“You can’t build joy on a feeling of self-loathing.” ~ Ram Dass
Once upon a time, in a house full of shattered hopes and dreams, there lived a six-headed princess named Allme.
Allme was bright, beautiful, funny, and talented. She was charming, kind, wicked-smart, and totally badass. Her only real problem was that despite having six heads with six brains, she was completely unacquainted with her worth and goodness.
When I first realized that I was “an individual with narcissistic tendencies,” it hit me like a 1978 Sylvania television dropped from a six-story window; I was badly bruised and had a few broken bones, but still able to get up.
I was attending a weekend seminar, and the workshop leader declared this about himself; that he had come to realize that he was “an individual with narcissistic tendencies.” I was impressed with his courageous share and as he went on to describe the many ways this would present itself in his life, I realized we were kindred souls.
By this point, I had done enough therapy and personal development work to know where this came from (thanks, childhood) and to know what the implications were. In fact, it was kind of liberating to connect these new dots and have so many past behaviors make even more sense. Interesting that a label could actually feel liberating.
And on top of that, I knew this was fixable. I knew that with awareness and self-love I could turn this around and have it be yet another chapter from my past. It was out of the closet now and merely a matter of willingness to go deeper, get real, and stop running away from it.
Backing up a bit here, I should explain that for most of my life, I kept my “stuff” in a hermetically sealed lock-box packed deeply out of reach in the attic of my psyche. I hadn’t been ready to venture into that dark space, and I always figured I’d get to it one of these days—you know, like when I move or need to find an old vinyl.
But I wasn’t moving and I no longer owned a turntable; the catalyst for truth digging came instead from post-divorce, screaming reality. Shrill cries for liberation and mercy blasted at me from a thousand different directions, over and over, until ignoring them was no longer an option. One failed relationship after another, a half-assed career going nowhere, an out of shape body and mind; clearly, I now had to open that damn box.
The time had come to take off my synthetic polyester “I am all that” superhero costume and stand naked and real before my inner critic.
“Okay, let’s do this,” I told her. “Let’s have it out right here, right now like Foo Fighters in the ring.”
So I began throwing punches at my ego, winning rounds, and feeling small to large victories. I lost 40 pounds, took up a yoga practice and lifestyle, and dove deeply into personal growth work.
I felt better than ever and was pretty sure I had this self-loathing, narcissistic thing beat.
I thought: “This must be what enlightenment feels like.”
And then, he entered the ring.
My new trigger king.
The man who would spark an enslaving, addictive, downward spiral the likes of which I hadn’t experienced in over 20 years.
I fell hard. And a few months later, harder still. Emotional rock bottom, actually, caused by unrequited love that became an obsessive addiction. Holy crap, I really wasn’t fond of the girl I saw lying there on the ground in a pool of self-pity. She was so unwelcome and I was completely stunned that she even still existed.
Who the f*ck am I? I must have asked myself this a million times over the years, but never with the same urgency as I did now. This time, I had crossed lines that I myself had recently drawn. My integrity, my standards, everything I had been preaching was flying out the window. My self-loathing ego mind had been merely masquerading as self-love. Self-love, I discovered, is really the blindest love of all.
Sucker punched by pain and this recent realization of my narcissistic tendencies, I saw just how much healing I still had to do. So I put on my big girl panties and started digging even deeper so that I could actually learn how to walk my talk.
Narcissism is a label that gets thrown around quite a bit these days and is often oversimplified to mean self-absorption and aggrandizement.
But it’s definitely not that simple.
Narcissism exists along a continuum of severity ranging from neurotic tendencies to full-blown severe pathology. I didn’t suffer from full-blown NPD (narcissistic personality disorder), but rather, I lived with narcissistic tendencies and character traits (NL or “Narc light,” I call it). In my case, this shame-fueled behavior took its cues from insecurity and inadequateness. It was the “not good enough monsters” that controlled my version of personal hell.
This can show up as: significance-driven behaviors, extreme sensitivity, paranoia (everyone is thinking about me), isolation, selfishness, judgment, a need for control, self-aggrandizement, obsessive compulsiveness, people pleasing, and more.
At some point in our younger years, when woundings occur, we dissociate and take on false beliefs and personas that our egos guard for dear life. It is in the protection of this false identity that we can behave in narcissistic ways.
The self-deception becomes a survival strategy in order to get through the day without (constantly) feeling like a worthless piece of poop. These delusional thoughts become our soul’s comfort food, our soft place to fall, our only perceived chance for love and connection; so yeah, it’s kinda tough to let that sh*t go.
This has cost me dearly. Work was always challenging and lacked passion. Friends would come and go in my life; lovers too. It’s tough to let anyone in when you believe that your negative, judgmental, hypercritical thoughts will soon be theirs as well.
And we can’t slay this dragon with self-esteem because the self-esteem of a person with narcissistic tendencies runs from mock self-aggrandizing to non-existent.
So off I went, seeking and seeking and seeking. And eventually, I learned that the only way to tame this inner beast was with self-compassion, acceptance, and understanding.
In her wonderful book, Self-Compassion, Kristen Neff says:
“Self-compassion is a powerful way to achieve emotional well-being and contentment in our lives. By giving ourselves unconditional kindness and comfort while embracing the human experience, difficult as it is, we avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation. At the same time, self-compassion fosters positive mind states such as happiness and optimism. The nurturing quality of self-compassion allows us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life, even in hard times.”
This was the work I needed to do, the work I needed to focus on in all aspects of my life, and it took the head-on collision with my “trigger king” to get me there.
He came to me pre-programmed for fear to win. I didn’t stand a chance.
His wounds were open and raw, he was emotionally unavailable, and there were numerous blocks to intimacy. To quote Tony Robbins: “Living in his head, we were dead.”
I wrote that paragraph in my journal about him, but clearly it could have been written about the both of us. Someone with unhealed narcissistic tendencies is also blocked and emotionally unavailable. Our union created a perfectly ripe and well-mined battlefield for hooks and hurts to explode.
His avoidant behaviors and unavailable patterns were the perfect familiar environment for my false personas and anxious feelings to flourish. Unchallenged by the demands and requirements of true intimacy (no coincidence that it was also a long distance arrangement), I could remain in my bubble of unworthiness, accepting and twisting his sparse offerings as acts of love and commitment.
What ultimately became the pearl in the oyster was how deeply in love with him I was. The perceived loss of that love became the catalyst for my hard crash and subsequent healing. Like salt being rubbed into an old wound, so much pain resurfaced, crying out for love and attention. I drew him in and used him to feed my hungry addiction to low self-worth.
His rejection was the exact stimulant I needed to look at the darkest parts of myself that I had been blind to. I had no choice now but to examine my self-inflicted bullet holes—the places where self-love was lacking.
I had another round of dragon slaying to do, only this time, I was going to kill it with love and kindness. Self-compassion was on the menu now; my soul was starving for it. And fortunately, I now had the tools and strategies to give that to myself.
I’d never proclaim to be fully healed or a completely self-loving person; I’m not even sure that’s a realistic goal. Enlightenment, consciousness, inner peace, awakening—whatever one wants to call it—is a process and journey. I believe the best I can hope for (and maybe that any of us can hope for), is consistent forward motion along the path as we continue to put in the necessary work.
Allme has finally learned the truth about herself.
With an open heart and a newfound gentle touch, she learned to accept and embrace the full spectrum of her unique and wonderful qualities; the light, the dark, and everything in between. She learned to feel gratitude and to see how blessed she truly was. Self-love and acceptance for her perfectly imperfect self was her new life’s work.
She’s moved on to a new home, where hopes and dreams are allowed and encouraged to flourish, and where she’s been able to take her place as queen. Her life has become a fine example of what it means to live with love, truth, vulnerability, and courage as guideposts.
Allme’s light shines so brightly now. She has become a beautiful example for all in her kingdom.
Author: Debra Faith Warshaw
Image: Jem Yoshioka/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis