Dr. Phil is an expert when it comes to psychology, right? At 53 seconds into the clip below, Dr. Phil drops the “N” word [Narcissism] for the first time. Let’s listen in.
Dr. Phil describes Watts making “very dumb mistakes which narcissistic people often do, because they only see things from their points of view…”
This must mean narcissists are stupid, because they just can’t see past themselves.
So, like, celebrities…Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Lady Gagga, Madonna, Justin Bieber, Charlie Sheen – how many of these celebrities are dumb because of their narcissism, or just plain narcissistic or just plain dumb?
The “N” word has become one of the most popular words in true crime today. It’s taken over from psychopath, in that regard, as a sort of of catch-all catchphrase label which basically explains who the criminal is and why he committed the crime.
Except it doesn’t.
In reality, our social media-infused society is more narcissistic, conceited and vain than ever – we as consumers are so self-absorbed in our own customized color-coded wants and desires for convenience we’re more narcissistic than ever – so to point the finger at a criminal and blame his narcissism for the crime is not only hypocrisy of the last resort, it’s blindingly disingenuous on our part.
IS THERE A PSYCHOPATH IN YOUR SOUP?
In the same way that the word psychopath was sticky and popular for a while, because a lot of the traits of psychopathy do translate directly into criminality [heartlessness, lack of empathy and pathological lying], narcissism also has a feel-good stickiness to it. Both terms are sticky because they resonate to some degree. It is invariably somewhat true that a crime is going to be, and appear to be, cruel, heartless and selfish. But the fact is, many people in ordinary society are selfish and cruel. Many others are high-functioning psychopaths and pathological liars – certain professions attract these psychopathic personalities: chefs, lawyers, CEO’s, salespeople, television reporters, surgeons, cops, journalists and members of the clergy.
So to call a criminal a psychopath is really to associate a criminal with a vast swathe of society. You’re not really narrowing it down by using the term, instead by using a cliche, you’re invoking a stereotype, and probably incorrectly.
IS YOUR NEIGHBOR A NARCISSIST – OR ARE YOU?
Narcissism is similar. To brand a despicable criminal a narcissist feels pretty gratifying, doesn’t it? The word has a powerful zing to it, like atheist or pedophile. A narcissist is characterized by extreme selfishness, he craves admiration, he has a grandiose or exaggerated view of his own abilities, and his self-centeredness may be so extreme that he struggles to differentiate himself from external objects [say, a large house, trophy wife or mistress, bank balance or pot of gold].
And like the psychopath, an extreme narcissist is a pathological liar. Thus, the real criminal character-trait we want to look out for is habitual lying.
And so, this is where the “N” word breaks down in the Chris Watts case. If you’re going to accuse Watts of being grandiose, never wrong, wanting to be the center of attention, addicted to something [or someone], arrogant, lacking in sympathy, controlling and/or manipulative, two-faced etc, to be fair you’ve got to apply those traits to Shan’ann as well. I know, I know, that’s victim blaming. But I’m not going to let those attached to the “N” word wriggle out of it that easily.
Blame Chris Watts all you like for being a narcissist, apply those traits to Shan’ann – or don’t – but before you’re done, apply them to yourself as well. That’s the real litmus test.
If we’re being honest, if the Narcissistic label describes Watts best then it also describes plenty of us too, and many people we know, doesn’t it? I’m not at all sure, for the majority of Watts’ life prior to the crime, whether he can be genuinely associated with grandiosity, arrogance, provoking others, putting others down, blaming others, or wanting to be the center of attention.
Some aspects do ring true, like his being potentially irresponsible with money, as well as with his wife’s pregnancy, and with the lives of his loved ones. But how many among us are loyal to a fault, have never cheated, and have solid bank balances right now?
How are your finances? How often do you lie? How do you [or I] respond to criticism?
None of this is intended to defend or justify Watts, it’s an effort to make the case for the applicability and appropriateness of the “N” word. I hope that much is clear. By now it should be obvious that the Narcissism label is about as apt as the Psychopath label, which is to say not apt at all. It’s a generalization. If we want to explain who Watts is, and why he did what he did, narcissism isn’t the diagnosis.
WHO ARE THE TRUE NARCISSISTS IN TRUE CRIME?
The poster boy for a narcissistic murderer is Oscar Pistorius. There is a huge amount of arrogance, conceit, self-centeredness etc, and much of it is based on massive attention and adulation in the face of massive inadequacy and insecurity. OJ Simpson is arguably also a classic case of a narcissistic criminal. Both these men are – or were – celebrities. That’s the level or dose of narcissism we’re talking about when it’s relevant to true crime, and guess what – our own narcissism and voyeurism played directly into the hero worship that created these celebrity personas.
In reality, every psychologically healthy human being is a narcissist. We all have to maintain a healthy level of narcissism. It’s a minimum level of self-love we have that causes us to take care of things like personal hygiene, and basic socially acceptable behavior.
When a sibling sees another get a slightly bigger piece of cake, or a few more drops of soda, or a slightly more expensive toy come Christmas, they go crazy, demanding equal treatment. This is actually healthy narcissism; it protects them from being trampled on and taken advantage of. It reminds the parents not to favor the one over the other, or there will be hell to pay, and there should be when there is unfair favoritism.
So when it comes to true crime, who decides how much narcissism is excessive, and when it plays into criminal psychology when we’re all narcissists to some extent, and we’re a more narcissistic [selfish, vain, materialistic] society than we have ever been!
Who’s going to do it? Who’s going to decide this or that criminal is too narcissistic. Relative to who, or what?
IDENTITY IS THE KEY TO THE AUTHENTIC NATURE OF CRIMINALS
In order to fathom who a criminal is or why they do what they do, we have to do the much harder job of figuring out who they are. We have to get to know them. We have to construct a narrative. We have to find out about their history, life story, love life, backstory, family, friends, enemies, personality, attachments, failures – all of it. That takes time and effort. It’s through their identities that we figure out the who and why. It’s through spending a lot of time deciphering their language, behavior, body language, semantics, preferences, likes and dislikes etc. that we start getting into their heads. We listen to their music, examine their tastes [in clothes, food, sex], all of this tells us far more about a person than the “N” word.
If you’re a true crime fanatic and you’ve been banding the “N” word around a lot lately, please stop doing it. If everyone calls every murderer a narcissist, all we’re doing is agreeing that we have no fucking clue who or what we are dealing with. The “N” word, as far as I’m concerned, is almost as bad as the “he just snapped” explanation.
But that’s a rant for another day.