I just recently finished watching Netflix’s Original: Lost In Space. This is not your parent’s 1965 campy LIS, but a darker, complex and more developed narrative. The creators have taken license to update this classic creating an edgier and more interesting drama in contrast to the comedic tongue in cheek 60’s version. While all the characters differ from their earlier counterparts, the most dramatic transformation is Dr. Smith. We are introduced to a female sociopath whose criminal record prohibits her from evacuating planet Earth and whose laser focus is fixated on her desire to escape the fate of perishing on a dying planet.
The writers did their homework. While this binge was to be down time for this therapist, the minute Smith enters into the scene I couldn’t help but put my clinical lenses back on. Parker Posey embodies the role and communicates the disarming vulnerability that follows a narcissist when they are at there most dangerous – exposure and abandonment. While criticism of the show’s timing is fairly accurate, it’s easily overlooked because of the actor’s portrayal. Our first exposure to Posey’s character is her encounter with the real Dr. Smith. In true opportunistic fashion she deceives the wounded medic into believing she is going to help and instead steals his identity leaving him to face certain demise.
This series is an accurate example of the calculated way in which narcissistic individual’s use other’s vulnerability to promote their own agenda, all the while deceiving themselves into believing that they haven’t done anything wrong. In true narcissistic form, we watch as ‘Dr. Smith’ avoids acting to save others in order to increase her own chances and at the same time providing her plausible deniability in face of scrutiny…the narcissistic superpower.
What makes the narcissistic individual so toxic is that their self-perception is blocked which is literally why they buy into their own lies. SPOILER ALERT: In episode nine, Dr. Smith has taken Maureen Robinson hostage. I couldn’t help but record the following dialogue. It reveals the narcissistic individual’s ability to utilize their skewed perception to try to convince another into questioning their own perception. Gas lighting at its best….
“No matter what you think of me, I never meant to hurt anyone. I just wanted to get to Alpha Centori for a fresh start, just like you, just like John. We aren’t so different. Just two people trying to atone for our mistakes, heal their wounds. So whatever you think of me and what I’ve done, I’m not a monster’.
Never mind that she just spent the past eight episodes preying upon a child’s vulnerability, taken advantage of her sister’s generosity of spirit, is complicit in the death of someone who gets caught in an airlock, abandons the person that saves her life and manipulates every person she comes into contact with.
I spend time on line in support groups for those who are in recovery from narcissistic abuse. The troubling, yet understandable response to great pain includes accusations of negative intent. As a therapist, I know that this is a natural response and a step in reorientation following such relational toxicity. However, the paradox of recovery from narcissistic abuse is shifting focus away from the narcissistic individual and back toward self. This can seem counter intuitive to those who have been caught in the narcissistic web. Individuals with a normal capacity for empathy want to believe that everyone have good inside of them, making it hard to detect when a person is using this benevolence to manipulate. This belief is what keeps the abusive cycle going and fuels what the therapeutic community calls magical thinking.
Narcissism manifests on a spectrum. Disordered individuals hide their chaos behind a mask in a myriad of ways. Some can present as upstanding individuals and manage to avoid breaking most communal laws; while others swing to the other extreme becoming violent and at times homicidal. Dr. Smith does not see herself as a villain, but a misunderstood individual…and my studies and experience it’s this disordered perception that makes their ability to deceive so convincing and powerful.
If you have found it difficult to extricate yourself from the narcissistic influence, I am here to help.