Does HBO have a monopoly on series centered around characters who suffer from narcissism? No, but the network sure has its share! 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 him out.
What makes these TV characters so unwatchable is their narcissism, one aspect of which 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 narcissism is a defense against potential humiliation, it can help you tolerate the narcissistic people you have to deal with in everyday life.
Narcissism 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 narcissism 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.