I admit it: I am a recovering narcissist.
Much of my life energy was spent in pursuit of what I wanted, what I needed, and what I thought was best. “Narcissism” is a term from psychopathology, but it’s essentially a fancy term for extreme selfishness.
I had good relationships with great women – strong, smart sexy females who thought I was a great guy… until I suddenly withdrew, or made plans without checking with them, or took off to chase success, or an intense experience, or another woman. As long as my needs were getting met in the relationship, I was pretty happy. But when I wasn’t, I began looking around for the next opportunity to fulfill my desires.
My partners were not weak or timid – they often confronted me about my choices and behavior. But my answer was typical of an intelligent narcissist: “If you want to be in relationship with me, you have to accept me as I am.” And they did – until they couldn’t take it anymore. I felt completely justified in my world-view. If they couldn’t love me as I was, there were plenty of women who would.
Each time I made a mess of a personal (or business) relationship, I felt bad. I recognized the damage I was causing, and began to look inward for answers in therapy, and in my men’s group. I read books and articles about narcissism, and worked on changing my beliefs, my early programming, and my social conditioning. I knew I had to change. I wanted to learn to really love. To do this, I needed to learn how to be unselfish.
Selfishness appears in a wide spectrum, stretching from healthy self-care to moderate, socially acceptable personal goal achievement, to the extreme form of destructive narcissism – individuals who don’t care about the impact of their selfish behavior on others.
We are all selfish at times. When you focus on taking care of yourself, or making yourself comfortable, this is a healthy form of selfishness, as long as it’s not taken to an extreme. Healthy people learn how to set good boundaries, and pursue their own interests realistically. They develop personal esteem, mature principles, and can accomplish their goals. From a solid sense of self, they can form deep relationships with others.
Children are naturally selfish and self-focused, but they are expected to grow out of it. They learn that other people exist independently, and have their own feelings and needs that must be taken into account. This early awakening enables a child to “play well with others.” A healthy self-focused child can grow into a healthy adult, capable of being a loving parent, a compassionate community member, and a trustworthy citizen. If an individual can’t make that leap into the world of “others,” they become a narcissist.
To be successful in a relationship, you have to create a balance between self-oriented pursuits (such as self-care and self-development) with its opposite: care and respect for the interests and needs of the other.
We all want to be cared for. The trick is to learn to love as an activity you actively engage in, not a state you expect to be swept up into. In a mature relationship, each person takes full responsibility for the entire triumvirate: oneself, the other person, and the third entity: the relationship itself. Keep Reading...