| Chad Brown |
Now I know what you might be thinking, “Did he just call me a narcissist?” The answer is no… and maybe. I want to state from the beginning that this post is in no way making light of someone’s otherwise serious condition or diagnosis. The purpose of this post is to review some interesting points about this subject in the interest of becoming more aware of our internal and external experience, and looking more deeply at a subject that we seem to recognize more in others than ourselves.
I have been on a general spiritual journey for 23 years; however, for the last four years, I have been on a more specific journey focused on what many of us refer to as “healing,” and what I have more recently come to call “integrating.” (More on that integration part later.) I have explored, studied and participated in a multitude of healing modalities and stress relieving techniques, all of which have taught me more about myself and helped me understand why I have been in such confusing pain and, sometimes, so painfully confused.
Recently, I came across an article on the many different types of narcissism. I was intrigued by this; I didn’t know there were several kinds. As I read more articles, educating myself on the potential signs of this condition, a question crept up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder, “Are you a narcissist?” Whenever anyone goes on a personal growth journey, it always has the potential to feel self-absorbed or self-indulgent. I think many people never start this kind of journey for this very reason; it can feel too much like a “me, me, me” party. I too have felt and feared this, but early on I realized something: if I can’t study myself, I’ll never know what is real; if I don’t know what is real, I’ll never understand who I am; if I don’t understand who I am, I can never be free. However, this doesn't mean I don't have - we all don't have - shards of narcissistic qualities the need looking at and attending to.
Ok, so let's get back to the thing that tapped me on the shoulder. There was a dramatic difference in the way my body reacted to this particular instance of considering my own narcissistic qualities. In the past, it was a short-lived, highly triggering experience. This time, I relaxed in a way I hadn’t in a long time. I’ve found when there is such a profound reaction to my own self-inquiry, it usually means I need to explore the issue deeper. So, I did. I went through the process of seeing which elements of narcissism I could truthfully identify with. I believe the two most important questions anyone must ask themselves on a journey of self-discovery are, “What is the truth?” and “Why?” To get a better idea of what the different qualities of narcissism look like, here is a short list.
- Extreme selfishness
- Extreme vanity or extreme dysmorphia
- A grandiose view of one's self/life or extreme poor self-worth
- Seeing people and objects as the same
- Unilateral listening (monopolizing conversation)
- Identifying with being above the rules
- Extreme sensitivity to being criticized, being at fault, and being corrected
- Asexual or extremely sexual
- Lack of empathy or lack of ability to connect with others well
- Either aloof or excessively attentive
- Obsessed with WINNING, accomplishments, fame, status, qualifications, class, etc.
- Perpetual victimhood, self-loathing and/or shame
- Extremely manipulative
- Extreme judgement of others and/or self-righteousness
- Extreme envy or neediness
…and that’s the short list. Anyone triggered yet?
The actual cause of narcissism is, of course, complex and specific to the individual it affects, and the above are examples of the extreme. The most important thing to note is, at its core, narcissism is a breakdown of self-worth and the ability to attune to oneself, other people and one’s environment. It is also most likely linked to adverse childhood experiences and/or development. I would be interested in knowing which of you immediately attributed the details of that list to someone else instead of yourself? Narcissism is usually, at best, something we only claim to see in others, and at worst, a term we use as a weapon against people we can’t get along with. So now, take a deep breath, go slow and ask yourself, “Where do I see myself in this list, even in the smallest of ways?” Here are the ones I could identify with at varying levels:
- In my twenties, I was obsessed with my looks, my body and where both needed continual improvement.
- There have certainly been times when I thought myself to be “special”. Most recently, I discovered an aspect of this in my study of white privilege.
- Others have absolutely suffered my unilateral view in conversation.
- I have often thought myself to be above the rules at certain times in my life.
- I am still quite sensitive to criticism, and work on this a lot.
- I have suffered both sexual extremes.
- I have been both aloof and excessively attentive.
- I have certainly been preoccupied with status and popularity.
- I have struggled with shame and victimhood my whole life.
- I have absolutely been manipulative.
- Neediness is my worst quality.
Can you see where studying this condition can be a valuable tool for healing? I’ve found it to be razor sharp in cutting straight to the darkest corners of my being and helping me see where I am truly suffering; because, let’s be clear, narcissism isn’t a form of bad behavior, but a response to deep suffering or the fear of potential suffering. It is also my understanding, from what I have read, that narcissism seems to be a reaction to poor integration, which I mentioned earlier. Integration simply means the harmonious organization and/or mixing of certain elements. I don’t want to go too far off topic, but basically, studying this subject has helped me see that what we call “healing” might, in part, be about our reorganizing the elements of our lives until we start to feel more in tune with ourselves and our environment. For example, take a deeper look at your job, your relationships, your interests and even your fears and ask yourself where your connection to each of these things comes from. Does your connection to any of these things come from a sense of pride, status or need? Which of these things do you feel a calm depth with and, conversely, which do you feel nervous and unsure about? Sometimes just looking at inconvenient truths about ourselves, as uncomfortable as that can be, can cause an immediate and profound shift.
Earlier I mentioned that when I realized the elements of narcissism in my own personality, my body surprisingly relaxed. Sometimes the truth really can set us free and, in that moment, I think the freedom I felt was my realizing how much fear I use to manage my everyday life, and that I simply don’t have to be so afraid of everything to survive and thrive. I’m not suggesting that it will always be that easy, but I am suggesting that a little honest self-inquiry could do a lot of us some good, and for some of us, might yield some healing, and maybe even a little more harmony.
Chad Brown is originally from Zionsville, IN. His business, Frequency Life, offers intuitive personal growth consultation and stress reduction facilitation. These services are available both in person and via video chat. He's also a big culinary enthusiast and loves the performing arts