|The Pond by Vasiliy Polenov|
“Thank you for this blog, and thank you for this post. I came across this site because I am a narcissist who has woken up, and I am trying to understand myself better so I can change…I feel like I am growing up and finally taking responsibility, finally becoming an adult. I still don't know how or why I realized all the inappropriate ways I had been acting in the past---how I treated lovers and friends, how I played a million different people to get others to like me, how pompous I was. It was like recovering from amnesia and reliving decades of horrible memories, except I was conscious through all of them. I carry tremendous guilt and shame, and I am trying to make amends to people when and where it is appropriate, without the desire to be forgiven.” ~ Corrective Life Events: Can the narcissist change?
See that pond, anonymous? It is far less inviting than the pond in a JW Waterhouse painting, isn't it? If you want to work on your narcissism, you’ll have to jump in an obsidian pool without shoes or even a face mask. You’ll have to walk to the edge of a splintery plank, plug your nose and dive head first in the water without anybody pushing you from behind or diving with you. You’ll have to make that decision, trusting you won’t drown. That even if you can't touch the bottom, you can tread water while learning to swim. You cannot lounge by the shore reflecting on your life, your accomplishments, your failures, expecting the ground to burst forth with narcissus flowers. You must do that which you fear the most and that means 'trusting the process.' It won't be easy. It may be the biggest challenge you'll face in your life. You know why?
Because narcissists don’t get therapy for their own benefit. They go to benefit others.
The predicament is that you must care about your impact on other people. Communal values are requisite. If ‘communal values’ rank way below self-concerns and your empathy deficits are as severe as the federal budget’s, why would you want to change? It would be more comfortable maintaining ego defenses than feeling as terrified and incompetent and anxious as everyone feels when confronting themselves. You have to care about your impact on other people.
Listen, everyone has narcissistic traits. We haven't always called them that, more like warts or rough edges. You can’t help but pick up narcissistic traits in a society rife with self-promotion. Everyone has N-traits and those traits have teeth, mercilessly biting us in the ass until they get our attention. So you have six months. The next six months is an opportunity via crisis. Your defenses are down and your willingness to seek help is up; your desire to change old patterns of behavior has finally arrived. Six months, for about six months people do whatever it takes to restore peace and order in their lives. Then the gig is up, separating narcissists-in-the-making from narcissists-fully-cooked.
I have listed thirteen things you can do, it's not a perfect list but it's a start. Narcissistic friends and relatives (even myself) work through ego defenses. Sometimes it takes a crisis to shatter grandiose perceptions and sometimes life just chips away at our rough edges over time.
A study by Drs. Ronningstam and Gunderson suggests people overcome narcissism through corrective life experiences and corrective relationships. The narcissists who don’t are the ones who end up hurting so many people they can never let their true self come out from hiding. If you don’t break through narcissism when you’re young, defenses rigidify, becoming impenetrable when you’re older. It’s imperative to seize your opportunity when you're only 25 years old, commit to change, and follow through with action, especially when you don’t want to. It will not be easy. The truth is that life isn’t easy on anyone whether we have a narcissistic personality or not.
Number one: Get treatment with a mental health professional who is knowledgeable and experienced treating narcissistic clients. This is your first long-term commitment.
Number two: Ask your family to educate themselves. This protects everyone from ignorance. The average person does not know how to cope with narcissistic relationships. They may assume they know how, but they do NOT. Learning about narcissistic relationships is the antidote to arrogance.
Number three: Do humbling tasks like washing floors, scrubbing dishes, cleaning toilets; any of the drudgeries ordinary people do. Clean up after yourself without considering the work to be menial. Life may be a banquet but it’s also a lot of grunt work. Grunt work is reality. It’s also the antidote to superiority.
Number four: Give back to society. Service work proves you aren’t nearly so bad off as self-pity suggests. Work in soup kitchens, volunteer for charity work and do it anonymously. Hell, pick up trash and do it without joining a group. Anonymity prevents self-deceptive narcissism from seeking recognition in the guise of altruism. Service is the antidote to entitlement.
Number five: Love is an elixir for insanity, at least in the short run. So, no lovers for a couple of years. Remember, you don’t abstain for yourself. You abstain out of caring for others. While Ronningstam’s research suggests a ‘corrective’ relationship ameliorates narcissism, don't assume ‘relationship’ means one-on-one. Broaden the definition. Create relationships that are healing, but platonic. Start with a plant. Human beings have amazing relationships with plants. Ask any gardener.
Number six: Get working again. Take stock of your skills and attributes, you have them. Promote a realistic assessment of your skills without inflating them to lies. Know Your Limits; know your attributes, too.
Number seven: Be scrupulously honest with yourself. If you clean up after your character everyday, you won’t ‘fear’ your true identity being revealed. No manipulation, no conniving and no lying. Each night before you sleep, review your day and make amends if necessary. Even to yourself. Honesty is the antidote to self-and-other deception.
Number eight: Drinking, drugging, gambling, any activity ‘escaping reality’ reinforces ego. The price of escape is high, very high----unless you take the easy road and opt out entirely. Some old narcissists choose to do that. I hope you don’t.
Number nine: Understand how narcissism affects other people. When you read my blog, you’ll realize how hard it is for empathic people to deal with grief and loss because they don’t have an easy way out. So when you feel as though nobody cares and they never loved you unconditionally anyway, remember a few of my messages, will you? Narcissists break people’s hearts and if that last comment makes you feel powerful and tough, consider increasing therapy to three times a week.
Number ten: Go to 12-step meetings for addictive behavior. One cautionary word: groups trigger narcissism. Narcissists start sizing folks up and dividing them into competition or admiring followers. But go anyway. Long timers spot arrogance a mile away and they won’t hesitate confronting grandiosity. Risk sharing your feelings with men, not women. Now that takes courage!
12-step establishes a code of behavior to compensate for a lack (or silenced) conscience. Even a religious organization based on an ethical code can restrict narcissism, though many churches have taken the route of entertainment---not self-discipline. If you go to church to ‘feel good’, it's another way to serve yourself and escape reality.
Number eleven: Take a walk. Everyday. Look at the trees. Notice the soil. Pay attention to sounds. Feel the wind on your skin. See yourself as a part of life. Notice other people are focused on where they’re going; witness the humbling truth that you are not the center of their universe. When you return home, repeat to yourself,“I am an ordinary person who struggles with problems just like everyone else in the world. There is no shame in vulnerability, no shame in making mistakes.”
And if the sun isn’t shining the day you’re scheduled to take a walk, it ain’t personal.
Number twelve: Don’t expect a miracle. Set goals that are attainable. Keep your goals small enough to be realistic. Remind yourself that narcissism is not built in a day and deconstruction won’t happen in a fortnight. Anticipate ‘therapeutic treatment’ to be a long term commitment, and self-help to take a lifetime.
My thirteenth and most important suggestion is this: None of the work you will do is for you. It’s for others. Do it for others.
You may also want to read:
Part Two: Resources for People with a Narcissistic Personality (who want to change)
Testing Normal and Yucky Narcissism
Narcissistic Personality: A Stable Disorder or a State of Mind? by Elsa Ronningstam and John Gunderson, 1996