With a college background in literature, I tend to relate ideas and concepts to narrative forms deriving anywhere from the classics to contemporary rom-coms (I don’t discriminate). So, when I see narcissism trending in the news, I inevitably search my story database for an exaggerated narcissistic character for comparison. And who should pop into my head other than that dastardly fink, Daniel Cleaver from Bridget Jones’s Diary, a contemporary version of Jane Austen’s antagonist, the rakish Mr. Wickham.
It’s rather obvious that what the poor sod lacks in self-awareness, he makes up for in smiles and charm. In fact, he charms his charismatic self right into the heart of his employee, the love-struck Bridget Jones. Though Jones, who makes some missteps and judgment follies of her own, eventually wises up to his masquerade, Cleaver never does. He’s so good at impression management and making others buy into his winning personality, that he dupes even himself. In a recent Harvard Review blog, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic explains that “such delusions of grandeur allow narcissists to be more effective manipulators than individuals who are politically savvy but inhibited by their inability to distort reality or morality in their favor. It is always easier to fool others when you have already fooled yourself.”
Fortunately, “one of the unique characteristics of narcissistic individuals,” says Chamorro-Premuzic, “is their inability to prolong their seductive powers for too long…Their initial flamboyance, charm and confidence soon morphs into deluded self-admiration, defensive arrogance, and moral disengagement.” Well, that’s spot on for Cleaver. His charismatic and charming illusion fades along with his control of the situation, and his true colors – deceit, questionable morals, and unmitigated arrogance – begin to peek through his carefully manicured exterior.
While narcissism can help individuals get ahead in their career and isn’t necessarily a bad characteristic to embody, Chamorro-Premuzic says that “the critical ingredients for success are competence rather than confidence, altruism rather than egotism, and integrity rather than charisma.” In the end, I almost feel sorry for Daniel Cleaver. While he may bounce back quickly due to his narcissistic never-at-fault attitude, without proper self-awareness, he’ll just keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again.