The narcissus myth is deceiving when it comes to understanding narcissism. The myth seems to suggest that Narcissus fell in love with an accurate reflection of who he is. After all, water doesn’t lie right? When you stare into a pool of water to admire yourself, you do see your own features reflected back to you. So how does that help us understand narcissism?
The most helpful conclusion to draw from the narcissus myth would be to assume that narcissists are in love with the way they look. Yet again, keeping the water in mind, it doesn’t seem like much of a psychiatric issue to love your looks now does it?
The myth would in fact do a better job of explaining narcissism if it went something like this:
Narcissus is in pain. He is disfigured and distorted. His skin is burned, he has a hunchback and he is told by a wise man that it will take many years and a lot of care to heal himself of all his disfigurements. This is NOT what narcissus wanted to hear! So instead, he visits a sorcerer. The sorcerer promises to heal him of the pain of all his disfigurements in a single day. All he needs to do is go to sleep, and when he wakes up, he will look like a new man. Narcissus is delighted. He goes to sleep. Meanwhile, the sorcerer brews a concoction that will only allow narcissus to see what he wants to see. The sorcerer pours the concoction over narcissus when he is asleep. The next day, narcissus goes to the waterpool to check his reflection. He is amazed and delighted! Looking back at him is a glowing, beautiful, happy and loving human being.
There is some “fine print” to this arrangement that Narcissus is not aware of though:
The sorcerer’s magic is limited, he can only change the way narcissus sees himself, not the way others see him. Also, the concoction is not of perfect strength. Whenever someone looks at narcissus and sees the true disfigurements, a little part of the “beauty veil” will be lifted and some of the pain of the disfigurement will temporarily surface.
Narcissus spent his days gazing at himself and doing his utmost to convince others that how he saw himself was who he really was. Whenever anyone challenged his new self-image, his old pain would surface and it would outrage him. Lacking the understanding of where that pain was coming from, he would associate it with the person who could see who he really was, and blame them for unjustly hurting him.