Are performers raging narcissists?

“Actors and actresses, because that’s their career, can be sort of self-obsessed.”

Kristen BellKristen Bell says about developing her character for her film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”:

“I just looked into the depths of the most hard-to-admit or vulnerable or bad characteristics of my own personality and what an actress can become if given that kind of self indulgence or that amount of vanity.

“That I think anybody could really become.

“But actors and actresses especially, because that’s their career, can be sort of self-obsessed. And there’s a lot of comedy in that.”

[From darkhorizons.com interview by Paul Fischer March 27th 2008.]

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“Narcissism is part of my personality”

Ben Affleck signing autographsWhen asked about narcissism and being an actor, Ben Affleck admitted,

“I’d say it’s the one quality that unites everybody in the film industry, whether you’re an actor, a producer, a director, or a studio executive.

“You want people to look at you and love you and go, Oh, you’re wonderful.”

But, he continued, “It’s a nightmare. Narcissism is the part of my personality that I am the least proud of, and I certainly don’t like to see it highlighted in everybody else I meet.”

[Interview mag., Dec. 1997]

[Photo from facebook.com/benaffleck]

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Gal GadotGal Gadot (“Wonder Woman”) refers to a kind of inauthentic gushing over others that goes on among some – or many – entertainment professionals:

“When I first came to Los Angeles, I couldn’t read people,” Gadot says.

“I always felt there was a subtext… In Israel, people have chutzpah,” she asserts, raising a fist.

“People take issue with it, but I’d rather have that than play games. Here, everyone’s like, ‘We love you; you’re so wonderful.’ I prefer to know the truth, not waste time.”

Quotes and photo from article: No Small Wonder: Gal Gadot Takes Summer by Storm, by Allison Glock, Marie Clare, May 8, 2017.

This sort of “playing games” may be a result of insecurity and possibly narcissism; I am not a clinical psychologist – just speculating.

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Sarah SilvermanSarah Silverman commented in an interview about discovering the writing of psychologist Alice Miller:

“There’s a book called ‘Drama of the Gifted Child’ given to me by my sister, and I was thinking, This is unbelievable. It’s all about me. I related to it so much.

“And I asked a friend of mine if she’d read it, and she said that Alice Miller originally titled the book ‘Drama of the Narcissistic Child’ – but she knew that no one who needed to read it would buy it. That was really funny, and a little bit embarrassing.”

[From Making ‘Magic’ (And Trouble) with Sarah Silverman, NPR, Fresh Air audio interview, Oct 3, 2007; photo from “Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic.”]

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The psychology of narcissism

The basic idea of narcissism is being obsessively self-absorbed, always putting your own needs first, having poor empathy or appreciation for other people’s needs, and other qualities.

But what is behind someone operating that way?

Alice Miller writes in The Drama of the Gifted Child about childhood harm leading to compromised emotional life as an adult, including those kinds of behavior.

Read much more in my article Alice Miller on the gift of surviving a traumatic childhood.

 

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Celebrities and narcissism

In his article The narcissist, unmasked, Benedict Carey describes qualities that fit many celebrity level performers, as well as other professionals:

“They’ve got the most fabulous personal trainer in town, the best lawyer, the top BMW mechanic, and make sure the world knows it.

“They’re charming enough to attract friends, associates and lovers — only to drop them as soon as better prospects show up.

“They need the best table in the house, the lion’s share of the conversation and, above all, top billing, whether on the marquee or in the mailroom.

“While familiar at almost any level of society, these peacocks find Southern California an especially comfortable habitat.

Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, 1950“In the warm bath of sunlight and celebrity, their behavior can be entertaining, even encouraged, and it’s usually relatively harmless.

“Yet some of these seemingly overconfident people are actually in considerable psychological trouble, suffering what psychiatrists call narcissistic personality disorder, one of the most self-destructive and difficult-to-treat conditions in the lexicon of mental illness.

“For contrary to Narcissus of Greek legend, who was enthralled by his own reflection in a pool of water, researchers say that roughly 1 million Americans with this personality disorder act not from self-love but from a kind of self-loathing, a dread of failure and an inability to endure its emotional fallout — shame.

“Millions more are thought to suffer from narcissistic tendencies, due to similar but less extreme fears.

“Research suggests that this anguish develops in early childhood, and that therapists can help put it to rest.” [Los Angeles Times, Oct 14 2002]

The photo is Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, from my article Narcissism: Having a God complex – one of Desmond’s quotes: “If it weren’t for me, there wouldn’t be any Paramount Studios.”

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Vera FarmigaActor Vera Farmiga cautions that this business of entertainment “is tough, it is so tough.

“But my first and foremost thing is like, ego always gets in the way.

“You gotta keep that in check – you got to.”

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But the idea of “ego” can cover a variety of traits and attitudes, and is not necessarily narcissism.

Creativity teacher and writer Julia Cameron has commented:

“We tend to think, or at least fear, that creative dreams are egotistical… This thinking must be undone.” (From her book “The Artist’s Way.”)

That quote is from my article Ego and Creativity.

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Narcissistic tendencies are not necessarily signs of “craziness”

Having these sort of narcissistic tendencies doesn’t mean you are “crazy” or necessarily need therapy.

But it can be helpful to our emotional growth and power as creative people to be more aware of how we operate, and change what doesn’t serve us well.

Richard Gere once commented, “The more I grow, the less I become this egocentric thing that is prone to anger and hatred and all this other stuff.

“The trick is to get out of the way of the ego, so that whatever is of value illuminating inside you or me or the waiter or anybody else can be seen. The job of the creative person is to get out of the way.” [LA Times, 1/5/03]

Ego self-esteem

Spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle [Meg Ryan made Oprah aware of his book The Power of Now] distinguishes two kinds of self esteem.

“First there is the ego self-esteem,” he says.

“Even if you have high ego self-esteem, there’s always hidden fear underneath it. It’s always there to compensate for the fear you feel of not being good enough or perhaps failing.

“So you need to play a role of being big to compensate for fear of failure that’s deep down.

“But the world would say he or she has high self-esteem. People who have big egos.

“But the world doesn’t realize that that’s not true self-esteem.”

True self-esteem, he explains, “goes much deeper. It’s finding the source of power and aliveness deep inside.”

From article Eckhart Tolle on Shyness, Self-esteem and Ego.

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Does fame and power fuel narcissism?

Another perspective is offered by writer Stephen Sherrill in his New York Times article Acquired Situational Narcissism.

“We all know that movie stars, professional athletes, rich people and politicians often act like complete jackasses,” he writes, “but Robert B. Millman, professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical School and the medical adviser to Major League Baseball, thinks he knows why.

“The cause, he says, is acquired situational narcissism, a psychological dysfunction that Millman was the first to identify and that he treats in his celebrity patients.”

Sherrill explains, “People who aspire to stardom tend to be more narcissistic than others, but they don’t develop a true narcissistic personality disorder until they begin to achieve success: the first platinum album, the first appearance in Vanity Fair’s ‘Young Hollywood’ issue, the first public fling with Winona Ryder.”

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Michael Keaton in Birdman

Related articles:

Creativity and Ego – “My personal creative process has always been very torturous, because I try to be a perfectionist. That’s the way the ego works.”‘Birdman’ director Alejandro González Iñarritu.

“He bought the whole thing of: People will love me, I’ll be famous, I’ll be rich, I’ll have a few big houses, I’ll have women, I’m important, what I say is important…” Michael Keaton on his character in the movie.

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Identity and Being Creative – Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman comments: “Creative expression equals self-expression… So anything we can do to firm up our identity, figure out who we are, separate from others, and what it is we really want to express – that influences our information processing of everything in the world.”

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Celebrity and narcissism – Narcissism may show up as a sense of entitlement, and feeling of immunity from normal human responsibility and consequence. It is something that can affect many talented people who gain celebrity status.

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Article publié pour la première fois le 24/10/2014