Girls – the TV Show – Being Narcissistic versus Having Narcissistic Personality Disorder
I’ve just finished watching seasons 1 and 2 of the TV show – Girls.
This is one of those shows where if you do an internet search for it you will find the buzz word and trending hot topic of the moment – Narcissist – attached to it. A few of the articles which I have read on the Narcissism of Girls are fair and are fairly accurate. A few are not.
It very much depends on what the author of the article was trying to achieve through expression of their opinion, their review, and their words.
Everything which we read, even if it claims to be unbiased, has bias and subtext running the length and breadth of it, it contains the ego, identity issues, neuroses, childhood and adulthood, relationships, dreams, ideals, ambitions, frustrations, pet peeves, experiences, and energy of the author, as all conversations do.
And writing, whether it is non-fictional, factual, fictional or a combination of all of those, is a conversation. The same can be said of a TV show like Girls.
I saw Tiny Furniture a while ago and loved it, which is why I decided to watch Girls even though it is not about or aimed at my generation, cultural background, social group, ethnicity, or location, thus I’m not considered the ‘target audience’ of such a show by those in charge of such things. But does that mean that I’m not supposed to watch it?
I think Lena Dunham is an observational genius, of herself and others, including society.
If you read her replies to the criticism which she has incurred, mostly due to being successful (and at such a young age) which tends to annoy and attract critical Narcissists, such as why Girls seems to lack racial and class diversity, rather than become reactive and defensive she acknowledges the criticism and points out that she is drawing from her own personal experience of life.
She is writing and creating from what she knows.
[on the criticism of the lack of racial diversity on Girls (2012)] It was the elephant in the corner of the room … I felt like people were scared to talk about it [because] they’d get my racist juice all over them … The argument there are not enough minority characters to represent New York – that I couldn’t argue against. What I didn’t like was the angle that ‘therefore you are a racist, you are raised by racists, you come from a world of class and privilege.’ – via IMDb – Lena Dunham bio quotes
But somehow now that she has been crowned by her TV show character, her fans, her critics as a voice of her time, her generation, she is supposed to also write and create from what she does not know.
That’s Narcissists for you, always looking for what someone is doing wrong and pointing it out aggressively because they’re envious of what someone is doing right.
Narcissists live in a bubble. We all live in bubbles, we’re all a bit Narcissistic. Which is why when we first meet someone who has NPD they seem normal, perhaps a bit better than normal, slightly larger than life but in an inspiring way.
Please note – if you’re mad at yourself for falling for a Narcissist of the NPD kind, remember that humans tend to look for connections when they reach out to others and seek relationships. We look for what is good, likeable, positive in others, we want to find love in our interactions. Don’t beat yourself up for missing those traits and behaviours known as red flags, you were not looking for them, why would you, that’s a negative way to approach life and people.
The same applies to watching a film or a TV show. You’re watching it to like it, to be entertained, have fun, discover someone or something new, expand your imagination’s social life, to find something in it which may inspire you or with which you relate. Why would you watch something to dislike it? The answer to that can be found in the mind of a Narcissist.
An open mind is a beautiful mind, it lets new information and experiences in like fresh air and lets that which it doesn’t need anymore flow out. A closed mind is full of stale air and suffocates its owner to death, it is a slow, lonely death which tries to force others to keep it company while it is dying.
The fact that we all exist in personal bubbles within communal bubbles is an uncomfortable truth at times, but we do it because we need comfort and our bubbles offer us that. Our senses are overloaded with information and we create filters to survive. We can only deal with so much of reality, and since each person has a different view of what reality is, and there are so many people in this world, we need to have a place to exist in which contains what we know before we tackle what we don’t know. What we don’t know is vast and thus terrifying. Safety first, so that we have stability to face what is unsafe and unknown.
Most people gradually expand their bubbles to incorporate more and more over time, over the course of their life. A few don’t, they simply reinforce their bubble until nothing gets in or out. The ones most likely to live in impenetrable bubbles are those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. We can’t get in and get through to them, but they sure as hell can suck us in and then keep us trapped in there breathing stale air. Trying to get out of their bubble requires great strength and perseverance.
Yes, Girls is awash with Narcissism. So is the world in which we live. Some of this Narcissism has to do with its location – our setting affects our sense of identity – NYC is one of those places that makes you feel insignificant in such a way that it might kill you just by ignoring your existence, so to survive you have to puff yourself up bigger than you are because that’s what everyone else is doing. You can’t beat them so you join them or they’ll beat you into nothingness, that does not mean you become them. It’s a defence mechanism which uses the ego as a fortress.
Narcissism is a human trait, it is a phase of development which we all pass through during our formative years, it is healthy, natural and normal. And like with all human traits sometimes we overexercise those muscles until we are unbalanced, then an event occurs which makes us aware that we need to stop working on the muscles which are toned to the max and start working on those which have been neglected.
So just because you discover that you’ve been behaving in a Narcissistic way does not mean that you are a Narcissist as in someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Being Narcissistic and having Narcissistic Personality Disorder are not the same thing.
If someone has called you a Narcissist – make sure the person accusing you is not being a finger-pointing Narcissist and does not have Narcissistic Personality Disorder before you react, go on the defensive, take it personally or accept their diagnosis.
If you are being Narcissistic… we all are to a certain degree. Pause, take a breath, relax and then think about it logically. Most of the people whom I have come across who have spoken of their fear that they may be a Narcissist, also express their concern for those with whom they are in a relationship, they worry that they have hurt others with their behaviour and they want to change, to make amends, and be more considerate of how they affect others. If that is the case with you – you do not have NPD and therefore do not fit the Narcissist profile.
A Narcissist with NPD may also ask themselves if they are a Narcissist, they may ask others for their input on the matter, but they will ask it in such a way that gives a very clear message of the answer they want – No, you’re not a Narcissist, do not have NPD, you’re the most wonderful being ever, better than anyone else in the whole wide world. They have observed that this is something people are doing – reflecting on whether they are a Narcissist – it is a social trend, something they study assiduously, so they fake self-awareness and concern that they are a Narcissist, however they are not concerned that they have hurt anyone with their behaviour, nor do they intend to change it, not for the benefit of others, what they are concerned about is having the perfect image.
The main difference between someone who is being Narcissistic and someone who has NPD is empathy.
Empathy is simply the ability to place yourself in someone else’s state of being and view the world from their eyes and experience. To see their point of view. And understand that it is valid, as valid as your own point of view. It gives a more balanced understanding of relationships and interactions.
It is not about crying because someone else is sad, that’s sympathy.
It is the faculty which gives the understanding that your world revolves around you and that other people’s worlds revolve around them and not around you. Therefore it is realising that if someone ignores you when you want their attention, it is not about you, it is about them, maybe they have something weighing on their mind which needs their attention more than you do, just as you ignore others when you are wrapped up in an issue which is important to you.
Empathy and Sympathy are different, although they can and often do work together.
Narcissists, those with NPD, can’t do empathy. They are incapable of understanding that the world does not revolve around them, that each person has a world which revolves around themselves and not around the Narcissist. They can’t fathom this. Occasionally they see it, but it is an intellectual concept not a deeper understanding, and they forget it very quickly. Everything is about them and that is that.
If you can grasp that about a Narcissist with NPD you can heal a lot of your pain and clear much of the confusion which a relationship with a Narcissist causes.
Narcissists can’t do sympathy either, not genuine sympathy, but they want it and seek it out as the sympathy which they extract from others feeds them. And if you’re both empathic and sympathetic, eager to please and willing to put the needs of others before and above your own, you’re a very delicious source of Narcissistic supply.
In Girls, all the main characters display a certain level of Narcissism, but most of them also show empathy, sympathy and concern for the other characters. Hannah is perhaps more Narcissistic, but she does not have NPD, she suffers from tremendous anxiety which causes her to become self-enclosed. Having an anxiety disorder can cause similar behaviours to those of a Narcissist, as those with NPD do live in a permanent state of internalised anxiety, but they are not the same thing. Hannah’s anxiety disorder makes her very Narcissistic, but she is aware of this and tries very hard to make amends.
The only character whom I would tag as having NPD, and I’m not a professional or expert, is Marnie. Allison Williams is absolutely superb in the role and gives her character great depth. Want to understand someone with NPD, watch her performance as Marnie.
I read a scathing character assassination of Alison Williams, wherein the author accused her of being just like Marnie, hated her for being born into wealth and privilege (how exactly is that her fault and why is this a bad thing), and loathed her even more for being happy because she had just got engaged to a wealthy and successful entrepreneur (wouldn’t a congratulations on being happy in love be more in order). The author intimated that the life of someone they did not know was a deliberate slap in the face to the author and their life. Who did Allison Williams think she is being successful and happy and stuff like that, how dare she! Going by their inability to distinguish between Allison Williams and Marnie, reality and fantasy, and their need to tear someone they did not know but hated anyway to pieces in public, with witnesses, and allowing for no right to reply from the accused (and even if the accused had… the author would have spun the reply into proof of their view and version of reality)… I would guess that the Narcissist in this situation is the one pointing the accusatory finger.
Allison Williams’ talent at portraying Marnie and making her believable kind of exemplifies the curse in a gift.
Marnie is Little Miss Perfect who spends much of her time pointing out the flaws of everyone around her ‘for their own benefit’. How thoughtful and generous of her. She has a boyfriend, Charlie, whom she considers to be beneath her, but she keeps him trapped in the relationship because other people think he is wonderful and envy her for having such a considerate boyfriend, and because she is terrified of being alone. He eventually finds out that she is contemptuous of him, especially because he puts up with her treatment. He dumps her. She chases after him, lures him back and then immediately dumps him. Those with NPD can’t stand being the ones who are abandoned, they must be the one who discards others.
He moves on with his life and finds a new love. This infuriates her as in her mind he is supposed to be crushed by her dumping him and remain that way for at least a few years if not for the rest of his life.
She then has a relationship with a famous artist whom she admires, and when he confronts her for only being with him because he is famous and it gives her status and puffs up her grandiose image of herself, she has a tantrum and leaves.
Shortly after that she discovers that her ex-boyfriend, Charlie, has had an App success story and is wealthy and important as a result. She had always seen him as a failure who was going nowhere. Her version of reality is under threat once again and she must fix it. She is furious and envious and decides to get him back. She goes after him and latches onto him again. He belongs to her. On the evening of a party to celebrate his success, she decides to use the occasion to make it all about her, to make herself the centre of attention, and to launch her singing career. He looks embarrassed and upset, everyone else looks uncomfortable, she ignores this as it is not part of her reality. She is doing them all a huge favour by blessing them with her presence and debut performance.
She has decided to be a singer due to a conversation with another character, Ray. She was bitching about the artist, and Charlie, doing a character assassination on both of them and everyone else. Ray gets annoyed and tells her to stop being angry at everyone else for them being successful and making their dreams come true, and because she is a loser who has been left behind and she always considered herself to be the only winner surrounded by loser friends. He suggests that she use that anger more productively to decide what she really wants and go after it.
He asks her – what do you want to do?
And she shocks him by saying – a singer.
He is shocked because this has never been something she has mentioned or tried to do with her life. He has a band, thus some experience in the music business, and he tries to explain to her that it entails lots of work, but she figures that since she has a wonderful voice all she needs to do is sing and that’s that.
The season ends with Marnie once again getting her hooks into her ex-boyfriend, Charlie, and seeing him as her path to status and self-importance. He looks trapped and miserable, but pretends to be blissfully happy.
It’s quite intriguing to note that there was a rumour that the actor playing Charlie decided to leave the show due to ‘creative differences’ with Lena Dunham about his character’s storyline. He has issued a formal and diplomatic statement about his exit from the show… but if I was him being forced to be the victim of someone with NPD would not be my idea of a good storyline either.
The most poignant part of the end of season 2 came in the very last scene. Hannah is lost, alone and overcome with anxiety. She is trapped in her ever-decreasing and restrictive personal bubble. Her dreams are on the verge of coming true and she is sabotaging herself, self-destructing, she can see what she is doing but can’t stop herself from doing it. She keeps reaching out to find a friend, for help, someone to hear her prayers, someone who’s there… but wherever she turns she finds rejection in one form or another, everyone is either too busy or too wrapped up in their own bubbles, until she finally calls her ex-boyfriend, Adam.
She has been for the entire season referring to him as her stalker ex. He isn’t a stalker, but he is an ex. At the end of season 1, after pursuing him and hounding him to become her boyfriend, she dumps him suddenly and without warning.
Her version of stalking is him trying to confront her and discuss the break-up with her to understand why she did what she did, and to find some way to deal with his raw feelings. He wants to know her side of the story and have her know his side of the story too, and she refuses to allow this to happen as she is caught up in the drama inside her head. He eventually comes to terms with it on his own, but it takes him a while to work through his grief and find closure.
When she reaches out to him for help, he immediately sees her need and how important it is to act as she is sinking in the quicksand of her misery and anxiety. He drops everything and runs to be with her, running across the distance between them never disconnecting the line. When he arrives she refuses to open the door, telling him to go away and that she’s fine, so he kicks it down, walks over the her bed where she is hiding under the covers, removes the covers, and picks her up. In that moment she finds a saviour, who just accepts her as she is and gives her what she needs – solace and love. A port in a storm.
It was a beautiful scene of friendship rather than romance. A physical representation of support offered by one human being who was feeling strong to another human being who was feeling weak.
But the most heart-rending scene for me involved Hannah’s relationship with her parents. Throughout the show she keeps trying to connect with them, but they reject her efforts with criticism disguised as parental concern. They are so focused on their image as good and decent parents who have followed to the letter the rules of being good and decent parents that there is no room for real humanity as this might shatter the status quo. Her anxiety disorder to them is an aberration, an anomaly, they did everything right therefore she should be a perfectly adjusted being, a perfect adult created by perfect parents. Her inability to be the child/adult/member of society whom they need her to be for them and their image, is all her fault and not theirs.
It is, in my view, a magnificent show which exposes all the strength and weaknesses of being human and living in our times.
I don’t know if Lena Dunham is the voice of her generation as her generation is not mine, however I do think she is a very talented observer who feels her human experience in a way which makes her able to express it vividly for others.
Being human… is very complicated, painful, and a puzzle whose meaning we have spent ages and generations attempting to solve. Perhaps life has no other meaning than to live it, experience it, and share our experiences with others without needing to be right or wrong, sane or insane, ugly or beautiful, chaotic or ordered, happy or sad, or anything other than human in all its complexity.