The Benefits of Narcissism … when goodness goes too far

Do you ever feel surrounded by narcissists?

They’re all clamoring for attention, demanding your time, money and energy.

You’re sick, tired and disgusted by them. Self-justified by their self-righteousness, selfish, self-centered … those nasty narcissists grab center stage.

All. The. Time.

In comparison, you wholeheartedly care about others.

You are compassionate. Loving. You would never — ever — be so self-serving and ego-driven.

You’re the total opposite of narcissism.

Narcissists We All Know and Love — or Hate

Trump. Kim Kardassian and Kanye (the double trouble couple!). Hitler. Putin. Madonna.

Many people consider these celebs and leaders to be self-serving, and ruthless. They’ll bulldoze anyone in their way to the top.

They’re not like Mother Teresa, Jimmy Carter, Ellen DeGeneres — who give back to the world. Who make life easier and kinder for others.

These narcissists are not like you. They’re only out for themselves.

They may be entertaining. They may be in sync with some of your beliefs. But to sum it up — they would never be the person you’d call in an emergency. (Even if you did have access to them!)

Narcissists are nasty. The vast majority of sane people agree with you.

The jury is out. Tried and judged: Narcissists are guilty.

How Narcissists Improve the Lives of Others

It’s safe to say that the vast majority of narcissists will never change. Not gonna happen.

No matter what you do — or say — or think — or hope …

Not gonna change.

But there is a benefit to narcissists on a global scale. Narcissists may inspire others to step up and create change around them.

The lack of regard for women expressed by Trump resulted in a huge show of women running — and winning — public office.

Kanye’s antics have ignited discussions in response. Racism, the acceptance of artists and their creativity are a few topics cited in reaction to the singer.

The world collaborated briefly to take down Hitler.

People are often inspired by negativity to make positive change in the world. Narcissism can inspire altruism.

And altruism is what the world needs to thrive — everyone agrees. Globally.

And locally — like in right at home — for you?

How Narcissists Can Improve Your Personal Life

Personally, seeing narcissism in the world may inspire you to step up in your community, to be a beacon for others and make positive changes.

It may inspire you to become a committed altruist. You think — and do — for others.

You’re not ego-driven like them. Those narcissists. They enrage you. Furiously.

So totally furiously … you hate them.

If your reactions to the narcissists in your life border on rage, consider this: maybe something in you is being triggered.

It’s all about you. Has nothing to do with them.

Perhaps this something reflects an inner shame, a hidden secret you harbor. Maybe it’s something called … your shadow.

“My what? … Belonging to me?”

Me?!”

Ok. Hear this out. Let’s use — as an example — an utter narcissist in your life (whether personal or public).

They are completely heinous, negative, and all-round evil.

Everyone in the world agrees. This person wins the trophy for the most arrogant narcissist in the world.

All true. But maybe … you are over-the-top responding. Maybe you are obsessing over how to cope with this narcissist, one-up them or throw them out of your life.

Maybe you have allowed them to grab center-focus in your personal space? It’s draining your energy and driving you bonkers.

It’s become a dominant — and dominating — force in your life.

It feels out of your control. It is. Until it’s not.

Consider that you have entered the land of … the Shadow (mwahahaha). Enter carefully, if you’re brave enough to see what this says about YOU.

How the Shadow Can Be A Self-Referential Tool

Photo by Karina Carvalho on Unsplash

In psychoanalytic terms, “shadow” refers to that nasty, unlovable part of ourselves we hide from everyone, at all cost.

While it might not be that distasteful to anyone else, it’s yucky shit to you. It’s your shadow. Your personal shame.

The shadow is always relegated to an out-of-sight corner of your personality.

You know you’re in shadow territory when you hear yourself insist:

“I would never do that!”

or

“I’m the total opposite of him!”

or

“I always do …” [insert opposite action of what the narcissist did].

Chances are you feel that haven’t gotten your fair share of the pie (whatever flavor that might be).

Chances are you harbor a secret envy that you are not the focus of attention.

Chances are even contemplating the existence of your shadow feels yucky, weak, and creepy.

There is a part of you that yearns to take center stage. To takes what you want. To put yourself first and foremost.

But that not-nice, selfish behavior is … not nice. It’s selfish. It’s not you. It’s narcissism.

So you stomp it out when the nasty rises up. You hide it. You do an excellent job sublimating it.

It enrages you when you see others casually exhibiting their narcissistic behavior. Why? Because you, YOU would never in a million years act that way.

You keep your own longings hidden.

You may think this makes no sense at all (but if you think about it, most human behavior makes no sense at all).

By admitting to owning a shadow, you may see that you haven’t always been your best ally. You don’t always value yourself — or your needs and wants.

The logical aspect of you appreciates the power of self esteem. The rational side recognizes your talents and abilities. You know your worth.

Then there’s the quieter voice inside that says —

“Stick to the sidelines.”

“Don’t ask for any more.”
“Let others have what they want.”

You’re supposed to be good. Kind. Saintly.

You witness the Narcissist grabbing whatever the hell they want. And you hate them for displaying that nasty hidden behavior that you have kept under control.

This is tricky stuff to consider. Yucky, icky stuff.

Where’s the benefit here? How can acknowledging your shit empower you … eventually?

Here’s where your healthy Ego steps up and saves the day.

The “I” of the “Ego”

The word “ego”, meaning “I” — refers to “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance”.

In psychoanalysis, ego is the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious. It’s a reality tester, giving each one of us a sense of personal identity.

Some spiritual circles advocate “losing the ego”.

But the ego is our human barometer. It is what drives us to move, take action and manifest our desires. In a beneficial relationship with your ego, you can nurture and use it to reach your goals.

In its malignant format, ego over-inflates your importance, by self-aggrandizing (narcissism).

Or it undermines your worth, by self-demeaning (martyrdom).

Either extreme alienates us from other humans. The extremes are not happy place to inhabit.

Standing Up for You

A few years ago, my personal Shadow emerged to bite me in the ass.

It was during a blinding snowstorm. Deadly ice on the roads. Perilous driving conditions, our long driveway barricaded by snow and ice.

My kid — in their early 20s — had some friends over and I suggested they spend the night or more, to be safe.

One of them was a young woman we’ll call Michelle (and hope she never reads this!).

A houseful of hungry people, all escaping the raging storm outside. I whipped up a fabulous, impromptu dinner — shepherd’s pie, with meat, cheese, potatoes.

Upon seeing the casserole, Michelle turned her nose up. “Is the meat local?”

I replied that while it was organic, it was purchased at the local supermarket. She pushed the plate away.

“No thanks,” she primly responded, “and I don’t do dairy.”

Grrrrr …

At cleanup, Michelle sat in her chair and complained how trying and difficult her week had been. She needed a break. She did nothing to help out.

Double grrrr…

Over dessert (made by moi), we regaled each other with snippets from a then-popular sitcom.

Michelle sighed. “I don’t have time to watch TV. I’m too busy reading Proust. En français. Blindfolded.”

Ok, maybe she didn’t add in the last bit.

I was so furious, I became speechless. I covered my rage with cleaning off the table and dishes by myself. (That showed her!)

In a vitriolic rant, I stormed to another room and phoned a friend. Upon hearing the stories, this friend confirmed my righteous right-ness, and declared Michelle to be the total bitch of the universe.

I was justified.

Another friend happened to phone me. We’re very close. We’ve studied psychology together, we use the concept of “shadow” in our work and play.

She quietly listened to my rant (fine-tuned by the prior performance with my other friend).

“Do you think any of this has to do with your shadow?” she asked.

“No way!” I responded in a huff. “It’s not about me — I would never do what she did.”

“I always help clean up — and I was kind enough to take her in out of the storm!”

“Everyone here hates her.”

She did this. I was perfect. She’s a bitch. She’s a narcissist.

I sighed. “Maybe. Call you back — later.”

Reflecting on the exchange — this time the focus on me, my feelings, my reactions — I heard an inner, tiny voice pipe up.

“You had a rough week. With the storm, didn’t you think you were going to have time off, to rest up? You would have loved someone else to make food for you.”

I had over-extended myself. I didn’t ask for help. I did it all.

I was a real saint. A fabulous martyr.

And deep down, I was jealous of Michelle. She was catered to, she contributed nothing, she held herself as superior. She got her way.

I went ballistics when she took what she wanted because … I didn’t do any of that for me.

Yuck.

Fixing It For You

First, forgive yourself for having a shadow. We all do. It’s human.

Then, take care of you. See what next steps support the “inner you” who wants attention and validation and whatever else.

Take these steps. For you.

In the snowstorm situation above, after reflecting, I decided to make some changes.

I took a break. I asked the others for help cleaning up and making food (it was a 2-night stay).

I even asked Michelle to help put away some dishes.

Did she? Reluctantly. Half-assed.

It didn’t matter — what counted was that I asked for support. I took care of myself. And none of this had anything to do with her.

It was about ME, being MY ally, and focusing on ME.

Did I suddenly like her? Did I ever want to see her again? Did she fill me with warm Hallmark-card feelings?.

No f’ing way. I still can’t stand her.

I haven’t reached sainthood. But I have integrated my shadow — and I am taking better care of myself.

What Your Shadow Shows You

 

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Shortly after, I ran into Michelle and her brother. We live in a small town, and total avoidance is usually impossible.

Her brother, whom I adore, was recanting some funny story about a silly pop tune he was playing in his band. We laughed.

With a toss of her well-manicured fingers, Michelle flipped her stylishly-coiffed hair over her shoulder. “I do wish I had more time to listen to mainstream music. I play classical cello.”

In the past, that would have aggravated me. I would have focused on what a shitty remark that was. I would have felt dismissed and put down.

Did I feel some of that arise? Of course. But it wasn’t as overwhelming as before. My self care had improved.

“Too bad you have such a boring life, Michelle,” I saccharinely responded. “I’m having fun! Catch you later.”

I walked away, finding humor in the situation this time. I didn’t take the bait. I threw the fish back. (Or whatever that hunting metaphor is.)

I had learned — successfully — to integrate my shadow. And I became stronger and happier for it.

Using Shadow to Empower Your Life

The next time that nasty narcissist drives you off a ledge to outrageous fury — consider what hidden, shadow part of you is being activated.

When you experience over-the-top reactions to an apparently external situation or person — it’s all about the inner you. Taking a moment to go within and checking out that icky territory will reward you with rich, personal insights.

Be willing to unearth the shadow shit, the part of you previously relegated to a dark, hidden corner. The shadow holds gold!

What is your hidden self crying out for? What deep longings are being constantly unmet?

It takes bravery to own up to your shadow. Explore the possible scenarios presenting: What is the narcissist getting that you may be feeling deprived of? What do you want for you?

How can you step up, be your own best ally and focus on your desires? Your intense inner desires are reflected in your equally intense reactions. Your shadow is an excellent resource to learn and change.

Take time to address your needs and desires. Implement steps to appease that inner demand you initially squelched and hid.

Maybe you can’t choose your life situations to be narcissist-free. But you can choose self-empowerment.

You can be free.

And no one can ever take that from you.

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