You’re So Vain, I bet you think this song is about you?
Carly Simon stated that she wrote “You’re So Vain” was inspired by three men she knew, one of whom was Warren Beatty, famous womaniser of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s whom even Madonna at her most rapacious could not tame.
As the song suggests, there are men and fewer women, who have difficulty expressing love in a mature way and for whom, sex is divorced from the notions of a shared relationship. The song implicates vanity as the cause, but with narcissism, that is perhaps only a small part of the story of why some narcissists may suffer from dysfunctional sex lives.
At the heart of fulfilling, mutually enjoyable, sexual relationships there has to be a degree of physical attraction, but also those other, less obvious ingredients such as being comfortable in one’s own skin and a degree of positive self-regard. Michelle and Barak Obama have this in bucket loads as their Valentine’s tweet illustrated.
But for once, you have to pity the Narcissists, since they start life with a severe handicap in the establishment of a mature loving relationship.
The role of shame in the Narcissist
One of the keynotes of narcissism is the part shame plays in the narcissists psychology. No child is born a narcissist, but most become one because of their experiences during childhood. Attachment during infancy is one of the key building blocks of positive mental health in an adult persona.
If a child is cuddled when they need comfort, loved unconditionally even when unlovable and esteemed for being just who they are and the whole adult-child relationship is managed consistently by the adult they develop secure attachment. The child is secure and has a template for how relationships should work. What is more they have the confidence to make mistakes.
One of the routes to narcissism in temperamentally vulnerable children is a different parenting model, where love is conditionally expressed and linked to achievement, being “the best” or “the first”. Such parents may openly express their disappointment if a child fails to live up to their experiences. Validation becomes externalised and in a bizarre twist denigration is internalised. The child learns shame when they are “not good enough”.
As an adult, this shame can then become linked to sex and sexual expression. Shame is worse than guilt. Guilt may relate to a specific event or something we have done or not done. Shame on the other hand makes us feel bad about who we are. Shame is linked to anxiety and can lead to anger and rage. It is also commonly believed that shame is the antithesis of an open expression of one’s sexuality.
Shame, anxiety and an insecure sense of self may mean that a narcissist could have problems with erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation or an inability to achieve orgasm. This then will be at odds with other aspects of their projected persona and re-enforce feelings of inadequacy.
This may lead to narcissistic rage stemming from their hurt pride. In turn this can lead to sexual fantasies which may involve domination, ravishing of a helpless female and rough sex which some may choose to act out. Some therapists would see this as transferring shame from themselves to the other.
Narcissists make attractive first dates. Firstly, they can claim attention and will show their lover a good time and because they project an air of grandiose confidence, the new conquest can be impressed.
However, narcissists may lack the staying power a monogamous relationship requires since the attention of a single lover may not be enough, they may also opt for the flattery of “paid for” sexual encounters since such lovers are chameleon-like and adept at giving a client what they most want.
Running multiple lovers may also serve them better too since they need a supply of external validation. It may also reassure them that they are a successful, almost mythical lover – a Casanova or Don Juan, doing something that other, less bold, would be too afraid to do.
Sex is less about the intimacy between two people and more about his or her performance – counting the number of orgasms they manage to “give” you, perhaps even overt displays – noisy sex in a hotel, or whilst staying with friends. The sex too is likely to finish within minutes of the narcissist’s orgasm, since their model is essentially based on a model which “takes” rather than gives satisfaction.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding will be problematic for them because the baby is occupying their space and may affect their performance. It is at these times perhaps, when a narcissist will seek others to provide them with their supply of sex. Ultimately, when you no longer serve a purpose, a narcissist will jettison you as a lover.
Because of their sense of entitlement, narcissists can believe they have a right to behave however they want – the end justifies the means. This is particularly bad when it comes to sex, possible sex addiction and rape.
Physiologically speaking orgasms have the potential to be addictive for anyone. Firstly, there is a sense of detachment and loss of one’s self. Secondly there is e neurotransmitter rush in the brain. The combination of this with narcissism is a potentially explosive cocktail (1).
A narcissist seeks escape form negative thoughts and can be disinhibited in their sensation seeking, both of which can be satisfied by the organismic rush. A narcissist shows no moral inhibitions and will take their pleasure however they can get it.
Baumeister (2002) argued that cognitive distortions (“she really fancied me”) exaggerated and grandiose sense of self and a general lack of empathy could lead some narcissists to commit rape whilst believing themselves to be in a consensual sexual encounter. Put yourself in the shoes of a narcissist and you can imagine yourself as James Bond wowing another conquest who is as putty in your arms as the song fades into the distance….Your so vain, I bet you think the song is about ya..