April 21, 2008

Conceited, Argumentative and Selfish

"Narcissism as natural self-love is essential to survival. It is what makes us value ourselves, and find purpose in life. Essentially, self-love is necessary for one's self-preservation. Everyone has some narcissistic traits, however being conceited, argumentative, or selfish doesn't mean you have a nasty personality disorder." ~Pamela Kulbarsh
By age 56, several growth periods pushed me out of my comfort zone. Personal arrogance protected me from automatic deference to authority. An argumentative attitude asserted my separation from the status quo. In a system implicitly restricting female individuation, my separation from traditional expectations created a mighty ruckus at family dinner tables. This included my family-of-origin and my family-of-creation because real change changes reality. It's painful growing up a little later than we should have; but late is better than never. At least I believe this to be true. 

At about thirty-some years of age, defining myself rose to the top of my 'To-Do' List, though this entailed resolving whether or not it was selfish for a family to microwave burritos so Mom could attend college. (Selfishness runs a close second to not nice on my 'Don't-Do' List). Even if it’s ordinary for midlife housewives to go back to school, it was extraordinary for me to resist resistance and persist in my persistence: pursuing my goals rather than diminishing them as unimportant. Cherries Jubilee is definitely better than cherries-in-a-can, but my budding self could no longer be restrained in a 12x12 kitchen. Maybe that’s one reason why CZ-in-a-can erupted into flames when homework was alleged to be less important than fine cuisine. I began thinking about male & female stereotypes, questioning sacrosanct prescriptions mandated by God, asking myself what it meant to be liberated and whole.

The human drive towards freedom is a mystery to me. The old way of being becomes insupportable and yet, we resist toppling family systems that while dysfunctional, are tolerably ‘functional.’ Stifling maturation is an invitation for pathological defenses to imprison us with distorted perceptions. If we’re lucky, denial’s stranglehold will eventually release its grip when our lives become unmanageable, forcing us to face a reality we’d rather deny.

The truth of authentic change is: what once was no longer is and renewal of relationship is mandatory. When we change at a core level of self, everything shifts. Prior relationships either accommodate our change...or they don’t. One person’s change in the family mobile impacts every other person connected to them. If people dislike the person we’re becoming, they are invited to create new relationship with us. Or call it quits. Tell us they don’t love us anymore. We have unwittingly opened Pandora’s box and what was unleashed is no longer within our power to regulate. 

This is what makes authentic change so terrifying. Perhaps we know liberation comes at a high price, even if we’re not consciously aware of the price we’ll pay. If our fear of rejection overrides our desire for freedom, we'll resist change in order to keep the peace; though there is no peace if we are lying to ourselves. 

Healthy narcissism means loving ourselves for who we are, even when we transition from one phase of development to another. Perhaps our willingness to placate a dysfunctional system hinges on our toleration for rejection? I have to say though; we are far better equipped to tolerate rejection if we have heeded the inner call for freedom.

Now maybe there are wise souls who manage change without being conceited, argumentative and selfish, though I don’t usually see this happening very often. Healthy people struggle defining themselves as separate, yet connected individuals. Healthy people search for authentic voice, toning down arrogance as self-confidence increases. Healthy people lose the compelling drive to win arguments once they are capable of validating themselves. This process takes time, especially if we have been systematically trained to silence personal difference in a hopeless attempt to control reality.
“…a narcissist's behavior is premeditated and volitional. The narcissist is able to tell right from wrong and to distinguish between good and evil. You don't get off on a mental plea when you know what you're doing is wrong. Lacking empathy, the narcissist is rarely remorseful.” ~Pamela Kulbarsh
My arrogance, contrariness and selfishness did not exempt me from accountability for harming other people. The complexity of respecting my process while also respecting friends and family was inextricably connected to a sense of moral responsibility. It would have been easier to meet my own needs had I not been concerned about other people’s welfare. But then again, consideration for my impact on others illuminated the right path, a path mediated by values pulling me back to center.

Bridging the span between motherhood and separate self was an uncertain struggle for balance. If my arrogance was misplaced, my argumentative nature inappropriate, or my selfishness hurtful, a healthy conscience reined me back from narcissistic irresponsibility and the inevitable destruction of important relationships. Perhaps the blessing of an empathic heart prevents healthy narcissism from degenerating into unhealthy self-absorption.

On days when my teens needed lovin’ from the oven, Mama studied in the kitchen as the yeasty perfume of home baked cinnamon rolls wafted through the house. Our dinner conversations changed, too. We transitioned from talking about tattoos and tongue piercings to rousing debates about women’s roles, men’s roles and our hopes for a better future. As long as no man competed with my cooking, gender roles had become pragmatic social constructs defining tasks, not people.

Once I could make connections between my automatic behavior and socialization, my attitude change was shockingly quick. Of course, this had a healing impact on my children; though unbeknownst to me, it challenged the hierarchical structure holding our family together. My change was a gut level change impacting every relationship in my life, including my relationship with my husband who only appeared to be growing with me.

If I may be so rude as to sum up his capacity for authentic change however, Rosbeth Moss Kanter said it best: "Change is like putting lipstick on a bulldog. The bulldog's appearance hasn't improved, but now it's really angry."

Hugs to all,



Kulbarsh, Pamela. Malignant Narcissism: Perverted Self-Love

Stormchild. Gale Warnings, When to hold 'em? When to fold 'em?


  1. CZ, you wrote, "real change changes reality."


    In healing, I have changed my reality of being a victim of abuse to being a victor in my own life. I am my most powerful heroine.

    Thanks for that CZ. That is really profound!


  2. Hmm... sometimes, I think the hardest part is coming to the place where we, ourselves, can say, with conviction, that we were abused. It does shift the reality a bit. ;-)

    Telling the abuser that they are an abuser is a whole other form of reality shifting.

  3. "I think the hardest part is coming to the place where we, ourselves, can say, with conviction, that we were abused. It does shift the reality a bit."

    Agreed, Katherine. At first, most of us are afraid to speak about our lives for fear of being labeled as whiners, complainers, ungrateful sods, maybe even self-absorbed narcissists gazing at our navels and complaining about the Delivery Doctor’s lousy knot-tying.

    Living in an abusive environment attacks of our self-esteem & self-confidence. We become self-critical. Even writing in a private journal triggers guilty feelings. If we are not ready to face reality, we stop writing. We start again another day and the following morning, we tear pages out of the notebook or delete our messages because we can’t bear to read our words.

    Breaking the No Talk Rule of every abusive system triggers painful feelings like guilt and self-doubt. Writing about overwhelming feelings invites communication between our emotions and rational thought.

    This will not be a short conversation. Ha!

    Each time we assert ourselves by claiming our experiences as important, we are prioritizing ourselves. We are saying, “Hey, I know it’s weird to be angry at so-and-so for something as trivial as forgetting my birthday; but it made me feel like shite and it still makes me feel like shite.” We write down the experience that keeps us awake at night, obsessing on what this Snapshot means.

    Sometimes a mental snapshot will haunt us even years after it happened and I think this is our psyche’s way of telling us to pay attention. We can dismiss the snapshot as irrelevant; but until we say ‘Hello’ to the memory and acknowledge our feelings associated with the memory, our psyche will continue to send us messages.

    We learn to trust the importance of this experience though we might not understand why it is important to write about the missing birthday gift. (This is a random example of how we silence ourselves by minimizing our right to be angry for being forgotten. The real truth to the story is that the forgetful gift-giver was someone we loved and believed to have loved us. What did it say to us when our birthday was less important than working late at the office?)

    What I’m discovering is that the greatest truths are contained in the most insignificant of experiences. When I reread old journals from nearly twenty years ago, the same stories that bothered me enough to write them down, are essential to understanding abuse on a deeper level today. At the time, I was just as prone to self-doubt as anyone reconstructing the details of their lives. We start with a ‘knowing’ that something is terribly wrong and yet, we can’t quite figure out what or why. When we journal about whatever comes to mind, without JUDGING ourselves, the mystery of the “Missing Birthday Gift” is eventually revealed. There are layers and layers to the story and each understanding restores our self-confidence to tolerate a deeper awareness. This is how our confidence is increased so we can call ‘abuse’ Abuse without questioning our perceptions.

    This has been my experience and I’ve been seeking deeper awareness for many years, even prior to learning about NPD. I’m very grateful to have listened to an inner voice telling me to get started because I was in for a big surprise ending to my story.

    I’m sad and glad that you are doing the same, Katherine. Each time someone dares write the truth about his or her life, a little more light comes into our world. I believe my effort to understand my life parallels other blogger’s self-disclosure. It’s really not about castigating the abuser as much as it is being able to name abuse for what it is and reclaim our lives.


  4. CZBZ~

    Yeah. Thanks. Ironically enough, today is my birthday. The ongoing saga with my mom on that is being noted in my blog.

    But today, my father chose to ignore my birthday. This is not new. He has done this many times. Last year, after many years of nothing, he was mad because I made plans and he wanted to take me to dinner. He didn't tell me that until after the fact.

    This year, I don't know whether he forgot or ignored, but sadly, I suspect he was waiting for me to ask him if he wanted to take me out. Sorry. I'm not going to go there. I'm beginning to wonder if my dad is a narcissist, too.

  5. The father of my mother was also not bothered with her birthday. Instead of congratulations on her 19th birthday, she was ordered to clean the bathroom. One day she told me.
    She always tells me about wonderful youth memories. But bit by bit through the years she tells more 'little' things and than quickly changes the subject shortly after that.
    I never understood why she couldn't give me love and always was depressed if she had such a wonderful youth. Now I know a lot more and I give the 'fridge' a hug so now and than.

    Flower bud

    1. I wrote this in 2008 and missed your comment in 2014, Flower Bud! I am so glad you added to the conversation so I could respond in 2017.

      Thank you for reading and sharing something from your experience, too.


  6. There is so very much here that ressonates. When I began to journal about random incidents it felt uneasy doing so as it became a log (not blog) of seemingly minor happenings over time that to anyone else would appear, well, silly. It's the insidious nature of this form of abuse that doesn't make sense. I can see now that there are layers and layers. You so express what I have experienced.
    The journal / log is in a sense my validation to myself that the accumulative tiny not-quite-right incidents were, indeed, huge sirens. Looking back over writing, furnished with a greater understanding of narcissism and its destruction, provides clarity and the penny dropping moment of 'yes, these things DID happen.it's when we don't get why they happened that we become riddled with self doubt. Knowledge is key.
    Understanding narcissism has stopped me putting lipstick on a bulldog. It's hard because in some sad, inexplicable way I miss bulldog walkies but only because I became, over time a Pavlov dog.
    I treat myself to reading one of your posts or articles in the morning as I start each day. Very grateful for what and how you write, x

    1. "I miss bulldog walkies but only because I became, over time a Pavlov dog."

      THAT was awesome! I don't know how your comment was missed (I try to check incoming comments frequently because I love hearing from people) but was happy to read your comment this Easter morning. Thank you for reading and appreciating my style---odd as it might be to the "uninitiated".

      You are so right about the accumulation of minor happenings over time. Some people call this "death by a thousand paper cuts" . That might be a tad extreme for everyone dealing with narcissists but there's no denying that we WILL suffer negative consequences because of the relationship...not the least of which is believing overtime, that the narcissist's projections are valid and true. It takes time readjusting to reality (a reality in which we aren't being scapegoated by someone we assume has our best interests are heart).

      Thank you for being on this wild-and-wonderful journey with me!



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