremendous power of real love to redeem and change people for the better. It has become formulaic.
However, one needn’t look far in today’s society to see that this form of entitlement has become rampant. I dated far too many narcissists who were shopping, like men in a grocery store, for just the right delicacy. In my forthcoming novel, Pieces of Paris, my very likeable, but narcissistic hero has to face a common problem: his wife is nothing like the image of her that he had fallen in love with. He must face the decision, usually summed up as “I didn’t sign up for this. This is not the person I married. Do I stay or do I go?” And we weigh his character by his decision, as we do Rochester and Darcy.
In complete contrast with this, is Christ-like love. He loves us in spite of ourselves. He does not impose His will upon us. He allows us freedom to choose. And He loves us so much, that even if we choose wrongly, even if we harm others in our choices, He still loves us and still wants us to come back to Him, and so He provided a way, through His atonement, for the penitent.
When seen in this light, the Love of God is mighty miracle. And yet, I have seen it in my life. When I turned out to have a grave illness and to be a much different person than my husband “signed up for,” he did not leave me. He chose instead the heroic choice of honoring his covenants. He stood by me and helped me to find wellness. This is Christ like behavior.
And so, as I have been nurtured and loved by a hero, it is now my turn to forgive those who were unable to nurture and love me properly as I was growing up because of their own problems with receiving true, redeeming love in their lives. It is my turn to forebear and forgive.
And that is why this theme of the reformed narcissist is a recurring theme in my fiction.