Most of us are reminded of someone when we come across the definition of a narcissistic personality. We may think of someone who rambles on and on about how they went to the best schools, how they hold very high-paid positions, and how inadequately everyone else seems to function. Are you thinking of someone you know? Great, hold onto that image.
We tend to want to remind these people that they’re not as impeccable as they imagine they are. They can actually be insanely annoying! And because these people can be so unpleasant to be around, we don’t for a moment suspect that we could also have some narcissism within us… Me, narcissistic?? No way!
The thing is that the incidence of narcissism has more than doubled in the past 10 years. Such a huge growth in this personality trend is a cultural issue. Narcissism isn’t something that only seeps into the unlucky few. It is an environmental response to a phenomenon that is affecting us all. So, even though you may not be the most narcissistic person you know, you probably have some narcissism within you somewhere deep deep down inside.
What is narcissism anyway?
The narcissistic personality seems like they absolutely adore themselves, right? They don’t make mistakes, they know all the right people, and all their endeavours are a huge success! A person who habitually displays narcissistic traits, however, actually doesn’t like themselves all that much. In fact, they are usually covering up for a huge sense of not feeling “good enough”.
As I’ve mentioned several times before, we are living in a culture of “never enough”. From early in our lives we swallow messages that no matter what we do, it is not good enough. We are never thin enough, rich enough, independent enough, intelligent enough, sexual enough… and the list goes on. Brene Brown (the author of “Daring Greatly“) refers to this cultural experience as one of “scarcity”. The word scarcity comes from the old Norman French word “scars”, meaning “restricted in quantity”. Brown argues that to protect ourselves from the debilitating shame of never feeling adequate, we soothe ourselves with illusions of grandeur. We define our worth on whether or not we are “better than” others. This is precisely what narcissism is, and we are all guilty of doing this.
A cultural phenoma-what?
Our beliefs that we are never enough are fuelled by media-driven messages of standards of worth. We watch wealthy, famous and beautiful individuals in perfectly styled settings, using luxurious products. These media messages are absolutely necessary for capitalism to function. Our economy would seriously struggle if we were made to believe that we are enough just as we are.
We view these perfected, happy looking images, we feel inadequate, we want to erase the painful emotions associated with inadequacy, so we shop. We smear the beauty cream on our face, we eat the kale, we want the diamonds, the car, the holiday. And for what? Our magical thinking tells us that we can be more beautiful, self-assured or successful if we attain these things.
Where does this leave us on a soulful level?
Our sense of unworthiness impacts more than just our spending habits. If we never confront our shame and treat our sense of inadequacy with love and acceptance, it eats away at us. This self-esteem bankruptcy causes us to consider all sorts of self-, family-, and culture-damaging options to bolster our sense of worthiness. We over-spend, we drink, we criticise others, we lose ourselves in a pace of continuous busy-ness.
When we do not acknowledge the sense of inadequacy we all carry, we too contribute to this culture of narcissism. We evaluate our self-worth on the basis of whether we are “better or worse than” others, instead of viewing ourselves as being “different”. The really sad thing is that when we are running in this rat race, we are fundamentally disconnected from those around us. When we cannot be with the sense of unworthiness in ourselves, we cannot heal it. We stay in this competitive state, and therefore, we cannot help others to heal their own feelings of shame and inadequacy.
“Tackling our disappointment with the sword of self-loathing doesn’t give us more control… it sends the message that we don’t have the permission to be human beings” – Ingrid Mathieu
Healthily coping with feelings of inadequacy takes awareness and work. It involves the practice of noticing feelings like shame, rage and jealousy; making space for them so that you can understand what sense of inadequacy they are tugging at within you. Being with these emotions is not easy to do; it takes courage. The next step towards healing shame is to share our inner truths with those we trust.
Don’t you dream of a better world?
It’s true that there are people who are more predisposed to narcissistic behaviour than others. At the same time, we have all grown up in this culture, therefore, we all contribute to it’s continuation. So, if we want our kids to live in a world that is less self-absorbed and superficial, we need to begin by acknowledging our inner selves – the good, the bad and the narcissistic.
Read more about feelings of inadequacy and striving for perfection.
Book a therapy session with Emma.