There was Valerie Cherish (played by Lisa Kudrow) in “The Comeback,” which my husband swears was cancelled because the character was too excruciating to watch.
Now Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) is creating chaos in “Enlightened,” with rumors swirling of its cancellation because of poor ratings. (See “The Comeback,” above.)
Larry David’s character in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” seems to be the only one of these characters who hasn’t turned off viewers. I can watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm” about once every two years, in hopes that Wanda Sykes’ character will call Larry David out.
What makes these TV characters so unwatchable is their stunning lack of capacity to put themselves in anyone else’s shoes.
Have you known people in real life whose narcissism affects you like the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard? Narcissism, defined on Dictionary.com as “inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity,” is a defense against feeling insignificant and humiliated.
And it’s not such a stretch to see the fear of humiliation in these TV characters. If you can remember that these people are constantly defending against potential humiliation, it can help you tolerate the narcissistic people you have to deal with in everyday life.
It starts in childhood
I didn’t watch “The Comeback” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” enough to know the specific childhood origins of the Valerie Cherish and Larry David characters’ narcissism.
However, it doesn’t take even a minute of watching the interaction between “Enlightened”‘s Amy Jellicoe and her mother Helen to see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The two of them are constantly fending off humiliation by various narcissistic methods: belief that they have a monopoly on the truth, an emphasis on looking good over feeling good, trying to get other people to recognize their superiority, etc.
Am I saying that the trait is hereditary, like eye color or other physical characteristics?
Not at all!
I’m saying that narcissism is passed along from generation to generation through the parents’ inability to meet a child’s psychological and physical needs in age-appropriate, warm, and loving ways.
My narcissism ate my satisfaction!
Leading with narcissism doesn’t work any better for people in the real world than it does for these television characters.
Narcissism destroys satisfaction on a daily basis. These characters are having rather miserable lives, with their self-esteem going up and down. If your self-esteem fluctuates in ways that make the stock market seem stable by comparison, your narcissism may be running the show.
Therapy is incredibly helpful in dealing with narcissism—your own and that of the people you encounter on a daily basis. A good therapist can help you understand the origins and consequences of your narcissism, see it in real time, and find more satisfying ways to live everyday life.
Diane Spear, LCSW-R, owns a private practice in the Union Square/East Village area of Manhattan (New York City). She specializes in anxiety, depression, couples, and parenting treatment, and has been helping people find the joy in everyday life since 1995. She is accepting new patients. To learn more about Diane’s approach to treatment, click here.