Good to Know About Narcissism

Narcissism lies on a continuum from healthy to pathological. Healthy narcissism is part of normal human functioning. It can represent healthy self-love and confidence that is based on real achievement, the ability to overcome setbacks and derive the support needed from social ties. But narcissism becomes a problem when the individual becomes preoccupied with the self…*

The author goes on, and you can read about symptoms and causes via the link below and elsewhere all over the Internet. What matters here is that if pathological narcissism is something good gone awry, how can we get it back to good. One way would be to consider narcissism as a strategy to right one’s ship, as we remind ourselves that, even if something went wrong, we are essentially good, strong, smart enough people and will be just fine. Positive self-talk, affirmations, doing something kind for someone else… You know the drill. And although I am not much of a fan of trophies conferred on kids just for showing up, it does help that parents confer real praise for real deeds done well. That kind of nourishment from parents, from spouses and bosses too, can stick to the bones and be there when we need to draw on it, when things get tough.

But a solution can become a problem – let’s say when people spend all day long, in one way or another, trying to make themselves feel good so they don’t feel bad. The over indulged, accustomed to false praise, figure other people will just keep on keepin’ on loving their false self and give it what it needs when it needs it no matter what. What kind of connection is that? The authentic self is not even there. How can it feel seen, let alone loved? And the under indulged, accustomed to not much of anything useful at all from social ties, just curl up even more into themselves when the going gets rough. But I say that, in depriving themselves of real human connection, both are making a big mistake. And the Harvard Grant Study says so too. This 75 year study found that not money, not power, not fame – but connection with other(s) we feel we can really count on – is the secret to the happiest and healthiest of lives.

One working mom I know, we’ll call her Sue**, felt painfully unsure of herself as a mom. Because she did not view her own mom as having been adequate, she was not sure she ever would be a good mom herself. Sue’s understandable, but not particularly satisfying, ways of making herself feel better about her presumed failure as a mom were to establish herself as a child development expert and to delay going home to her husband and baby at the end of the workday by spending hours at the gym. Nothing against the gym for sure, and there are ways to squeeze that in, but here’s a case of someone spending pretty much her whole day into evening trying to make herself feel good so she won’t feel bad, which way down deep she does anyway. Only thinking about herself, you may say. Some may call it narcissism. Others may call it faulty strategy. Either way, it wasn’t working. She was exhausted and very sad.

On the other hand, the best definition I ever heard for narcissism referred to the amount of time and energy spent each day to get to and stay at okay. This varies among us, and for narcissists it is a lot. So what else could Sue do to make herself feel better than to come up with solutions that seem to create and perpetuate the very problem she is trying to resolve. Well, she could take the brave and courageous plunge of trying to connect more with her loved ones, and see what comes up. She could be delighted to find that sometimes these things come more naturally to some than to others for a variety of reasons, and that we are not and don’t have to be exactly like our parents. She could find, through meditation or even lesser pauses, that fears and doubts may arise in a kinder, gentler, more welcoming context in which they can actually be addressed, rather than avoided in ways that just make people tired. Whether at home or at work, my mantra is always, “Just do good work.” Knowing that we have done all we could, as well as we could for now, can help us free up hours in the day to spend connecting for real with the others who matter in our lives. And, when that’s done, just putting up our feet and basking in the job well done on all fronts…now that’s self-esteem. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you. Write or call:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

*Opinion: Why are we becoming so narcissistic? Here’s the science. Olivia Remes, Cambridge Institute of Public Health, bit.ly/1pFlOBY

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

 

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