Philosophy and happiness

Happiness, Narcissism and Co-narcissism

How is happiness achieved?

Those who are not happy may believe that those who are happy are lucky. There may be some truth in it. You can't choose your parents, and it is usually your parents through their genes and the environment they (or your carers) provide for you that determine how you develop. But if you are not happy, perhaps through anxiety and/or depression, there is much you can do to change things.

But there are no short cuts to achieving happiness. The quick fixes, shopping, alcohol, drugs and so on, only give temporary respite before another quick fix is required. This aesthetic behavior works, but only papers over the cracks. A longer term solution is required to prevent the problems re-surfacing.

Happiness is probably no more than loving who you are, what you have and what you do.1

It's widely recognized that you need to love yourself before you can love others. Love brings happiness, but is a two way relationship when people are involved. It is often said that Narcissists' love themselves, but if they do, it's a pathological love that manifests itself through behavior that is habitual, maladaptive, and compulsive. They only love themselves.

Philosophy is from the greek philosophia, meaning love of wisdom; and wisdom is 'happiness without illusion or lies'. So can philosophy make us happy? Epicurus, another Greek philosopher, believed that,

"Philosophy is an activity, which, through discourse and reasoning, procures for us a happy life."2

The answer to the question 'can philosophy make us happy?' is, therefore, a qualified yes. The qualification is that philosophy per se can't make us happy. But through discourse and reasoning we can gain wisdom, think better, and by thinking better we can live better.

To gain wisdom we need to get rid of any illusion or lies. Some people, narcissists for example, lie and distort the truth to create a false image of themselves and others, an illusion. Being honest with yourself, not using denial and distortion of facts as a defence against feeling bad about yourself, is difficult but worthwhile in the quest for happiness.

Why are narcissists important in a discussion about achieving happiness in ones life? It is because their behavior can seriously diminish the happiness of those around them. They continuously create stressful situations for themselves and others, which, over time will create anxiety and depression - for others, not necessarily for themselves.

Narcissists think of themselves as being at the center of the universe; everyone must recognize this fact and behave accordingly. It is probably because when they were young they were spoiled, and expect this pattern to continue. Only spoilt children develop the concept that they can demand. Narcissists are people with underlying low self-esteem. They control others’ views of them for defensive purposes, constantly engineering boosts to their self-esteem. They used to be called 'meglamaniacs'; the reason being that they can never settle; their constant feelings of paranoia and envy spur them on to continually engineer the boosts to their self-esteem they need to keep them from feeling pain and anxiety, and keep the feelings of low self-worth and low self-esteem at bay.

The Narcissists' success depends on receiving support from a support network, usually either the family members or colleagues at work, and they are ruthless when it comes to obtaining resources, that includes emotional, physical and material resources. Narcissists need people around them to supply these resources, including the emotional resource. To achieve this, they maintain a balance between over controlling and under controlling their prey. This is where the highs and lows of a relationship with a narcissist come in. And this is also where your anxiety and/or depression may come from.

Aesthetics and ethics

To be happy you need to be in control; but you never are if you are feeding the emotional needs of a narcissist. Ultimately, narcissists may become anxious and/or depressed themselves, particularly if they lose their support network. A life of lies, distortion, denial, paranoia and envy will take its toll.

But if you are the victim of a narcissist you may not be entirely innocent yourself. To become a victim there needs to be an element of narcissistic behavior on your part at the beginning of your relationship when the narcissist reflects you back to yourself; this is why he appears so charming. He allows you to love your own reflection. Some examples of the ego massaging that the narcissist indulges in are, "you look great in that"; "is there anything you're not good at"; "you are perfect" and so on. He says all the things that you wanted your parents to say to you when you were young. In this way he endears himself to you, and you will never want to believe the truth, that he is actually indifferent towards you. But the truth is that he only pretends to admire you so that you will admire him in return.

Dr Alan Rappoport uses the term 'co-narcissist' to describe people who "work hard to please others, defer to other’s opinions, worry about how others think and feel about them, are often depressed or anxious, find it hard to know their own views and experience, and take the blame for interpersonal problems. They fear being considered selfish if they act assertively." They are like this because of their attempts to get along with their narcissistic parents during childhood. Co-narcissist (or co-dependents) have been primed by their parent(s) to become a narcissist's prey. And as Dr Alan Rappoport states, a high proportion of psychotherapy patients are co-narcissistic, suffering from anxiety and/or depression.

The co-narcissist is the mirror image of the narcissist. In a relationship between two co-narcissists, one will adopt the narcissist's dominant position. The co-narcissist has been brought up to believe that in any interpersonal interaction, one person is narcissistic and the other co-narcissistic. So one co-narcissist adopts the role of the narcissist whilst the other continues as a co-narcissist, taking the blame for interpersonal problems.

Unfortunately for the narcissists' victims, and the co-narcissist who adopts the role of the narcissist, eventually they realize that their lives are either being controlled or are out of control. They don't have healthy means of self-expression. A pre-requisite to happiness is being in control, or at least the perception of being in control, without which anxiety and/or depression results.

The need to be honest with yourself is paramount. Denial, failure to acknowledge what is going on, is the first obstacle that must be overcome. However, this becomes almost impossible for a co-narcissist who continues to interact with his or her narcissist. The co-narcissist unconsciously assumes that everyone else is narcissistic, so finds it almost impossible to develop a relationship in which neither individual dominates. But this is what is required; a relationship in which neither person has a need to dominate the other, and each can appreciate what the other has to offer.

It may be difficult for a co-narcissist to enter into such a relationship without creating tension through reacting to, or provoking their partner. For example, if the partner doesn't adopt a dominant role (narcissist) in the relationship, the co-narcissist may feel the need to adopt the role. It may be necessary for the co-narcissist to consult a therapist/counsellor.

By getting rid of the narcissist, the co-narcissist can then work hard at understanding how non-narcissistic relationships work, and by adopting a moral and ethical view of life, it will be possible to remove the feelings of anxiety and depression and lay the foundations for happiness.

For more information about the great philosophers and their views on narcissism and happiness, read Finding Happiness.

1 Comte-Sponville, Andre. (2005), The Little Book of Philosophy, Vintage Books, London, p. 27.
2 Comte-Sponville, Andre. (2005), The Little Book of Philosophy, Vintage Books, London, p. xvii.