Narcissism or Autism?

Destructive narcissism has its onset in childhood, the consequence of emotional damage inflicted by parents, authority figures, siblings or peers. For instance, if a person is relentlessly demeaned as a child, the likelihood increases that they will seek to bolster their diminished sense of self-worth with self-serving behavior and a compensatory demeanor of arrogance.

Destructive narcissism is a distortion of emotional development, whereas autism is a distinct pattern of neurological development, the potential for which is laid out in the genetic structure, which diverges from the neurologically typical pattern, . Narcissism is a maladaptive manifestation of a child's broken spirit; autism's in the wiring.

Narcissists tend to be oriented outward, depending for their sense of self-worth on the validation of others. They have a deep need to be admired by others. Autists are generally inwardly focused, find their motivation within themselves, and are not particularly driven to impress others.

Narcissists tend to be preoccupied with impression management, and will do whatever it takes to look good and to satisfy their appetites. They tend to be interpersonally manipulative, exploitive and dishonest. These are not characteristics of autism. Autistic people are by nature direct and honest.

Narcissists tend to be adept at nonverbal communication, particularly eye contact. A great deal of manipulative interaction occurs through the medium of the gaze — to persuade, intimidate, seduce, deceive. Nonverbal signals tend to fly under an autistic person's radar, and eye contact is often difficult or inconsistent for them.

Narcissus did not love his own essence; rather, he became infatuated with a reflection -- an immaterial image, outside himself -- a fantasy.

I am reminded of Jane Meyerding's analogy of the hollow core and the solid core (and also of her caveat that the analogy is descriptive, not pejorative):

"Some of us are solid core... and some of us are hollow core. The hollow cores need outside help to find the proper center of gravity that will allow them to orient themselves in society."

Narcissism is characterized by a hollow core.

July-August 2004

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