I’ll Take The Fingernails

“Are you kidding?  That’s for me?  You guys made that for me?  Were you thinking about me when you made that?  Can I have it?  Can I keep it?  Can I hang it in my house?  Won’t it look so nice in my house?  I can’t believe you guys made that for me!  You guys were thinking about me!  That’s so cool!  That’s really for me, right?”

Would you guess that Mark had been presented with the most exquisite gift ever given?  Maybe an original painting?  Maybe a handmade quilt?  Maybe a one-of-a-kind piece of pottery?  Maybe the Hope Diamond?  Guess again.  The kids gave him a few evergreen branches tied together with a Christmas ribbon.  Will says, “Ah, yea, Dad.  You can go ahead and hang that on your house.”  Then Will turns to look at me with this expression on his face that says, “Get me outta here!”

Those exclamations are the sounds of feigned interest.  That is the sound of a person faking enthusiasm for something they think they are supposed to get excited about.  That is what it sounds like when you pretend to be interested in something your kids have done.  Can you imagine having to pretend to be interested?  Can you imagine not thinking that everything they create is some kind of gift, or an indication that they are destined for a life of greatness?

We’ve heard that a lot.  Usually those exclamations are followed by short statements that tell the artist how they came up short in their execution.  “Jenny!  That’s the most amazing drawing of the Loch Ness Monster that I’ve ever seen.  But I don’t think he has purple spots.”  “Will, I love the story you wrote.  But, Buddy, you should really stick with painting.”

Narcissists don’t react to situations the way most people do.  Most people try to appropriately match their reaction to the situation.  Actually, I don’t think most people have to try to do that.  Okay, maybe we have to work at it a bit, when we’re reacting to something coming from someone we don’t know well.  But with our family, or people we know well, it shouldn’t be fabricated.   It comes naturally for most of us to find the right measure of enthusiasm for any given circumstance.  Narcissists don’t have that ability.  Maybe it has something to do with their lack of empathy.  Perhaps they have to fake all emotions when they are reacting to something that they haven’t created.

That over-exaggerated, misplaced enthusiasm has always grated on my nerves.  I liken it to fingernails on a chalkboard.  Only the fingernails on the chalkboard usually don’t last as long.  The person scratching their nails on the board will usually give up before too long.  They don’t like the sound or the feel of it, either.  But not the Narcissist.  The Narcissist loves the sound of their own voice.  They’ll go on endlessly.  It’s not about whether their reaction is appropriate to the situation, it’s about how great they sound while they’re saying it.

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One comment

  1. Hi Jesse:
    I have a different take on; “It comes naturally for most of us to find the right measure of enthusiasm for any given circumstance. Narcissists don’t have that ability. Maybe it has something to do with their lack of empathy. Perhaps they have to fake all emotions when they are reacting to something that they haven’t created.” I’m not sure it has anything to do with empathy or something they’ve not created. I suspect they can’t risk being genuine in any situation.
    What if the response is natural and perhaps not perfect? I think male narcissists have conjured their image as a Christlike/Adonis on a pedestal and have to carefully create an unnatural (seemingly perfect) response to any conversation/situation they’re presented with. No one can catch him off guard with a question like, “Hey, would you like to go skiing tomorrow? What’s the weather supposed to do?” He will always promise to get back to you. He hasn’t done his research. What if he’d predicted a warming trend and agreed to go, and instead there was a cold snap and blizzard, and you and he were the only ones to show? He can’t afford the egg on his perfect face. Soooo, he’ll get back to you.
    I know that’s tough on Will and Jenny too. The sing-songy, baby talk voice, dripping with the blatant falseness of it all – that sometimes works for two or three year olds, but not grade schoolers! They DO have dignity; he just doesn’t recognize that. He only recognizes his own dignity and his own perceived perfection, and it’s pathetic. That’s why he’s happy to make suggestions about the kids’ art or creative writing. He’s simply stating, “I could have done it better!”

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