Gracie is a small black cat with expressive green eyes. She’s the thinking cat’s cat. She has two huge adopted brothers and because of her size, has always been treated like the alpha panther by humans who want the bigger boys to know not to get too rough with her.
When Gracie is hungry she let’s you know. She doesn’t stop letting you know until you open that refrigerator door. And yet, no matter how hungry she is, when her brothers get fed alongside her, she always regards their portions before digging into her own. The boys don’t do this. They don’t care. They just want to eat. But if Gracie doesn’t have more than they, she pouts. Sometimes, she refuses to eat. She is, after all, the alpha. Any indication that she’s being treated as a lesser is unbefitting the tiny, furry queen.
Gracie’s narcissism tells us about her status more than her self-esteem. In Gracie’s world, it is a perfectly fine expression of the alpha kitty. But what’s fine for cats isn’t always fine for humans. Narcissism in adult humans is the product of a psychological dilemma.
Human mental growth phases correlate with the compaction of our animal evolutionary phases. All along our growth chart, from babyhood to adulthood, we transcend and include the mental capacities and corresponding behaviors of our evolution. All of our evolution, not just from apish being to human being. From lizards to lemurs, we’ve got it all in us, which is why we can, on our best days, commune with all beings around us. At least that’s the mechanical version of our story; sticking with that, we can understand Gracie’s narcissism because it’s in us.
If you don’t suffer Borderline Personality Disorder in adulthood it is likely because your narcissistic growth spurt ran for a couple of years, starting with the terrible twos. Your parents might tell you that this is when you first learned to say, No. A developmental psychologist might tell you this is when you began to differentiate between self and world. Both would be correct, and also there’s the deeper evolutionary layer that narcissism held a meaning, which served a function so intrinsic to our lives as physically other organisms that it got encoded into what became our human DNA.
Like Gracie, our selfishness used to have meaning that stemmed from how we defined our status in hierarchy. And in a dysfunctional way, this still plays out in Borderline adults who are most likely to crave positions of power in family and society, believing that the world already revolves around them.
How is it that collective adult behaviors of organism 1 become early developmental phases of the “evolved” organism 2? On what do they turn?
They turn on the loss of collective, or shared, meaning. For example, when circumstances change and the meaning of leadership changes with them, the type of leadership that was once needed is now defunct. Alpha kitty may one day lose her status if the notion of an alpha becomes meaningless due to circumstances beyond her control, like changes in the abundance of food. But, since that meaning had been shared and taken for granted for so long, it likely got codified in the genetics and will sprout as a phase of early childhood development in the new version of kitty cats.
As impersonal meaning is lost in organism 1, it becomes the personal psychological jumping off point for organism 2. That is to say, as a species transforms, it sheds some of its collective behavioral patterns. When those patterns lose their meaning and function they become etched in the DNA as a period of personal development in the transformed new organism. In terms of human societies, when we become detached from the social programming, that programming becomes embedded in our physical fabric as a stage of our personal growth that we must transcend and include psychologically as we grow, similar to how we transcended and included it into our DNA.
What we’re really discovering here is that the group psychological dynamic becomes genetic code. The psychological gets transcended and included into the physical, which then must be transcended and included within personal growth. Society is the individual and the individual is society. But conformity is stagnation. Obliterating systems within the culture happens when we’re ready to move them into our DNA, into a phase of personal development. As one changes, so goes the other, for there is no other. It is a continuum.
All of that from watching Gracie eat. You won’t read this in Cat Fancy.