Friday, September 2, 2011

Neurosis is the Spice of Life: Overcoming Narcissism

If, when he was alive,  you ever saw my dad in a bow tie and a tweed jacket, you would have guessed that something self-conscious was going on there, prep school or no. If you saw me in younger years with tall, black hair and long, black fingernails, you may have suspected that I'd identified with the parent of the same sex somehow, that I had picked up a thing or two, maybe with some borrowings from mom too. There's a very unflattering name for the quality, but if the loafer or spiky boot fits, wear it. The word is narcissism.

I guess it's a weakness of identity, an obsession with constructing self that makes a person very... well... self-absorbed. And there we have a problem. I'm pretty big on the Golden Rule now, and there's little energy left for others during such a consuming building project. Effort that is directed outward is more in defense of a wobbly structure, and people can easily become objects, threats or allies in the battle for internal stability.

A narcissist seeks applause, he or she needs the help of others in holding up the rickety results of the labor. Of course, the whole process assumes an actor/audience division that leaves a person very lonely no matter how much recognition may come. Love can never be received or given directly.

You could call me a spiritual person in that I believe in growth, I believe that any internal problem can be tackled and overcome. It seems that narcissism is a matter of training, of getting parents' attention mainly by performing, so if it can be learned, it can be unlearned. I probably started on the task of change before I realized what I was doing, holding on to some idea I found in scriptures or other writings. I don't remember.

Settling in with Kat has changed things. Our relationship is still new, but at its core is something rock-solid that gives me a foothold on very hard-to-face questions. My need to express myself and the purpose in doing so is undergoing an overhaul. In the process of honing your skills at accepting another, you tend to learn to accept yourself more. You face your own ugliness because the happiness of another person is more important than pride.

Getting better sounds good, right? Well, I'm a little ambivalent about that lately. I think I've succeeded enough that I can step back and survey the results, and I find that, while I've gained a kind of peace, I've gotten stirred up in other ways. It seems that something's missing. Narcissism was like a comforting dogma, a narrowness that contained my life snugly and comfortably. It was a part of my emotional makeup for so many years, and I've become sorta... empty without it.

But then, if put into service for others, if stripped of its desperate urgency, maybe narcissism is more like a skill set. We're all born into certain states and situations, and we must do the best with what we've got. Can I construct a persona, can I entertain others to their benefit? Yes, I think I can. Laughter in itself is a wonderful gift. I have to use the tools I've got instead of letting bad habits of thought and feeling take me over. I have to stay open to giving and receiving love. That's all. I guess the Buddha was right in talking about a Middle Way. How silly I am that such ideas perpetually take me by surprise!

If you enjoy my blog at all, then consider how often stories pop up connecting online life and narcissism. Would I ever have bothered at all if posting here weren't so delightfully compulsive? Certainly not. Yes, there was a plan in the beginning, but I'm having trouble remembering just what it was. And what purpose is reading this right now serving in your own self-construction? If The Nervous Vegan has ever made your day a little nicer, it could be because I'm wrong in some fundamental way. And maybe you're wrong too. But I hope we're both better for the interaction.

You just can't let things consume you. To strive for purity is good, but don't forget the lesson that our various deities, at least in part, are held up to show us. We are always far from perfect, every one of us.

That's why this blog's slogan, and maybe even its doctrine, is Take it Easy on Yourself. You may need to change, you may need it badly, but don't beat yourself up. Hurting yourself won't get you where you need to be. Panic will only slow you down. It was probably some pain of your own that alerted you to the need for change in the first place, so why hurt yourself in the name of relieving pain? We're all wrong to one degree or another. It's part of what we are, just as striving to do better is a part of us.

You're just fine. Simply do what you must do. It will be okay. And so will I.

Wow, that was... all right out there. Just me. I guess I'm experimenting with bridging the gap between myself and others through expression again. I don't know if it's good blogging or not. But there it is.

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