Confessions Of A Recovering Narcissist

I couldn't live a fulfilling life unless I changed myself.

Confessions of a recovering narcissist, taking an honest look at himself in mirror Luis Eduardo | Unsplash, Kameleon007 | Canva

I admit it: I am a recovering narcissist. Much of my life's 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 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 a 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 worldview. 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.


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I knew I had to change. I wanted to learn to 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 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 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.


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To be successful in a relationship, you have to create a balance between self-oriented pursuits (such as self-care and self-development) and 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.  

Relationships fail when partners focus too much on getting their own needs met, and not enough on the needs of the other. This results in arguments over whose needs are most important — which is almost always damaging. Psychologically, it’s hard to focus on the other person’s needs when your own needs are screaming out to be cared for, but if you can, your relationship deepens, as does your capacity to love. 


Because safety is a key to making a relationship work, narcissism is destabilizing and damaging. Someone who acts selfishly without regard for the other is unpredictable.

 At any time, they may suddenly focus on getting their own needs met, and withdraw from the two-ness of the relationship. Ultimately, in my journey from narcissism to a healthy loving partnership, the woman I now love has been a teacher. She has shown that honoring the needs of a beloved other can bring with it a potent sense of satisfaction and well-being, more so than any of the short-term fixes of following selfish impulses.

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In Carista's own words:

Men: do you want your woman to open up to you? With her heart, mind, and passionate body? The key to this reality is your honest, continuous care about her, and about your impact on her. You can tell when you have hurt her or harmed the relationship with your selfish behavior. She will react quickly, look unhappy, and express disappointment. She withdraws when you try to relate to her, closing down, and disconnecting — the opposite of how you want her to be with you. You don’t need to be perfect or relate perfectly, you just need to own that you caused damage when it happens, get curious, and repair it as quickly as possible. If you make your woman’s happiness your priority, she will fill up with her own Feminine Spirit and want to give you her best all the time. You’ll get your deepest needs fulfilled as a result.

Ultimately, narcissism is a win-lose game. But I have learned when I consider myself and others equally, and when I put my partner’s needs alongside my own, we both win. And that is a sweet place to land.


If you think you may be experiencing depression or anxiety as a result of ongoing emotional abuse at the hands of a narcissist, you are not alone.

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of who you are or anything you've done wrong.

If you feel as though you may be in danger, there is support available 24/7/365 through the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-7233. If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474.

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Carista Luminare, Ph.D., has more than 40 years of experience as a counselor, consultant, and educator to individuals, couples, and families. She is the author of the groundbreaking book, Parenting Begins Before Conception.