The prodigy - precocious "genius" - feels entitled to special treatment. Yet, he rarely gets it. This frustrates him and renders him even more aggressive, driven, and overachieving than he is by nature.
As Horney pointed out, child-prodigy is dehumanized and instrumentalized. His parents love him not for what he really is - but for what they wish and imagine him to be: fulfilment of their dreams and frustrated wishes. The child becomes vessel of his parents' discontented lives, a tool, magic brush with which they can transform their failures into successes, their humiliation into victory, their frustrations into happiness.
The child is taught to ignore reality and to occupy parental fantastic space. Such an unfortunate child feels omnipotent and omniscient, perfect and brilliant, worthy of adoration and entitled to special treatment. The faculties that are honed by constantly brushing against bruising reality - empathy, compassion, a realistic assessment of one's abilities and limitations, realistic expectations of oneself and of others, personal boundaries, team work, social skills, perseverance and goal-orientation, not to mention ability to postpone gratification and to work hard to achieve it - are all lacking or missing altogether.
The child turned adult sees no reason to invest in his skills and education, convinced that his inherent genius should suffice. He feels entitled for merely being, rather than for actually doing (rather as nobility in days gone by felt entitled not by virtue of its merit but as inevitable, foreordained outcome of its birth right). In other words, he is not meritocratic - but aristocratic. In short: a narcissist is born.
Not all precocious prodigies end up under-accomplished and petulant. Many of them go on to attain great stature in their communities and great standing in their professions. But, even then, gap between kind of treatment they believe that they deserve and one they are getting is unbridgeable.
This is because narcissistic prodigies often misjudge extent and importance of their accomplishments and, as a result, erroneously consider themselves to be indispensable and worthy of special rights, perks, and privileges. When they find out otherwise, they are devastated and furious.
Moreover, people are envious of prodigy. The genius serves as a constant reminder to others of their mediocrity, lack of creativity, and mundane existence. Naturally, they try to "bring him down to their level" and "cut him down to size". The gifted person's haughtiness and high-handedness only exacerbate his strained relationships.
In a way, merely by existing, prodigy inflicts constant and repeated narcissistic injuries on less endowed and pedestrian. This creates a vicious cycle. People try to hurt and harm overweening and arrogant genius and he becomes defensive, aggressive, and aloof. This renders him even more obnoxious than before and others resent him more deeply and more thoroughly. Hurt and wounded, he retreats into fantasies of grandeur and revenge. And cycle re-commences.
Mistreating Celebrities - An Interview
Granted to Superinteressante Magazine in Brazil March 2005
Q. Fame and TV shows about celebrities usually have a huge audience. This is understandable: people like to see other successful people. But why people like to see celebrities being humiliated?
A. As far as their fans are concerned, celebrities fulfil two emotional functions: they provide a mythical narrative (a story that fan can follow and identify with) and they function as blank screens onto which fans project their dreams, hopes, fears, plans, values, and desires (wish fulfilment). The slightest deviation from these prescribed roles provokes enormous rage and makes us want to punish (humiliate) "deviant" celebrities.
When human foibles, vulnerabilities, and frailties of a celebrity are revealed, fan feels humiliated, "cheated", hopeless, and "empty". To reassert his self-worth, fan must establish his or her moral superiority over erring and "sinful" celebrity. The fan must "teach celebrity a lesson" and show celebrity "who's boss". It is a primitive defense mechanism - narcissistic grandiosity. It puts fan on equal footing with exposed and "naked" celebrity.
Q. This taste for watching a person being humiliated has something to do with attraction to catastrophes and tragedies?
A. There is always a sadistic pleasure and a morbid fascination in vicarious suffering. Being spared pains and tribulations others go through makes observer feel "chosen", secure, and virtuous. The higher celebrities rise, harder they fall. There is something gratifying in hubris defied and punished.
Q. Do you believe audience put themselves in place of reporter (when he asks something embarrassing to a celebrity) and become in some way revenged?
A. The reporter "represents" "bloodthirsty" public. Belittling celebrities or watching their comeuppance is modern equivalent of gladiator rink. Gossip used to fulfil same function and now mass media broadcast live slaughtering of fallen gods. There is no question of revenge here - just Schadenfreude, guilty joy of witnessing your superiors penalized and "cut down to size".
Q. In your country, who are celebrities people love to hate?
A. Israelis like to watch politicians and wealthy businessmen reduced, demeaned, and slighted. In Macedonia, where I live, all famous people, regardless of their vocation, are subject to intense, proactive, and destructive envy. This love-hate relationship with their idols, this ambivalence, is attributed by psychodynamic theories of personal development to child's emotions towards his parents. Indeed, we transfer and displace many negative emotions we harbor onto celebrities.