Friday, May 28, 2010
Yes. I've gone from Watching the Watcher to Noticing Narcissism, in a week. I'd like to think that this is a common occurrence for others, but I think it's more likely a common occurrence for me. I was raised by a Narcissist, a fact thoroughly overshadowed by her alcoholism and undiagnosed depression and social anxiety. I thought that people who generally disliked themselves couldn't be narcissists, as demonstrated in the classic mythology by the title character who falls in love with his own face.
However, a good therapist awhile back pointed out that this was not, in fact, the case. Narcissists, by modern definition (at least, though maybe not Greek) are folks who focus things on themselves, who center life and others' responses on themselves, take things personally, are always acting in their own self-interest. Out of my interest, I will look up a definition from the dictionary for us:
From New World Dictionary:
excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one's physical appearance.
• Psychology extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.
See note at egotism .
• Psychoanalysis self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects, either in very young babies or as a feature of mental disorder.
Huh. They seem to be perpetuating the same misunderstanding. Interesting.
The book that helped me to understand this was Trapped in the Mirror by Elan Golomb. The same therapist recommended it, and I understood more by reading it than any ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) or even "having lost both of your parents by the age 20" materials had taught me.
It also made me sit up and pay attention to what happens when I leave the watcher and head into strong self-interest - beyond self-protection and into dangerously depressed areas. It can have the feeling of glee, but mostly it's me sheltering myself in a place that reflects me back to myself.
For instance, we met our brand new neighbors yesterday. They were inside, prepping to paint their house (which is, we knew from before, EXACTLY like ours, except for cosmetic differences done over the last 80 years or so, which are really quite limited) and we stopped in and said Hi. They let us see the empty "mirror" (her word, not mine!) of our house, and I know for Dylan, it triggered a desire to get our space as empty as possible, as seeing empty rooms often does to him.
For me? Although it was interesting, all I wanted to do was go downstairs and tell them to come over so they could see what we had done to our space, and be inspired. On the surface its a helpful thing, but mostly it's filled with pride. We have much to be proud of - we've worked hard on the house and it is really cute! - but I wanted that more than to hear about their projects or plans. And I quickly figured out that I wanted them to know about our lives more than I want to know about theirs. Really? I thought to myself vaguely, but then plunged forward and took any chance I could to fill them in. Is this a response to weeks - now over 16 of them - teaching kids and adults to speak for themselves? Do I want to be heard again? Regardless, and there are many compassionate contextual explanations, narcissism was definitely rearing its head.
This isn't a problem, by the way. I am not disturbed by it, persay, but as a student used to say to me, it's probably just lucky that that's how I am today that it isn't bothering me, that I don't see it as a problem. Tomorrow I might have seen it that way. I am grateful for my neutral attitude about it. I woke this morning feeling, yes, these were the first words I thought, HUNGOVER as if I'd had too much wine, conversation and song all night. Without the alcohol I had gotten high on the idea of new people we like already, who complimented our taste highly all throughout the house, who loved our choice of counters. I wanted to show off and it fed me, fed me to model for someone else - here we are, established, a couple of years older, and they can learn a lot from us. Never once did I ask myself what we could learn from them.
And after all, this is the thing that worries me. It's not my Narcissistic tendency (which I know is there, it's ok, we all have things like this, even if not this, I remember now) - it's the suffering that results, which after all, is the same as mental suffering of other flavors. The desire to see myself as separate, the disconnect from others that only causes me more pain. The highness, the "up" feeling that is inevitably followed by a crash and hollowness.
Of course, as soon as I woke, I was curious about them: this is the result of years and years of therapy and, as I wrote this week, "listening for a living." I have forged new pathways than those my mother forced out of habit, and though I may be high on myself for an evening, I can come back down soon enough to limit the damage. I am very grateful for that, for noticing the narcissism when it comes, and being able to label it, sooner rather than later, and act in another way with choice. This is the only thing that counts - not the activity, but the agency, to me. I can carry all kinds of labels - and they are mirrors of those my mother left me - but what I do with them in the long run, noticing and working with them, is what counts.