The connection you have with yourself will be the most important and longest-lasting you ever hold. It will affect the trajectory of every bond formed. How you feel about you will reflect in all the interactions with other people. This level of self-love determines the amount of satisfaction and peace you will experience in your life. You may not have enough, or it may be too much. What happens when all you focus on is yourself?
In Greek mythology, Narcissus is the son of a river god, Cephissus, and the nymph Liriope. Narcissus gained favor from everyone for his beauty. He rejected those that loved him, such as the nymph Echo, and was unable to love anyone else. A prophetic figure, Tiresias, told his mother early on that Narcissus would live a long life, should he never see an image of himself. Just so happens, that is exactly what he did. Narcissus came across a reflection from a spring one day, and fell in love with it. When he was unable to attain the perceived love of his life, he refused to leave. Narcissus wasted away. He died alone, pining away for a fantasy, unable to recognize the reality of his situation. This story depicts the common struggle that narcissists have today: decaying, forsaken, in a self-deluded world of vanity.
Sigmund Freud picked up the term narcissist and applied it to those that display an enlarged sense of self esteem and involvement. Narcissism is a personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V). Narcissus’s myth features characteristics about those that are so self involved, they dismiss the value of others. Narcissists build walls so high and thick that they isolate themselves. They are alone, even if they are always around people. They do not get hurt, but they destroy themselves from the severe self-induced isolation. Humans need to connected, remember? Otherwise, we die with deep emotional anguish.
Childhood traumas, abuse, abandonment, or neglect propagate wounded adult relationships. Several of my other blog articles discuss this concept, such as What Abuse Actually Is. There are many people who know they do not have enough self-love. On the flip side, no one considers having too much. With little to no value placed in others, perceived inequalities with other people show through your behavior towards them.
When people dismiss or devalue the connections they have in emotional intimacy, others notice. They will stick around for a while. Perhaps they will to try to fix you. Or, they might dismiss the quirks. If the level of self involvement you have becomes so distorted that you dismiss everyone else, and make yourself better then them, then your actions and attitude will push them away. They may leave, triggering the traumas of abandonment, or mentally check out. You create distance emotionally and physically, but still yearn for that connection. Any liaison you do form will be superficial, and you will keep that mask firmly glued, playing a part that feels fake and belittling to your character. You will grow resentful, bitter, and unhappier.
So, how do you stop?
Take off the mask.
Most friendships from childhood fade. If you are lucky, you will have 1 or 2 remaining people in your life from those developmental years, outside from normative familial bonds. These are people that know every dimension of you. They stood by while you morphed throughout the decades. They see you for who you are love you for it. You may have a few other close friends who accept you for your quirks.
People have many acquaintances, but few intimate relationships. You are doing well if you have at least one other person you can count on. Who do you mask in front of? If it is everyone, there is a problem.
Not everyone will like you.
This is a fact. They may choose to dislike you because you are blonde, intelligent, or ambitious. That is their projection. However, if you intrude on the rights of others frequently, you will push everybody away. Do you dismiss others’ boundaries?
What you do with feedback from others makes the difference. This concept of inner boundaries is key to finding that balance between dismissing information and integrating it. What do you count? When do you acknowledge it? And how do you leave out what is not necessary? You have to establish personal ground rules and goals.
Information from strangers and from loved ones is imperative to functioning better socially. Knowing how to distinguish what counts and what to leave is a very confusing, and an often overwhelming process. This is also what makes group therapy so effective. When one person tells you something, it is easy to dismiss. However, when you have 5 or more people that tell you that you have a problem, it becomes harder to ignore.
When we present ourselves to the world, how does the world experience us?
Most people believe they are good, fair, and moral. Studies have shown that we tend to think of ourselves as better than others. People rate themselves higher in intelligence, friendliness, and ambition. We place more value on characteristics that we find appealing, diminishing those of others.
The Johari Window is an excellent exercise where others reflect on their experience of you to you. If you open your mind enough to work past your surficial feelings, you can extract useful information from it. It is difficult to hear negative feedback about yourself. However, it is imperative for improvement. Awareness is power. Once you have that knowledge, then you have a choice as to what to do with that information.
If your negative traits get reflected back by people, then immediately dismissed, and you continually violate their boundaries, you will isolate yourself. This is antisocial behavior and maltreatment of others. They will create space from you. You will continue to grow bitter, resentful, and get repeatedly triggered. You will try to make people stay through manipulative tactics. Your inner child will run the show until you become so desperate that you finally break down and seek help from someone on the outside.
When this becomes a lifestyle, you develop narcisstic personality disorder. Personality disorders disrupt lives and cause distress for both the person with the disorder and those that love them. It creates trouble in your personal life, at work, and with finances. Narcissists never reach satisfaction in relationships, and remain alone, well guarded behind those walls. Their empathy-less existence disables them from forming real connections. They will hook a person, form walls, then push them away but keep them close by. People are objectified, used when needed. They dismiss, devalue, and discard those that stop filling their outer esteem. Walls present in many forms, such as walls of words or shame. No one can hurt them, remember, if no one gets close.
There are millions of chat rooms and books that describe the special hell that someone endures while romantically involved with a narcissist. Both men and women can be narcissists. It does not discriminate.
Remember, trauma changed them somewhere along their development. And when this occurred, they adapted methods survive horrible circumstances. It is these behaviors that they still use which begin to work against them.
These are people. Their behaviors can be insidious. It is easy to go into dehumanizing them. That never helps, and it only throws you into the perpetrator position of the Karpman Triangle.
Shame and projection run the show in narcissistic personality-disordered individuals. They feel so one-down that they present as superior. They learned to cut off, avoid, and dismiss their emotions in order to avoid negative feeling states. If they accuse you of cheating, or any other awful act, chances are that is what the narcissist does. Blaming is a fantastic way to deflect responsibility from hideous actions and distract others with crazy-making antics. So instead of staying suspicious of the narcissist, their loved ones will become so involved defending themselves that they will lose focus on their original concerns. Gaslighting is a foremost tactic used in this manner to keep secret lives hidden. As the Chaoseum video explains, “My scars hide in my blame. Will you understand my shame? My silence allows me to smile again.”
You can become that monster. Whether you find yourself with a narcisstic partner or are narcisstic yourself, you can fulfill the offender role. In order to avoid this, get to know thyself. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable with change. Love yourself for all the traits you encompass. You do this through learning how to fulfill your needs and to also reach out to others when necessary. Codependency is kindling that fuels fire. Separate yourself. Reconnect with healthy boundaries. Boundaries build bridges. We all possess positive and negative characteristics. These are just aspects about people we label. Humans are flawed. Pretending not to be is delusional.
Do not dehumanize.
Both sides need empathy-building. Understanding the other side does not mean giving in, or become a walking doormat. There is a difference between this and letting someone control you.
If you find yourself with a narcissist that you told your needs to, and that person will not change, enforce those boundaries. Or, get away if necessary. You cannot change people. You only hurt yourself by trying. This will trigger their abandonment wounds, but that is not your trauma to heal. It is theirs. They are responsible for getting themselves better, just like you are responsible for your feelings and behavior. Your shit versus their shit.
I often see couples spending all their time trying to get the other to change, while not putting in any effort or willingness to change themselves. This creates a ton of wasted energy with no results. When turned around, the focus on oneself creates a tremendous difference.
Once you begin the process of change, the people that count will follow. You lead the way, and the rest falls into place. The thing that stands in the way is fear. If you can push past that, and face difficult self-growth, you will become unstoppable- no matter who you are.
*Note: if you are in a domestically violent relationship, you must get help. Educate yourself on the cycle of abuse. Do not do this alone. Please be careful and seek guidance, your life is in danger.