Here, I wanted to share a few thoughts about the nature of narcissism and how we can come to bring new light to our own narcissistic tendencies, with the intention to cut unhealthy narcissism off at its root and to do everything we can to reduce its effects and impact in our world. This is not a post about caring for those injured by way of narcissism (very important work that many of us will be asked to confront with as much wisdom, awareness, and compassion that we can bring forward), but how we might start to discover the seeds, roots, and branches of narcissism within ourselves. Just another angle on how each of us can begin to untangle the web of dynamics which can be so devastating for the human heart and soul. With the intention that somehow the intergenerational transmission of unhealthy narcissism be interrupted, de-potentiated, and ultimately ended.
One way of understanding what is meant by narcissism is that quality within each of us that is unable or unwilling to see the other as a subject in their own right. Rather, they are seen as a mere object in ours.
It is that inability to hold the other as an actual person with their own perceptions and ways of making sense of themselves and the world. As a person with their own, very valid feelings and emotions and ways of organizing and making meaning of their experience. As a person with their own hopes, fears, and dreams, longing to be happy, to be at peace, to be free, to love and be loved. Just like us.
In a narcissistic state, the other is beheld as a mere object in our own awareness. They are seen and related with solely in terms of whether they are capable of meeting our needs or not, or the degree to which they are able to reflect back to us who we think we are. They are valued according to their willingness and ability to conspire with us to maintain the status quo of our inflation and self-absorption, and their ability to do whatever possible to ensure that the raging sense of unworthiness lurking just under the surface never emerges.
In this sense, the other is merely serving a function in our own awareness, critical to keep the house of cards from crumbling and exposing the shame and unworthiness that long to re-emerge out of the shadows and into the light.
In this state - or developmental stage – we lose touch with the holy reality of the “other.” Oh my god, this is another person, a unique expression of life, not just someone sent to earth to mirror back my greatness, to reflect and buffer my self-image, and to care for the haunting ghosts of my unlived life.
It takes a lot of practice and discernment to navigate all this, to see how each of us participate from time to time in this way in our relationships with others. For many, it can be quite subtle, for others more overt. But to truly open the lenses of perception will require that we consciously engage the sacred energies of deflation, as to re-own this aspect of the psyche will inevitably require us to be humbled, and to tend to the disturbing feelings that this work can activate within us.
It is tempting (and much easier) to locate narcissism outside ourselves, in another, and of course at times it is important and honorable to do so. To call out the behavior of a narcissist and to care for yourself and this world in fierce, direct, and powerful ways. This, too, of course is so very important. But one other thing we can do is to cultivate the curiosity, the courage, and the compassion to meet the narcissistic one inside us. To illuminate this one, to bathe him or her in the light of awareness, and to finally enter into relationship with this one. To retrieve this one from the dark soil and the shadowy nether regions and out into conscious awareness, so that he or she is not running the show from behind the scenes, in ways that will inevitably generate further suffering for ourselves and others.
In this way, we can discover that the inner narcissist is not actually an enemy attacking from the outside, but an unmet part of us, in some crazy way one of love's children, requesting a moment of our presence, our kindness, and our care. He or she has been shamed, ridiculed, and exiled from the inner ecosystem for so long, and will continue to appear in limitless forms until allowed back home.
As we are able to more consciously carry the energies of narcissism – at personal, cultural, and transpersonal levels – we will be less prone to enact these qualities in our relationships with others. To the degree we are able to meet inner narcissism with curiosity, holding, empathy, and compassion – to integrate, metabolize, and work through the unmet images, feelings, beliefs, and projections – it is to this degree we will touch freedom, and will contribute to the lessening of suffering in this world.