In my opinion, common everyday narcissism means having a noticeably greater amount of self-interest and insecurity than empathy and confidence. If there was such a thing as an ideal personality, you’d have the capacity for both in roughly equal measures.
To see something of what it feels like to be narcissistic, start by saying to yourself that you can’t afford to care much for the well-being of others who are close to you. If you do, you’ll threaten your ability to survive and get what you need out of life. Of course, you’ll have to pretend to have some heartfelt concern for people and learn the right things to say. You also need to hide your deep feelings of insecurity by acting in a somewhat arrogant or controlling fashion. Think of a characteristic, right or privilege you have that you can use to give yourself the feeling of entitlement to a position of power. It’s important not to let anybody get too close to you and figure out that you feel largely empty and scared inside, so you might want to adopt some bullying characteristics. Pretty much, it’s safe to let another person have something on the order of an intimate relationship with you if and only if it feels like he/she is part of you. You’ll have increasing trouble with this individual as your differences and challenges show up.
At the end of the day, it’s pretty lonely to be narcissistic; you feel misunderstood and threatened a lot. You have to do a fair bit of pretending to pass as someone who is caring about others. Often, you need to resort to being manipulative or controlling to manage your situation.
There’s a huge difference between a tendency towards narcissism and a narcissistic personality disorder.
Consider my description above, which gives you some idea of narcissism. If you have some inclinations to be like that and/or certain situations bring it out in you, you’re using it as a means of coping. And, who knows? Maybe it’s a good way to be in your circumstances; it could allow you to survive and/or thrive. Plus, consider what you want out of life and whether or not being like this meets your needs.
A narcissistic personality disorder needs to be diagnosed by a mental health professional charged with that responsibility. Part of the criteria is whether or not this is a rigid personality structure that is difficult to change. Not only would these characteristics show up across the board but also they would represent who you are whether or not they serve you well. Plus, rather than having some tendencies towards a few characteristics, you’d more or less have many of them in spades.
If we’re looking at tendencies towards narcissism, consider these questions: Can he/she understand an emotional experience he/she hasn’t had? Is he/she actually operating in your best interests or in his/her own? Do you have the feeling that this individual is taking advantage of your weak spots? If you restrict eye contact, does it make it harder for him/her to do so? Do you have a weird feeling of inner conflict around this person? Do you feel sorry for him/her, as a child who hasn’t grown up and gotten past the stage of just thinking about him/herself?
- It might be that you do nothing and say nothing. Sometimes an issue can just blow over and evaporate.
- You could decide to be understanding and accommodating. Maybe you dislike conflict, feel as though you’re in a losing spot or politically it’s best if you concede.
- Perhaps you try to establish agreement with the other person that you should collaborate. That means incorporate your differences and find a way to make the situation functional for both of you.
- Consider the possibility of compromising.
- Openly bring others into the process for different perspectives and advice if that is a socially and politically correct option at your workplace.
- Make sure your course of action is warranted by the facts of your situation and is reasonable under the circumstances.
I look at self-compassion as different from the hippie-type statements that abound telling you to love yourself and going so far as to say if you can’t love yourself you’ll never be able to love anyone else. People who have a dreaded fear of being arrogant, who self-punish for errors or who believe they’re not good enough are going to be immune to the self-love rhetoric.
The way I find to translate self-compassion to someone for whom it is a foreign concept is to demonstrate that he/she already has some, even if it’s rudimentary. I start by asking the individual to describe his/her characteristics that he/she values. Then we talk about the fact that maintaining a personality with desirable features in it means they must have told themselves they were doing something right. And they were probably good and kind to themselves when they evidenced these characteristics. That’s the beginning of self-compassion.
Basically, the world is a hard, cold place if there’s little empathy, kindness and care in it. Someone with little self-compassion is creating a hostile environment for him/herself, which tends to be very hard on him/her and brings out the worst in him/her. The biggest culprit for this kind of emotional starvation is self-criticism which is aimed at self-punishment and self-control. It tends to backfire because it results in living your life intimately tied to your past and the low points of it. You can easily end up repeating your mistakes this way.
It tends to show when someone has poor self-compassion. The individual may come across as tightly wound, typically aiming for less than he/she deserves, feeling low or hopeless. You’ll hear one friend saying to another ‘You need to stop beating yourself up.’ It can happen that a person lacking kindness and care for him/herself also broods and harbors resentment towards others. The theme may be that he/she doesn’t know why he/she doesn’t deserve better treatment than that.
What’s best for the self and for relationships is an acknowledgment of mistakes or problems, being in touch with the emotions that go with them. Then, doing what you need to do to resolve the issue, get past it and move forward. Your self-compassion is invaluable in this because it increases your emotional resilience and problem-solving ability.
My most successful strategy to cultivate self-compassion is telling people that it simply doesn’t make sense not to have it. Without it they have a false negative view of themselves and possibly of others. I don’t advocate false positives either. I recommend neutral or fact-based views of themselves that include a rationale for kindness and care towards themselves.
I also ask what would happen if someone gave them a pill loaded with self-compassion; what would be the instant effect of that? Usually the answer is that they are unburdened and can move forward, feeling good.