50 Shades of Narcissism

by Michelle Piper

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly heard of or read the book Fifty Shades of Grey by British author E L James. This modern day romance novel is filled with passion, bondage, and narcissism.

The title character of the book, Christian Grey, is a young, hot billionaire who gets his jollies by dominating women in the bedroom. His prey: Anastasia Steele. This recent college grad, and virgin, has fallen under the trance of this dark and brooding man. Through his manipulation of her emotions, he gets her right where he wants her: in his “playroom” filled with whips, handcuffs, and other BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism) utilities.

Readers around the country are falling for this book and its title character. And why wouldn’t they? From Anastasia’s point to view, Christian is handsome, wealthy, and good in bed. But, his domineering ways are the product of his narcissism, which surely came from his troubled childhood (being neglected and then adopted at the age of four). Narcissism can occur as a defense mechanism to such trauma, especially at such a young age.

When Christian Grey meets Ana Steele, he finds a young and clumsy girl who he realizes he can definitely manipulate, with her blushing and succumbing to him every step of the way. She has never kissed a man before, and here she ends up, with some guy whose idea of intimacy is tying her up and whipping her. What a great guy to get involved with.

The books ends (it is the first of three in the trilogy) with Ana leaving Christian (or Mr. Grey, as she has to refer to him) after he whips her six times and she then confesses her love for him. He yields nothing in return. This is a great way to sell books—no doubt—leaving the readers wanting more because of this cliffhanger.

But, it gives a bad name to young, college-educated girls. Ana Steele is supposed to be a smart, bright girl who has exemplary grades and is a virgin, nonetheless. When she meets Christian Grey, she becomes his sex slave and throws all of her good sense out the window. Narcissists are excellent at getting others to do and behave exactly how they want them to. This is because love and empathy are lost emotions to them. They cannot feel bad about using others.

Narcissists, like the fictional Christian Grey, thrive on the kind of power they have over people, like Ana Steele. In the book, he says repeatedly that he needs to punish her, that he needs to hurt her, though he will not say why. (Perhaps the truth will be revealed in the following two books of the trilogy.) Narcissists find people they know they can manipulate and seduce, with no regard to how it makes others feel. Sooner or later, the behavior drives people away and they are left where Christian Grey is at the end of Fifty Shades of Grey—alone.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Quercus September 19, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Wow – thank you for this synopsis! This is *not* a book I’d like to read; the manipulation of an innocent (albeit a dolt – I agree that this Ana Steele doesn’t set a good precedent for young females!) for the gratification of a narcissist is something I’ll never enjoy reading about!

It’s interesting – in your opinion, is it only narcissists that wish to control and debase others like this? Or is there another personality type/disorder that could also behave in such a way (I suppose psycho/sociopathic, but they’d have to be somewhat narcissistic on top of that, right)?

I was ‘best friends’ (and roommates) with a co-dependent(?) girl who seemed to need to hurt me (manipulative). She had a long track record of stealing other girl’s love interests and/or romantic partners (and eventually she pulled the same crap on me). It was always the partner of her ‘best friend’ at the time; her best friend being someone she completely engulfs (it wasn’t my favourite friendship in retrospect!!!! Ha ha!). She competes and ‘beats out’ her ‘best friend’ (i.e. her ‘competition’ or ‘mark’) on purpose – I’ve known her long enough to see this trend repeat ad nauseum!

But she doesn’t seem to have many of the classic traits of a full-blown narcissist – is she just an atypical subtype, or is there another reason that can make people want to destroy their ‘competition’ to prove themselves better? I’ve always wondered . . . she doesn’t quite fit the “NPD” bill to me, but somehow this description of Christian Grey makes me think of her!

QG 🙂

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Michelle Piper September 21, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Not all people who live this kind of lifestyle have a personality disorder or something wrong with them, that is where E.L. James didn’t do so well on her homework. She makes the reader believe that you have to be emotionally damaged in some way in order to be like this, which is not the case.
However, in the case of this book and in terms of personality disorders, there are some that may lead people to want to have sadomasochistic relationships. Experiences in early sexual development can have some profound effects on the character or sexuality later in life, much like how early traumatic life experiences can cause personality disorders.
Some types of personality disorders that people may have can make them choose to want to control and debase others. As we have already discussed, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is one of them. Also, those with Antisocial Personality Disorder (used to be referred to as sociopaths) that have an extreme lack of empathy, deficient impulse control, and sadistic tendencies are more likely to engage in this kind of lifestyle.
Most personality disordered people are prone to anger, which they can suppress efficiently most of the time. If they act out in rage, they will follow it with a period of sweetness and flattery towards their victim so that they will stay with them. This anger usually stems from childhood and not being able to act out on an authority figure (in the case of this book, I would assume the authority figure to be his abandoning parents). He wants control over Ana and to be able to hurt her, most likely due to his abandonment issues as a child.

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Sparkster October 18, 2012 at 11:09 am

This book is definitely indicative of not just NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) but also of sick, twisted perversion and abuse. Ana is clearly an inverted narcissist who wants to be co-dependant on Grey, a classic narcissist (possibly even sociopath or psychopath). Given the amount of women who have actually suffered such abuse in real life I am stunned by how much response the book has received. If this is what womens fantasies are about then I most certainly do not want to be with a woman – it’s abusive, obtrusive, offensive, sick, twisted, perverted and you would have to be outright screwed up in the mind to fantasize about such a relationship – just ask the thousands of narcissistic abuse victims who have experienced it in real life!

If a woman has this book in her collection or I find her reading it then I will be staying well away from her, someone with such a twisted perverted mind would scare the living hell out of me!

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Michelle Piper October 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Thank you for your comment. Here’s to healthy, happy, non-objectifying relationships!

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Anonymous February 22, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Happy to hear this reply from a man!

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Cheryl September 22, 2013 at 5:43 am

I ran away from a Narcissist almost two years ago. I was with him 35 years. Brainwshed at age 16 (He was 26).
When this horrible book came out I was so sick and shocked that anyone would want to read it.
Now it is going to be a movie! I see young ladys wearing handcuff necklaces and jewelry! What the heck is wrong with them!
Until you have lived such a life you will never fully understand I guess.

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Sharon February 7, 2015 at 1:52 am

From 14 to 45 I was controlled by one narcissist then immediately another, I read the book following my escape but still before I understood what narcissism was. At the time of reading I could not see what everyone was getting excited about, there was certainly nothing in it that I wanted in my life but that came from my experiences. Now in recovery I feel compassion for those that suffer on both sides having an understanding that I never had before and I finally gratitude that there are those that don’t understand because they have never experienced its destruction first hand.

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Anna December 12, 2014 at 11:04 am

Hello, thank you so very much for this article! I really enjoyed reading and was agreeing with you the whole time! 🙂 I appreciate it, because it seems like the whole world has gone absolutely crazy over Christian Grey, and I honestly don’t see why. It really exposes Christian for what he really is. A cruel and obsessive monster. I have so more strong words describing him, but I will leave that for my article I’m working on. Thanks again.

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Michal January 27, 2015 at 7:30 am

Thanks for the article. It makes me wonder if the author has issues with narcissism? To write such a book and not realize how profound it is. And not in a good way! And then, it makes me wonder about all the women who have swooned over this garbage. Did even one of them see what was really going on here?

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Adriana January 10, 2016 at 3:00 pm

Thank you for the article. I read the book expecting something about erotism and sexuality, but I found a blind girl controlled by a narcissitic man. So twisted vision of “love”.

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