We have heard a lot of talk these days about Mel Gibson’s apparent narcissistic rage. It is impossible and unethical for a professional psychologist to make a diagnosis of mental illness without seeing the subject as a client. Although Mr. Gibson may have presented characteristics of narcissism there is no way to know if he qualifies as suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder as it is defined by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders the manual professionals use to diagnose mental illness.
What we can say with some certainty after listening to Mr. Gibson’s painful tirade is that he is suffering…and suffering quite a bit. As a psychotherapist, my heart clearly goes out to Oksana Grigorieva. Mr. Gibson allegedly admits to having struck her, and the barrage of profanities he hurls at Ms. Grigorieva, in these few recorded dialogues, is in itself enough to cause anyone severe pain, and this is probably not the extent of it.
But my heart also goes out to Mr. Gibson, and although I do not in any way condone his behavior, it is evident that he is expressing quite a bit of confusion, pain, and suffering. Whether it is rational and justifiable behavior or not, pain is pain, and we can all empathize with the hurt and fear that is brought about by such a blinding anger.
Narcissism is a serious and prevalent condition in our culture. Individuals suffering from this debilitating disorder have a very difficult time relating to the “other”…i.e., anyone or thing that is external to themselves. They have through their development effectively extended themselves onto other human beings and essentially see other human beings as themselves.
Needless to say if a person sees their partners in relationships as extensions of themselves they would be very much compelled to control those partners to a degree that assured themselves safety and security. The fear of losing the admiration and idolization of others is tantamount to the fear of literally losing themselves. Of course they do not consciously see it this way, but it is generally the underlying impetus that creates the rage they experience when they lose control of this self-extension. They simply cannot comprehend that a piece of themselves (or even what they perceive as their entire self) has gone against them. They are instantly betrayed by none other than their own being, and can do nothing but denigrate and attempt to destroy what has not been loyal.
A narcissist essentially feels him or herself as devalued and ashamed. They are nothing without the external self that surrounds them, and they continually grab onto the admiration and idolization of others in order to feel whole. Often the pain of narcissists is hidden as this need for grandiosity and admiration is transferred from person to person if rejected. But the rage that we often see with narcissists does express when the fear of fragmenting and losing oneself becomes apparent.
It is impossible to control another in the same manner in which we have control over ourselves, therefore ultimately the narcissist will always perceive betrayal by those they claim to give their all to, expecting all to then be returned. When it is not, they then feel the ultimate of betrayal.
Narcissists can indeed benefit from professional help, although it is rare for a narcissist to seek therapy as they more often than not do not believe they have any sort of mental dysfunction. Although the causes of narcissism are unknown, many theories regarding its origins have been presented including emotional, sexual or physical abuse as children, as well as other factors in early development.
As we continue to see the Gibson saga unfold I believe it is important to hold empathy for all parties involved and realize that most people are capable of feeling pain, fear, and suffering. Victims of abuse in any form must certainly be cared for, and clearly in some circumstances the perpetrators should be dealt with through our legal system. However, pain suffered by any individual should be treated with compassion and empathy.