Charlie Sheen’s recent rant on The Alex Jones Show offers a perfect illustration of my earlier post about defenses against shame, as well as many features of narcissistic personality disorder. Although I wouldn’t classify Mr. Sheen as NPD per se, he exhibits a great many features of pathological narcissism. If you haven’t seen or heard the full radio interview, you might want to watch this YouTube video. It’s astonishing, deeply upsetting and sad.
From the beginning of the interview, Mr. Sheen makes clear we’re dealing in the territory of shame. “Dude, I’m 0-for-three with marriage and nary an excuse. Like in baseball, the scoreboard doesn’t lie.” At first, this quote makes it seem as if he’s putting himself in the “losers” camp (to use his own terminology); but he rejects any sense of shame in the next sentence while discussing the current women (the “goddesses”) in his life: “What we all have is a marriage of the heart … of the hearts. To sully or contaminate or radically disrespect this union with a shameful contract is something I will leave to the losers and the Bible-grippers.”
This is what I hear Sheen saying: “I’m not a shame-ridden loser in marriage because marriage itself is the loser. People who get married are the losers. Rather than contaminate myself, I’ve engaged in a superior polyamorous form of relationship, where we exist on the level of gods and goddesses, peering down with contempt upon you pathetic mortals.” As I’ve discussed, this kind of contempt is a classic defense against unbearable shame; poor Mr. Sheen must be drowning in it. Brittle and defensive, he next reports that one of the women in his menage-a-quatre has decamped; he wishes her luck in her new life because “she will need it.” Unable to bear the pain of rejection, he treats his former goddess with the contempt he feels for everyone outside his “family”.
In Charlie Sheen’s quotes, he continually exhibits a kind of grandiose narcissism, another primary defense against shame. “I’m so tired of pretending that my life isn’t perfect and bitchen and winning every second and I’m not perfect and just delivering the goods at every second.” That’s a verbatim quote, difficult to decode exactly, but he clearly wants to convince everyone, especially himself, that he has a close-to-perfect existence that’s the envy of the contemptible losers around him. “Look what I’m dealing with, man — I’m dealing with fools and trolls. … I don’t have time for these clowns, I don’t have time for their judgment and their stupidity. They lie down with their ugly wives in front of their ugly children and just look at their loser lives and they look at me and they say, ‘I can’t process it!’ Well no, and you never will. Stop trying. Just sit back and enjoy the show.” From Sheen’s heavily defended viewpoint, he’s a godlike spectacle the world should simply watch and admire. Beneath that surface, he has to feel confused, out of control and shamed of what he’s done with his life.
The stream of contempt continues as he refers to the producers and writers of his show as “clowns”, “turds” and “little homunculus losers”; while he has “real fame”, he explains, “they have nothing, they have zero.” The language of winners and losers permeates his ramblings: “They will lose the rest of their lives as they think about me. … Bring me a challenge somebody, bring me a frickin’ challenge you know, because it just ain’t there. Winning!”
Blaming, the third defense against shame, pervades his quotes about Chuck Lorre, the creator of Two and a Half Men. “I’ve spent the last ten years magically and effortlessly converting your tin cans into gold. And the gratitude I get is that this … this charlatan chose not to do his job, which is to write.” Incoherent but full of blame and contempt. His grandiosity once again comes through when he tells Alex Jones that “I’ve got magic, I’ve got poetry in my fingertips … most of the time, and this includes naps.” Even while I’m sleeping I’m superior to anything you can do! When you hear him express this kind of arrogant contempt, it’s helpful to imagine the very opposite experience, and how awful he must feel about himself and his own life.
The ultimate defense against unbearable shame, when nothing else works, is violence and destructiveness. Sheen cannot bear to acknowledge that he’s damaged or troubled in any way; instead, he projects his shame into others, treats them with contempt, and if they continue to question his mental health, he threatens to annihilate them. “I’m an F-18, Bro, and I will destroy you in the air and I will deploy my ordinance to the ground.” The violent splitting characteristic of more psychotic disorders begins to appear: “My motto now is you either love or you hate and you must do so violently. … And you have to hate everyone who’s not in your family because they’re there to destroy your family and they will come at you in all forms and shapes. And therefore there’s nothing in the middle. I don’t live in the middle any more. That’s where you get slaughtered, that’s where you get embarrassed in front of the prom queen. It’s just not an option.”
At first, it might not make sense, this pairing of the two risks you run by living in the middle (ambivalence): you will be either slaughtered or … embarrassed. I think he means that if he were to stop splitting, to give up his grandiose and contemptuous defenses, he’d feel unbearably ashamed (embarrassed) of himself and the life he’s led … and that, to Sheen, is tantamount to death. Instead, he must insist that he has completely cured himself — without the aid of a therapist or Alcoholics Anonymous: “I have cleansed myself. I closed my eyes and in a nanosecond I cured myself from this ridiculous model of disease and addiction and obsession. It’s just … it’s just the work of sissies. The only thing I’m addicted to now is winning!”
In the end, as we see throughout Charlie Sheen’s quotes, his world view comes down to winners and losers. The winners are superior and contemptuous, the losers pathetic, shame-ridden and full of envy. Because his own shame is so unbearable, because he’s desperate to escape from it, he resorts to the most powerful defenses he can, and if they don’t work, he threatens to resort to violence and destructiveness. Sadly, the life he destroys may very well be his own.
Finding Your Own Way:
Watch the video. See if you can trace his defenses and how they operate. What do you make of his paranoia? How would you understand it within the terms discussed above?
I surely hope that Sheen’s contempt doesn’t resonate deeply for you; but maybe there’s a place where you can identify with his feelings. Have you ever felt humiliated by someone and wanted to kill them? Maybe someone deliberately meant to make you look or feel like an idiot and you so badly wanted to retaliate. Have you ever known someone who behaved in a superior fashion, who acted as if he or she were better than you, and you wished for a way to make them feel small and humiliated?
I think Charlie Sheen constantly lives in such a state, continually warding off shame and a sense of his own damage, filled with feelings of inferiority, and so heavily defended against those feelings he can’t go anywhere near reality, either psychic or external. It’s important to remember that, as offensive as his speech can be, it’s actually defensive. On some level, he’s in unbearable pain and coping with it the only way he knows how.
[NOTE: I HAVE MORE TO SAY ABOUT SHEEN’S MOST RECENT INTERVIEWS, OVER ON MY ‘MOVIES AND MENTAL HEALTH’ BLOG AT PSYCHCENTRAL. CLICK HERE.]