Step into this scene: You walk into a crowded party with a sea of faces, most of them friendly and beaming. But instead of getting a surge of excited curiosity, you feel an overwhelming sense of pressure.
Then you imagine, “What are they thinking about me? Am I attractive enough? Are they looking at someone more beautiful? How can I appear more desirable? Please look at me. You don't want to look at me? Well, you're ugly.”
Now you know what it's like to be a narcissist. It's really sad, and I used to be one. Most balanced humans would be thinking along the lines of, “Oh, she's beautiful. He looks interesting. I want to engage this person. I hope my hair doesn't mess up.” But then again, most people don't have an enormous hole where their self-worth should be. Narcissists do.
Narcissism is developed in childhood.
Narcissists are usually talented and attractive people who skipped over one tiny detail in their formation: Life is about helping others through one's gifts. The satisfaction of knowing our actions create value for others is what fills us up with self-worth, so those who give freely have the most to give. Narcissists feel they have nothing, and they are obligated to take.
As a reformed narcissist, I grew up thinking what I had to offer wasn't good enough, if I had anything at all. So when I was called handsome or intelligent, I clung to those thoughts as life preservers, and I did anything I could to solicit them.
I pursued sexual relationships to feel validated. Instead of finding my worth and joy in the things I gave to others, I was entirely dependent on the praise of my natural endowments. I was powerless until I made a daily practice of affirming my worth through serving others with my talents.
Narcissists are broken.
Narcissism is an inversion of human nature. When systems are inverted, whether monetary, governmental or behavioral, the end product is always less than what was started with.
When I began relationships with a hole in my heart, I would exit the relationships with a bigger hole. After several failed relationships with incredible women, I found myself at rock bottom with nothing to blame but my actions. More than a narcissist, I was a broken and battered man on the inside. I was so afraid of being deficient that I was too terrified to look inside, until I hit the bottom.
Narcissism is a no-win existence that results from shattered faith. Most people have at least some confidence that what they have to offer is good and useful to others. Even if their talents are few, most people know that they make a difference for the better on a practical level. Narcissists, by one tragedy or other, are deluded about their basic goodness. Abusive parents, assh*le lovers, derisive siblings and oppressive learning environments contribute a great deal to the formation of a narcissist.
Shame is directly related to narcissism.
Having been an extreme narcissist for the first half of my adulthood, I can vouch that they do have feelings for others. Cheating, using and throwing people away have significant emotional consequences; none of these feelings are lost to a narcissist. But since narcissists aren't in the practice of responding positively to life, the hurt of hurting others only increases their hole of unworthiness. Narcissism is the most overt manifestation of deep shame. The only cure for this affliction is unconditional love.
The best way to help narcissists is by not giving them an opportunity to increase their hole with a casual relationship. The next best way is to reflect their actions without any sugarcoating, but with mercy. Anything short of sacrificial love will only serve to deepen the hole of narcissism. Coincidentally, casual relationships are, I believe, another symptom of and contributor to narcissism.
Because narcissists don't have a root of self-worth, their perception of worth is limited to what others think of them. This is what makes them so stereotypically charming and fun at first sight; they need your positive opinion or else their existence is invalidated. This also makes relationships with a narcissist similar to a roller coaster ride from hell.
Narcissism allows no room for stability in relationships because relationships must be buoyed by self-worth. Self-worth is the ballast that keeps a ship upright when the waves are crashing on the deck. Narcissism is the hole in the stern.
Many people have hateful attitudes toward narcissists, and like any form of hate, it is completely useless. It's like hating someone with Down syndrome for being different, or being annoyed with a one-legged person for leaning on you. Narcissism is a deficiency. But because narcissists seem so capable externally, with ample intelligence and talent, there is little sympathy to be found among the masses.
Here are some tips concerning narcissism:
- Have faith in man, but tie up your camel. (Hope for the best, but protect yourself.) Narcissists are naturally inclined to use your body as a means to fill a void that you cannot hope to fill.
- Save sexual relationships for marriage partners and learn to be a true friend. Sex is a primary fuel for narcissists, so make damn sure you've got an unconditionally loving partner before you do the deed.
- Do your best to reflect the worth and potential of every human being, even when you want to call someone a good for nothing, piece of sh*t.
- For the especially abusive narcissists, look for the child who lost faith. Then remind him or her of that person's goodness with all the generosity you would show a child. Then get away quickly.
- Reward people's effort, not the outcome. Pridefulness in genetics instigates narcissism, so emphasize the action, not the person.
- Practice unconditional love at every turn, even when it's rough. People with gigantic holes in their hearts are the ones most in need of warmth, generosity, encouragement and acceptance.
For anyone with narcissistic tendencies, do these things:
- Change your thoughts. If you lived with a hole of self-worth, that way of thinking cannot disappear in a day; hard work is required.
- Begin a mediation practice.
- Do a Facebook detox, and seriously limit your instant gratification social outlets. When you're hungry for external feedback, show love to yourself.
- Listen to Zig Ziglar's audiobook, "A View From the Top."
- Start a journal and reflect on your thoughts as a daily habit. When you find yourself thinking about taking or needing, ask what you can give to make your life and other's lives better.
- Ask what you can give yourself that you haven't already. (Usually that answer is unconditional love, hope, acceptance, etc. Sometimes it's a kick in the ass. Other times it's a good cry.)
- Adopt the mantra, “I am unconditionally worthy and accepting of myself.”
- Adopt another mantra, “My gifts and talents are valuable and needed by others. I have so much to give.”
- Practice your mantras in the mirror. I know this sounds dangerous given the fate of Narcissus, but when you practice looking at yourself with deep appreciation of your value, amazing things happen.
We all have a little narcissist in us to remind us of the need for unconditional love. How will you respond to the voice that says, "I'm not good enough?" How will you respond to the people whose actions say the same? I hope you respond with unconditional love.
This article was originally published on the author's personal blog.