HBO And Narcissism


HBO And Narcissism
HBO has many series built around narcissistic characters. They "push our buttons" in real life, too!

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 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.

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission.
Article contributed by

Diane Spear, LCSW-R


Diane Spear, LCSW-R, is a NYC-based psychotherapist who helps couples and individuals throughout the world find the joy in everyday life! She has been in practice since 1995, working with older adolescents up through older adults. Check out her website at to learn more about her therapy and counseling practice and couples and relationship therapy; and be sure to read her blog.

Connect with Diane through email here, or call 212-353-0296


Location: New York, NY
Credentials: LCSW-R
Specialties: Anxiety Issues, Couples/Marital Issues, Life Transitions
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