Death has the final word over narcissism: you can’t be the center of the universe if you don’t exist.
Narcissism is a defining characteristic of American culture in the early 21st century: everyone’s exceptional; the progress of history culminates here; we’ll go on forever. It’s a good way to counter the anxiety of nothingness, to attribute to oneself or to one’s nation the status of divinity. It’s also delusional. A good sniff of ammonia to snap us out of this delusional fog is an hour of reading Ecclesiastes, where human vanity is exposed.
The self-defeating nature of narcissism is that the center of the universe is a lonely place to be, and it’s precisely our anxiety over being alone that drives us to be narcissists. It’s a vicious cycle: loneliness, anxiety, narcissistic compensation, more loneliness, and so on.
Release comes in surrendering to our neediness: in recognizing that we are not necessary beings but contingent, fragile, mortal beings. In surrender we make ourselves available to others; we open ourselves into the vulnerability that makes intimacy possible. More and more, life ceases to be centered on me, and the grip of loneliness relaxes. Ultimately, relationships are what we have.