The Narcissist Bogeyman.
One of the issues that repelled me from mindful/spiritual communities is the issue with narcissism.
It occurred to me later that narcissism is an issue in any human community; music communities are an easily comparable example. Narcissism is a pervasive human behavior, and avoiding it is impossible. We all tackle it in our lives as we mature. If you believe you have no issue with narcissism, you probably have it worse than most.
We live in a culture that creates hero cults in every area of life. It goes way beyond sharing the knowledge and the celebration of the achievement and talents of others, to obsession with enabling and coveting narcissistic value in ourselves and others.
Energy work like Yoga, meditation, breath-work, ritual dance are energetic art forms that open people to a deeper and expansive feeling in their experience of life, just as music does. For many, creating music is a profound transcendental experience; for others, creating music is about emotional opening, expansion and catharsis, and for some people, music is just some nice sounds. As it is with music, so it is with energetics.
Some people are attracted to create music because they truly love it in their lives. Others are motivated for the attention, attraction from others it will get them. For some, it is both. It is not always easy to tell the difference, and both motivations can create great music.
Some musicians gain celebrity and abuse their position to dehumanize groupies and fans and their entourage/staff. Just as some musicians who gain celebrity use their position to try and improve the lives of other humans around them, and some do both. As it is with music, so it is with mindful/spiritual communities. This is humanness. It is the same in any community where you can gain influence over others through offering something they want.
There is a spectrum with narcissism. In one extreme pole, it is a pathological self-aggrandizement that seeks power over others in order to exploit it. The other extreme pole is a pathological self-doubt/hate and victimhood that manipulates and abuses others through the identity of a victim. Both extremes dehumanize others and prevent honest lasting intimacy.
Those with unhealthy manifestations will swing between the two poles, but will mostly likely spend more time at one pole than the other. They will also attract in others both their mirror and their opposite extreme.
Narcissism is an inherent aspect of humanness. Dysfunctional narcissism is a sign that a person’s emotional development has been inhibited and they are stuck in a compensatory defense mechanism from their infancy.
It manifests as a dysfunctional self-obsessive trait exacerbated in all mental health disorders from narcissistic personality disorder, to autism, to schizophrenia, to addiction, to anorexia, to bipolar disorder, to PTSD, to depression.
Narcissism is simply the human need for a constant source of love, and it begins to manifest dysfunctionally when we have not learned how to find that source of love within ourselves as we are. The less accepting self-love and compassion we have for ourselves, the more we have to chase a narcissistic supply of worth.
The healthy manifestation of this human trait is self-acceptance and love that creates a strong regard for your own abilities and gifts. This allows a person to step up and out of the paralysis of self-doubt, create something, and put it out into the world
Finding the self-acceptance, love and confidence to emerge from the paralysis of self-doubt, and allow ourselves to create and share our gifts with the world, regardless of how they’re received, is one of the most valuable skills a human can learn. Most motivate their ambition through more volatile narcissistic supply instead.
Narcissism in the mindful/spiritual community has a few different manifestations along the spectrum. It can be a delusional sense of paranormal gifts. It can be the holier-than-thou attitude that is intolerant of diversity of differing or opposing beliefs, practices and lifestyles. It can be proselytism that is founded on the belief that the way you experience transcendence is universal and must be right for everyone else.
It can be the desire to be singled out as more gifted than others. It can be self-aggrandizing claims they have The Thing that will save all humanity. It can be the desire to have followers that see things exactly as you insist they must be seen. Most people will have had some mild experience with these feelings, but a few will be struggling with a full-blown spiritual narcissism of The Guru Complex. This is not quite the messiah complex, but very close.
Much to my alarm, about 18 months into my exploration into mindful/spiritual practices, I started to be aware of a desire to be comparatively special compared to others. The desire repulsed me and I found myself resisting it, criticizing it, and trying to make it go away by berating it. Of course, that was not effective at all.
I had to let go of my horror that I, like everyone else, have the capacity for The Guru Complex that I had so eschewed. I realized I lacked compassion for narcissism as a human flaw because I was in vehement denial of my own capacity for it. That denial made me blind to the fact it comes from a lack of self-love that creates an internal value system and doesn’t need external narcissistic supply.
To compensate for lack of self-love, a person develops narcissistic behavioral patterns of manipulating external outcomes to provide a sense of worth. As those behaviors become entrenched, they fuel a shell of self-aggrandizing beliefs that creates an illusion of self-love, regard and confidence.
A person who has developed a compensating external value system is extremely wounded and aggressively defensive about criticism. They present themselves as better than other people. They are likely to seek out the role of teacher/healer over student as quickly as possible. They are also more likely to proselytize their beliefs rather than share them within in a framework of co-existence of different or even opposing paths and beliefs.
Finally, they will tend towards hubristic overreaching claims of what they offer the world.
In my PTSD, I had developed a pathological victim mentality that prevented intimacy, and has been my predominant focus for healing. This is the other end of the narcissistic spectrum. I have been aware that I can pendulum-swing between the extremes, but I spent most of my time down the victim end.
Once my PTSD and pathological victim mentality started to reduce, and cast a much smaller shadow, my narcissistic value system started to be illuminated.
Uncomfortable though it was to admit I had a narcissistic externalized value system, I had to. We cannot love a dysfunction into a more functional manifestation without acknowledging its existence. I was willing to admit my pathological victim mentality and love the fear, rage and self-loathing into a more functional manifestation. However, I was unwilling to love my narcissistic compensatory behaviors.
I was trying to hate them away with denying, shaming and ridiculing them in myself and others. Trying to deal with my embarrassment for having developed narcissistic compensation for lack of self-love by suppressing and hating it was counterproductive. As my capabilities working with energetic practices increased, so did the narcissistic desires to get that acknowledged by externalized self-value-patterning.
I had to get over my embarrassment, be vulnerable, and admit I was having this battle to my trusted friends. I started making attempts to bring it up with close friends. With some, this was unfruitful as they were running very similar patterns and were in denial about it. I just kept continuing to name it more and more honestly.
One friend in particular was experienced in self-awareness, compassion and reflection on this, and through our conversations we allowed ourselves to be completely vulnerable and truthful about it. Only by finding compassion for narcissistic tendencies could I lift the veil and see what the source of them truly is.
Instead of my shame, my narcissistic compensation required my love in action. Love in action is integrity, honesty, humility, vulnerability, compassion, courage and accountability. Self-love means being willing to see and accept yourself as you are, and allowing and trusting others to see the whole messy truth, not a strategically partial truth.
Our defense mechanisms were created in infancy to try and get our fundamental needs for love met. Such behavioral patterns can cause much harm to ourselves and others, but demonizing them is not the answer. Yes, we must admit and be accountable for our dysfunctions if we hope to change.
We also need to be kind and compassionate to ourselves and others in that process of unrelenting self-awareness and accountability, because anything else is not self-love.
“Helen Betty Corday has really lived” — that’s what she wants her epitaph to read. Well, either that, or “the trouble with trouble is that it usually starts out as fun.” She’s a seeker of truth, an explorer of curiosities, a troublemaker, a rabble-rouser, a traveler, an adventurer of inner and outer realms, a student of history, a hedonist, a mother, a whore, a warrior, a lover, a fool, a sage. She hopes her words connect her heart and mind to yours across the ether.