Unconscious Narcissism

On the seventy-fifth anniversary of VJ Day, it would be tempting to recall veterans of the war in the East I knew in my youth, especially survivors of the Japanese prison camps, or some of the lovely Japanese friends I made at Cambridge, but to do so would be to give in to a kind of unconscious narcissism that has become more and more prevalent as social media have come to dominate much of our behaviour. We have become so accustomed to stating our own opinion, giving others the benefit of our advice, or simply turning every post or comment of others into a vehicle for self-advertisement that we no longer, or only rarely, recognize that we are doing so. What do I really know of the sufferings of those prisoners of war or those affected by the bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki? Come to think of it, what do I really know of Japanese culture beyond what my friends have shown me? In both cases, my horror and delight are second-hand, mediated, appropriated.

There is nothing wrong in that, you may argue, but the purposes to which I put them may be. If today you or I are tempted to wade into a fight on Twitter or any other platform, maybe we should ask ourselves what we gain from it? Do we genuinely seek information, want to clarify a view, or contribute to a debate; or do we want to show off, voice our anger, scoop up some sympathy for ourselves under the guise of sympathy for another? When we have become the centre of our own universe, we often misjudge others — and our own motives. What I think we can all agree on as we look back on the tragedies of World War II is that they should never happen again. Let us pray that we may be selfless enough to ensure that they don’t.


10 thoughts on “Unconscious Narcissism”

  1. Having read three different published sources about my father’s time in Burma from his Brigade Commander, John Masters, their Cipher Officer Richard Rhodes James and his padre I understand better how he rarely talked about it. However I do have an appreciation of what it was like.

    I have posted about the conflict but only to remember them and to explain to others the conditions under which they fought. Marching up and down extremely steep hillsides, heavily laden, often starving, in high temperatures and heavy monsoon rain, it was horrible for all.

    I’m remembering them all today in my thoughts and prayers especially for those who continue to suffer.

  2. We see in part, as St Paul says.

    But it has to be me who sees. The part is all I can see. And God made me able to see.

    The self is, even if denied, or lost to be gained.

  3. Reminder to self: Ask before each post/reply/comment:
    Just why am I putting finger to keyboard in this case?

    Thank you, Sister. A very salutary blog (as if they all ain’t!)

  4. I hope that, in replying, I’m not being an unconscious narcissist but I thought it worth mentioning that in a number of areas of psychology, the topic of whether we ever really understand what goes on in another person’s mind is regularly discussed. It’s a big issue in counselling and psychotherapy because we often find ourselves trying to help people who are very different from us. To echo your question, “What do I really know of the sufferings of others?” Sometimes we just have to try, knowing we will probably (certainly?) make mistakes.

  5. I felt something similar, perhaps, about the recent discussions around racism and the Black Lives Matter slogan. There was huge pressure to say or do something on social media, and indeed, some view that silence equated opposition. My compromise was to share some pictures I took during a visit to the Martun Luther King memorial in Atlanta, some of my observations of continual social inequality, and some of the things I learnt from my visit to the museum there?

    I dont quite understand the inclination to make the topic of the day all about us, but is it worse to say nothing at all, and risk others thinking you dont care? Does adding our voices to the cacophony drown out those with a genuine story to share, or enhance and echo the message, spreading it where it might otherwise not reach?

    I think there is some overlap here with how evangelical we all choose to be, and also Jesus’s teaching on giving and being seen in Matthew 6. (Which I had to look up – that’s one of the nicest things about reading this blog, it prompts me to think and go back to the Bible as I make connections between ideas. 🙂 )

  6. No arguments here from me.

    My father fought in the Pacific theater (New Guinea and the Philippines) during WW II. No words can express the horrors of the war he fought in but rarely spoke about though he once confided in me (a boy) that his best friend had died in his arms.

    My father also lost his mother to breast cancer during the war but could not make it home in time to see her once more, as she longed to see him, her “soldier boy”, safe and sound at last in letters written.

    A lesson learned: that those who fight in wars should be encouraged to share their deepest sorrows and anger in confidence to counselors as sorrow and anger can come up from time to time long afterwards over trivial matters.

    By the grace of God I just missed fighting in the Vietnam War as a draftee (low lottery number) following graduation from a Jesuit university. I have never forgotten how lucky I am to be alive as I know several persons who fought and died there.


  7. The Korean philosopher (Han is his name) at Berlin University has written about the types of (self inflicted imprisonment) that social media brings about: “Psychopolitics”. He describes it as a type of pandemic of the mind. Narcissim indeed

  8. I don’t really understand why your talking about people who had a set of experiences would qualify as narcissism or make you seem a sympathetic figure?

    You probably wouldn’t like my blog posts recently started about narcissism and Christianity (could hardly resist mentioning it given what youve said in your post)

    Blessed solemnity of the Assumption to you all

    • I’m sorry, I don’t understand your first sentence and cannot comment on your second but I doubt we know one another well enough to second-guess the other! We are in retreat now so I’ll have to leave this for a few days. In the meantime, prayer and blessings!

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