Narcissism Continued…

“Narcissistic Personality Disorder…An enduring pattern of grandiose beliefs and arrogant behavior together with an overwhelming need for admiration and a lack of empathy for (and even exploitation of) others.”*

Every day people thank me for my posts on Narcissism. When I mentioned this to someone I know** she replied that, not counting the current intensified interest in the topic politically, she believed that most people either know a Narcissist or are afraid they are one. And pity the ones who try to love one. Holy Hannah. It hurts. It matters. And people are trying to figure it out.

Some experts are saying that Narcissism is rampant these days; selfies, facebook, and the like. Others are saying that true pathological narcissism is in fact quite rare, that Narcissism is an overused term we lay on people who get on our nerves: in-laws, exes, ‘difficult’ people of different stripes.

So what is it and why is it? Here’s my take. At the risk of sounding grandiose and arrogant myself, I do want you to know that I am not just pulling what I am about to say out of my personal experience, although there is that. Having studied the topic with the masters, I have come to think of the ordinary old Narcissist, the kind a lot of us know and worry we may be, in a way I believe to be both useful and humane. See what you think.

What we commonly refer to as Narcissism is a continuum on which we all live that has something to do with how much energy it takes to steady our sense of self, everyday. What it takes for each of us to feel okay enough about who and what we are to do well in love and work (that’s Freud, love and work, all there is) varies. Easier for some than for others. Some pretty much wake up feeling okay enough, maybe not perfect, but who is, and who needs to be. We’re all just peas in a pod trying to get through the day in the best way we know how. Others might be plagued by more crippling angst about themselves and their place in the world. These are the people who spend so much energy on ‘looking good’ to themselves and others that there is little if any energy left in genuine caring for anyone or anything else. These are the ones we may see as grandiose and arrogant who, underneath their glossy exteriors, may be all the more likely to be deeply demoralized and depressed.

Maybe their parents were stingy about loving them just for being, and/or stingy with praise for specific behaviors when it was deserved. Maybe that’s how the parents were raised and the only way they knew how. Or maybe the parents loved them in a enmeshed, hovering kind of way, or praised them too much, hooked to nothing particularly deserving of it. Sometimes it’s inconsistent; sometimes too much, sometimes too little. Either way, the child grows up wondering what if any of it had anything to do with him/her at all. Either way, there is little sense of stable self to wake up with everyday. And that’s where an unfortunate amount of time and energy goes – toward the stabilization of the self. The leftovers, what little there are if any, might go to caring about other people in love and work. But not necessarily even then, if it has become one’s habitual way of being in the world to almost entirely, if not entirely, care pretty much about oneself. Nature/nurture it seems because some experts are saying that Narcissism, as a character disorder or personality style, can have a genetic component too. And, culture, let’s say social media comparisons, not helping either, as you know.

So if we know one, love one, are one, too far along on the continuum of energy expenditure…what can we do? We can stop it. Yes, that’s right. Chronic stress shortens the telomeres on the end of our chromosomes, and shortened telomeres shorten our lives. When we find that we are being damaged chronically by another person’s utter disregard for us, we can and should run for the hills. Leave the relationship. Find a new job. What if you can’t? What if you love the guy/gal? What if you’ve done your due diligence and found that this is the best job, or only job, for you? Then please, please make it a priority to take very good care of you. Food, fun, sleep, exercise, interests, social supports; call on everything you’ve got to take care of you. Wait you say, won’t that make you one of them? With all this focus on yourself. Not necessarily. You should be taking care of yourself anyway, and they always say to put the oxygen on your own face before you try to help anyone else when the plane is in trouble. Take a good whiff and get on with your day.

Now, what if it’s you? What if you’re the one who spends too much of yourself trying to feel good about you. What can you do to ease the pain for you and everyone around you? Well, you can stop making your self-esteem your full time job. Check out Ron Siegel, PhD who talks about self-esteem collapse. For Siegel, self esteem (as in, our estimation of ourselves) is something that has a way of rising and falling when this or that happens for all of us whether we like it or not. And when this or that doesn’t happen too. So like when you didn’t get the memo, or the reply to your email, or the invitation to the party you didn’t even want to go to. You felt bad, real bad, even if you didn’t want to go! For Siegel, the what we can do is to begin to notice – to begin to notice the tyranny of self esteem, to notice what slaves we are to trying to make ourselves feel good not bad in the face of provocations, big and small, all day long. But we can get a grip on that. What if, instead of trying to win the all consuming self esteem game, we stopped playing it as much as we do. We are who we are. Unlikely we can stop altogether. Unlikely we should. But just think how much energy we could free up, for the good of ourselves and each other everywhere in our lives, if we started paying enough attention to discipline our minds in playing the game – a little bit, somewhat, or a whole lot – less. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me…

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*“Narcissistic Personality Disorder” PubMed Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024871/

**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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