16 Oct The Narcissistic Empath or The Empathetic Narcissist
Yesterday I wrote on Facebook that, “writing is inherently narcissistic”. The post inspired quite a bit of commenting- some in agreement as well as some pushback declaring that instead, “writing is inherently empathetic”. I made a second post that declared, “writing is inherently empathetic… and narcissistic”.
The post was inspired by my work on a film about mind-body medicine. We are in the final stages of a 12 year effort to make a documentary about Dr. John Sarno. It has been an intense struggle on many different levels. My wife and I have been editing full-time for the past year. Over the course of that year, my personal exploration of the connection between pain and mind-body issues has become increasingly central to the story. As we get closer to finishing the film the reality of this situation weighs heavily upon me. My post was inspired by the fear that the film had become an exercise in narcissism. At this point, there’s no escaping the idea that my story will play a major role in the movie this is the film that it has become and this is terrifying to me.
Editing a film can be compared to carving a sculpture out of clay. In the early stages, big changes don’t have a profound impact on the whole. However, as it begins to take shape the changes have a larger impact. When it gets very close to being finished even small changes can change the project immeasurably. The film works now for the most part, which means that we’re stuck with me.
As a filmmaker, or any kind of artist, whenever we put our work into the world- whether or not it is directly about us- when people judge the work it’s almost impossible to not feel judged ourselves. When it gets rejected from a festival or when it gets a bad review its difficult on some level to not feel as if we have been rejected. When the artist is a major part of that work that sense of judgment is exponential. I have found it difficult to even watch the film with friends. The idea of it being watched by large audiences is overwhelming. Right now I’m sitting in the meadow behind my house dictating this into the phone. I’m out here because I have a headache and I had to get outside. I understand that this dilemma is a big part of the reason I have this pain right now.
My wife told me to take an advil but I refused because I know that the headache comes not from the emotions, but from not dealing with them, so I’m out here trying to accept them. As we say in the film one of the great difficulties of making it was that our main character wasn’t really fighting- and you need conflict to tell a story. I have been fighting for the past few years to become more true to myself and to find ways of accepting those parts of me that I do not feel comfortable with. Part of that process has been to allow myself to be as emotionally naked in the film as possible. However, to be naked is to be vulnerable and it’s dangerous to be vulnerable. Right now I’m having a little bit of buyers remorse. On another level I understand that what feels narcissistic is actually empathetic. It’s just hard to find the line between the two.