Who was Narcissus?


Many artists have depicted Narcissus, the legendary Greek hunter who loved to stare at his own image in pools of water, but eventually realized he could never possess just a reflection of himself, and in deep despair, killed himself. Other versions of the legend have him falling into the pool of water while staring at his reflection and drowning. But there’s more to the legend. For those of you who enjoy mythology or just like love stories, here’s the story in its entirety:

Myth Man’s Echo and Narcissus: a Sad Love Story

Narcissus was so beautiful that both men and women alike desired him, but Echo, a beautiful but overly talkative young woman, loved Narcissus most of all. Unfortunately, her adoration and devotion was unrequited because of Narcissus’ love for only himself. This seems so familiar to those of us who have been the victims in a relationship with a narcissist, doesn’t it?

I wonder if Narcissus would have gained narcissistic supply from knowing a well known and “popular” mental disorder was named after him. Probably.

Here are some of my favorite images of Narcissus (and Echo).

Caravaggio’s painting is my favorite, and I have used this image in a few other posts. Narcissus is so beautiful here, I could stare at him forever (just as poor Echo did). I love how lost he looks in his own reflection. He’s looking at it the way a man looks at a woman he’s fallen in love with.

John William Waterhouse’s 1903 painting of Narcissus and Echo is another of my favorites. Narcissus is completely unaware of Echo’s presence. You can tell she’s in love with him but he doesn’t want her. In fact, he doesn’t even know she exists. In his world, only he exists.

Narcissus and 2 women. Artist unknown. (Does anyone know who painted this?)

I do not know who painted this either. But notice how completely Echo is engaged, passionately embracing Narcissus, and yet he is not returning her embrace. He seems to be merely tolerating her. Theirs is definitely an unequal relationship.

Another unknown artist. It appears this image may depict Narcissus after his death, or maybe he’s just asleep or pretending to sleep so he doesn’t have to engage with the adoring Echo.

A modern take: Esstera’s Echo and Narcissus on Deviantart. I love Echo’s almost angry expression and body language in this.

Another modern take, moved to an urban environment (looks like a NYC subway)–“Narcissus and Echo” by David Revoy. I love this!

The Narcissus flower, related to the daffodil, according to legend bloomed on the banks of the pond where Narcissus died.

There are many other images and paintings of Narcissus and Echo, but these are the ones that really capture my imagination and I think are the most beautiful.

Reflecting on Narcissism: much less than just a pretty face


Narcissism is a disorder named after Narcissus, a young hunter who, according to Greek mythology, fell so much in love with his own reflection staring back at him in a pool of water, that he fell in the pool and drowned.

In actuality, while some narcissists are as vain as our Greek god, most would not necessarily fit the stereotype of a physically vain person. My narcissistic mother is vain, but my ex-husband is anything but. In fact, he cares very little about his physical appearance. Narcissists look like anyone else–it’s their actions and behavior that give them away.

Another misunderstanding about narcissists is that they love themselves. They don’t. People who love themselves are people who know who they are, and are a pleasure to be around. But narcissists don’t hate themselves either, at least not in the same way a neurotic individual with a poor self image hates himself. Narcissists don’t think they’re disturbed enough to seek therapy. They’re not suffering; you are. It’s everyone else who is nuts, not them. The reason they are so self-centered is because they have lost their true self and deep down, they know it.

While a few narcissists may have been born that way (there is some evidence narcissism has a genetic component), for the most part I don’t think there are “bad seeds.” Usually (though not always), at a very young age, their true self was lost, possibly by a parent failing to “mirror” them during the language learning stage when they were infants and toddlers. It’s my opinion that maternal neglect during early childhood can lead to NPD–as well as possibly autism (which is intriguing since autism and NPD are so vastly different from each other–and yet both share a failure to become sufficiently socialized or relate to others). So narcissists can’t love or hate themselves because they can’t access their true self, which is unknown to them. Their self centeredness stems from a need to be mirrored–something all babies need but their own parents may have failed or were unable to do. It would be interesting to find out if foster children are more likely to develop narcissism than children from loving families. It would also be interesting to find out if people with NPD and autism are more likely than others to have narcissistic parents, especially narcissistic mothers, who would be unable to “mirror” them adequately as infants. I would bet there’s a correlation.

Narcissists can’t experience genuine emotion because there is no true self there (or is greatly diminished)–so everything they say and do is an act. They are chameleons who can change their behavior or image at the drop of a hat because all they are doing is reflecting back what they see in the people they are dealing with. If you abandon them or wrong them, or even disagree with them, it devastates them because you are taking away their false acquired “self,” which means they are then forced to acknowledge their emptiness. In fact, that’s the only real pain they feel–the pain of their own emptiness. That’s why they must constantly fill the void. Like the vampires they are, they will suck you dry in an attempt to fill the black hole that has replaced their real self. Unlike Narcissus (but like vampires), when they look into the mirror, they don’t see a beautiful reflection. What they see is nothing, and that is so terrifying to them they must constantly seek to fill the void with whatever they can suck out of others.

In fact, that’s the only time a narcissist may contemplate suicide–when, for whatever reason, they are unable to attain “narcissistic supply,” they are forced to behold their own empty reflection in the mirror. Farther along the psychopathy spectrum, narcissists are more likely to retaliate against the person who abandoned or wronged them than to inflict self-harm, and this is where you’ll find murders and murder-suicides.

Narcissists both hate and envy vulnerability in others, and act out through both attaching themselves to and bullying such people. They desperately want that innate ability to feel and intuit things that a sensitive person has, but they also envy and are terrified of it because it’s the one thing that can expose them for the fakes they really are. I remember my mother raged at me often during my teen years, but her worst rages were the times when I called her out on her shallowness and lack of empathy. At those times there was always a look of utter fear in her eyes as she raged on, as if some truth had been exposed. I wasn’t even aware of this at the time, but in fact I nailed it and it scared her to death.

They would rather break the mirror than confront what isn’t there.