Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Danger of Narcissism and Acting

The danger of method acting is that the actor is trying to replicate real life emotions by drawing on real life experience.  For most actors this is not a problem but an incredible skill that furthers them in a stellar career.  However, there are those few who confuse the conjuring up of other personalities in the name of acting with their own personal identity. 

By looking for approval from others to determine the value of the actual self, actors can take a wrong turn that can lead to a self-destructive disavowing of their own imperfections and personal growth.  This leads them down a road to where they are rewarded to the degree that their selves do not count.  When this occurs, the individual loses the ability to distinguish the difference between self and other.  Any separateness is then seen as a sign of weakness that must be eradicated.

If an actor becomes hung up on their image, they cannot distinguish between an image of whom they are pretending themselves to be and the image of whom they actually are.

When this occurs, the individual identifies with he idealized image of the self and the actual self-image is lost.

The denial of actual feelings becomes the disturbance.  They minimize their own feelings while taking on an “acting as if” quality to the feelings that seem to be expressed.  Their behavior is not motivated by actual feelings; rather their behavior is contrived and calculated to enhance their own sense of grandiosity in the eyes of others.  These people are predisposed to depression. 

The actual self-image, to these people, is not acceptable.  Their bodies are not living aspects of themselves, but rather they view their bodies as instruments made to bend to the will of the mind.  So, the body works as a slave to the mind to express the intentions of the mind devoid of feeling.  It performs like a machine or statue without a true sense of self.  Expression is contrived rather than organic. 

If an individual’s ego becomes inflated by success, they lose touch with the reality of their body.  Many people have public images based on their accomplishments or social position; this does not mean that they have a disturbance.  They do have a problem if they begin to base their own personal identity on the contrived public identity instead of on their own internal drives and bodily feelings.

So, it is important for actors to maintain a certain public image that their fans expect of them.  However, it is equally important that the actor does not abandon his or her own true identity for the public identity in their personal life.  If this occurs, there is a disturbance between the imagined self and the actual self.  This would lead to loss of self, grandiosity, and sever depression. Seeking out a qualified therapist would be a good first start to resolving this.

I was recently asked a question about Heath Ledger and whether his celebrity status led to his suicide.  I responded by hypothesizing that his ego probably took possession of his character as a defense against feelings of separateness and neediness through his recent divorce.  Both separateness and neediness are seen as a weakness that must be eradicated by an individual who has lost his true identity.  By possessing his character in a grandiose way, he may have denied his own true and personally unacceptable feelings.  The more grandiose he grew, the deeper and more hidden the depression probably grew. 

He was able to express rage through his character without expressing sadness or fear.  His apparent taking on the character off the stage was probably intended as a defensive maneuver intended to frighten others and insulate him from having to express genuine emotion. 

This power may have been used to deny his hidden, and self-unacceptable, feelings of helplessness and dependency on others.  The more he engaged in the character, the more it would have reinforced his underlying insecurity and the more lost his actual self would have become.  This, in turn, may have been what led to his suicide.

Most actors are able to avoid such confusions of actual vs. false selves.  However, they must remain alert and vigilant to the danger.  They must remember to remove the public image self when in the presence of their private lives.

For more information on Dr. Jim, log onto his website at  For information on Dr. Jim’s self-help series and for free samples, log onto

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