Self-centered, vain, conceited, egocentric – these are some of the variations on the idea of being narcissistic. We need a healthy degree of positive self-regard, of course, but when it becomes distorted, it is considered narcissism, a personality disorder in its extreme form.
A number of actors have talked about some of the problems with being too self-obsessed, and how it interferes with creative expression.
Ben Affleck thinks narcissism is “the one quality that unites everybody in the film industry, whether you’re an actor, a producer, a director, or a studio executive.”
But, he adds, “It’s a nightmare. Narcissism is the part of my personality that I am the least proud of.”
Kristen Bell says that for her film “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” she “just looked into the depths of the most hard-to-admit or vulnerable or bad characteristics of my own personality and what an actress can become if given that kind of self indulgence or that amount of vanity.”
She also thinks actors and especially actresses tend to be self-obsessed, because that’s part of the nature of their career.
But what is narcissism? The basic idea is being obsessively self-absorbed, always putting your own needs first, having poor empathy or appreciation for other people’s needs etc. But what is behind someone operating that way?
Alice Miller writes in her book The Drama of the Gifted Child about childhood harm leading to compromised emotional life as an adult, including those kinds of behaviors and thinking.
She writes in the book about “how inconceivable it is really to love others (not merely to need them), if one cannot love oneself as one really is.”
For an actor, it may be difficult to maintain contact with and love of your authentic self, if you are continually portraying “other people” and getting notice or even fame for those personalities.
Stephen Sherrill writes in his New York Times article Acquired Situational Narcissism about how fame can stimulate narcissism.
He refers to the work of Robert B. Millman, professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical School, who developed the idea of “acquired situational narcissism.”
Sherrill explains, “People who aspire to stardom tend to be more narcissistic than others, but they don’t develop a true narcissistic personality disorder until they begin to achieve success: the first platinum album, the first appearance in Vanity Fair’s ‘Young Hollywood’ issue, the first public fling with Winona Ryder.”
Having these sort of narcissistic tendencies doesn’t mean you are “crazy” or necessarily need therapy.
But it can be helpful to our emotional growth and power as creative people to be more aware of how we operate emotionally and mentally.
Richard Gere once commented, “The more I grow, the less I become this egocentric thing that is prone to anger and hatred and all this other stuff. The trick is to get out of the way of the ego, so that whatever is of value illuminating inside you or me or the waiter or anybody else can be seen. The job of the creative person is to get out of the way.”
Actor Vera Farmiga cautions, “This business is tough, it is so tough. But my first and foremost thing is like, ego always gets in the way. You gotta keep that in check – you got to.”
There are many excellent personal growth books on emotional intelligence, spirituality, awareness and positive psychology that can help any of us develop healthy self-regard.