Skip to content

Narcissism – have we misunderstood Ovid’s Narcissus?


Narcissism. We easily connect this term with “too much self-love”. Yet the opposite is the case.
I believe it is a misunderstanding which outrightly allows it to be popular and needs clearance.

What is Caravaggio’s Narcissus searching in the water?
He is searching himself.
He can not find himself – yet he has to! – and can not get away from his own mirror.
With this he is condemned to die, unfulfilled.
___
Why does he not just walk away? He can’t since he is up to an impossible mission:
He tries to find himself outside himself, in the water.
In Ovid’s saga the goddess of revenge, Nemesis, punishes him through making him fall in love with his mirror without understanding until late that it is himself he sees. He was made unreachable for himself.

Doesn’t he know who he is? He doesn’t, he doesn’t understand who he is and where to really search.

It is dramatic if we do not know who we are. If there is no self identity.
Narcissism – unfortunately often more used as an insult although it is a severe illness and personality disorder – is a lack of a healthy self and it can have terrible consequences for the concerned and others around.

Yet I believe we all have the potential to become or not become narcissistic.
Always when we don’t feel ourself, or search in places for ourselves where we will never be able to find it, we are getting a step closer to the desperate Narcissus looking into the water.
Especially today where it is easier to strive for “likes” than ever before, the focus on the outside is immense. Yet “likes” are the water of Ovid’s saga, dangerous waters so to say and so is any hard strive for appreciation.
The path to wholeness is inside of us, feeling ourselves as a whole human being.
It can be a big kaleidoscope with many facets – yet inside of us.
Listen to the music of Brahms which reminds me of this inner circle.

Brahms: Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor Rondo alla zingarese with Emil Gilels & Amadeus Quartet:

Narcissus, Caravaggio

Lingua Animarum