February 28, 2020

Dear Drama Observers,

Michael Scott, the lead character from The Office, was being interviewed once for a corporate position. When asked to describe his weaknesses, Michael replied, “I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes, I can be too invested in my job.”

Yeah, those were his “weaknesses.”

Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell, was the quintessential narcissist—pompous, self-important, entitled, thin-skinned, image-driven, craving of admiration.

And woefully un-self-aware.

One of the things that made The Office funny was that everybody knew Michael was a wacky nut job except for one person, Michael.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the eldest daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, once said of her father, “He wants to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral, and the baby at every christening.” I’m not certain if Teddy Roosevelt met the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but that desperate need to be the center of attention was certainly a narcissistic trait.

As illustrated by these two examples, the narcissism of some people is on public display for all to see. But some narcissists are stealthy about it. You may not feel assaulted by their grandiosity at first encounter, but their insatiable need for ego strokes becomes apparent the closer you get. Like a broken-down jalopy with a fresh coat of paint, the attractive external appearance betrays the defective internal workings.

Rachel (not her real name) was initially attracted to Ross (not his real name) by his kindness, gentle manner, and sense of humor. He seemed to be a genuinely nice guy. She had previously been involved with a jerk whose jerkhood, in hindsight, had been readily apparent. Having been burned, she learned her lesson and wisely determined to never let that happen again. Ross seemed to be the polar opposite in every way.

But when their first child came along, Rachel started noticing some disturbing patterns:

  • Ross would complain that her “preoccupation” with infant care was hurting their relationship.
  • He’d whine—sometimes in tears—that Rachel seemed to love their newborn son more than she loved him.
  • Rachel would try to explain that caring for their baby had nothing to do with her not loving him—that she could do both at the same time. But these points always seemed to fall on deaf ears.
  • She tried to get Ross to talk to other fathers or read some materials about parents and newborns—that what they were going through was quite common and they could get through this together. But Ross refused. He was simply too hurt, he explained.

As time went by, Rachel started realizing that she was actually caring for two infants, not one. One could be calmed by a pacifier. The other could only be pacified by exclusive attention. Rachel thought she had married a grown up. She had actually married a child with insatiable infantile needs that no grown up could ever meet. And this pattern only intensified after child number two was born.

I don’t mean to suggest that things were all bad all the time—they actually seemed to get along fairly well. But lurking under the surface like a snake ready to strike was Ross’s resentment, which he used as justification for an ongoing sexual fetish that Rachel later discovered.

At her insistence, Ross went for counseling but used that setting to construct a self-serving narrative that sounded like this:

Yes, what I did was wrong but at least I’m coming here and honestly dealing with my issues. But Rachel won’t face hers. She’s cold-hearted toward me and reserves all of her affection for our children. She’s enmeshed with our kids and that can’t be healthy for them. She has a sickness that she denies and refuses to get help.

With this as his justification, Ross eventually filed for divorce and ended the marriage. In the story of his imagination, Ross is a good guy who sadly married a bad woman blind to her own shortcomings.

Ross is as narcissistic as the day is long, but it didn’t show up until the circumstances (having children which required him to place someone’s needs above his own) revealed it. Rachel was impressed with the paint job only to discover that there was no engine under the hood.

Till next week.

2 replies
  1. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    Thank you for this post. I have been feeling a lot of guilt for leaving my exhusband who was much like Ross. He has completely fallen apart since the divorce partly due to untreated bipolar disorder and partly due to a personality disorder. It took years for me to put together why we got along sometimes but not others. There were warning signs of course, but we went on to have children and like in the Ross scenario he wanted more of me than I had to give. He also idealized the children and spent inordinate amounts of time with them. So much more but this helped sooth some of the guilt from my having moved on and formed a happy and healthy relationship.

    • Alan Godwin
      Alan Godwin says:

      Thanks for that reply, Cindy. Doing the right thing sometimes elicits feelings of guilt even though it was the right thing to do. We call that false guilt. Glad this was helpful to you.

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