Let’s Take a Page out of the Playbook of Narcissists.
I’m having problems with the use of the word narcissist.
Maybe because I am one.
Or am I?
No, I can assure you that I am not. Narcissists never question if they’re narcissists, and I just did. Thank God, I passed that litmus test because narcissists sound like dreadful people.
I feel I must confess that I’m not completely untarnished though. My father is a narcissist, for real.
Still, I do have a feeling that the word is being overused. So much so that I’m wondering if my dog is a narcissist. I think he is, and I’m probably enabling him because I’m an empath — another overused word I’ll save for another time.
I have a few problems with the word, but my first is the way narcissists are described as throw-away people. We all know that if you meet one, you should run for the fucking hills. And you know, if my mom had had that warning 54 years ago, she would have fucking run and she’d have lived happily ever after. I wouldn’t have though because I wouldn’t have been born and I’d have missed out on the complex opportunity to love my dad.
My husband is a psychiatrist, and he is currently treating a narcissist, who also happens to be a colleague of his. This man is being treated because the college is forcing him to see a psychiatrist as a disciplinary action resulting from some very inappropriate behavior. He doesn’t give a shit about the college or his so-called inappropriateness, he just wants to keep practicing, so he shows up and makes gregarious small talk once every three months.
My husband is also not a narcissist, in case you are wondering. So far, our little family appears to be narcissism-free. And although we would like a medal for that, we wouldn’t dare to ask. Because we’re not those kinds of people. We don’t hog attention. We like to let the world go by. We’re the kind of people who you’d love as neighbors. We don’t ask for much. We mind our own business, and often, we don’t get seen.
But it has recently come to mine and everyone’s attention that narcissists have taken over the world! Since my father is one, I’d like to attempt to detail the symptoms as they were presented to me. My father is:
* 100% self-centered. Make it 200%. Truly, nothing matters but his agenda. Nothing. And if he doesn’t get his way, he might throw a scene.
* childlike in a temper-tantrumy way
* charming (to some)
* a little paranoid
* loving and warm to me, his daughter
* blaming of others for his discomfort/inconveniences/hardships
* financially successful
I know what you’re thinking. Is Trump your daddy? No. My father is a retired pharmacist who now has dementia and casually torments my mother in a lovely retirement community in the interior of BC.
I’m sure that many of us have one or more of the negative qualities of a narcissist, but living with a textbook narcissist is traumatic. You just get squished right outta the room. Current wisdom says that narcissism is as incurable as it is intolerable. And yet, we are seeing more and more narcissists in top leadership positions. How can that be?
Having been raised by one, my experience is that they view their forcefulness as strength. They see themselves as more daring than other people. They see themselves as leaders, and the rest of us as passive bystanders.
Can they be prevented from ruling the world? Can we put them in their place? Of course we can, but first we have to address our own unhealthy self-obsession and fear of being wrong. We need to take a page out of their playbook. We must, at the very least, get over our anxiety around our own visibility. Occasionally we need a little of their “my opinion is the most important opinion in the room” attitude.
A fault in our culture is that most of us believe we need to be perfectly refined and bulletproof before we step forward. We are keenly aware of our shortcomings and the real possibility that we are flawed, imperfect human beings. We quietly attend to our own growth and let others battle it out in the arena. I will step forward here and say that I fear ridicule.
But there are times when it’s not enough for us to be quiet. Like when business as usual means that there will be nothing left for our children, and they might die, perhaps a miserable death. Certainly then.
Of course, we need more leaders like Elon Musk, and we need people with money and influence to support reforestation and clean energy. But more than that, we need average citizens, good neighbors, like me and you, to step forward in our convictions and risk being wrong. Risk being visible. Risk evolution.
Even if it’s a small reveal, like vocalizing our grief and confusion on Facebook to a few friends. Even if it’s only to a couple of people. Having conversations like this at the water cooler is important. Some people will recoil and we can’t take it personally, but we must start talking about saving the planet and shift our conversations and actions from consuming to restoring to the planet. And it starts with our own healing.
I know we can’t be running around like Chicken Little, and there will be those who think you’re being a downer to speak of such things. But those of us whose eyes are wide open to the chaos and threats to our survival have to step forward and risk being seen and criticized. A healthy society is when we can put down our rigid individual sense of self in service to the collective good.
We are wounded soldiers and we are who Life brought forward at this critical time. Our grief, our healing, confusion, and vulnerability must walk hand in hand with our visible attempts to boldly save ourselves. It is immensely healing to find communities where we can attend to ourselves and each other fully, messily and completely — whether it’s with one friend or a circle of twenty.
When there is harmony in society, we can be content with being good neighbors, but there are times when we need to gather ourselves and act imperfectly. Now is such a time.
The so-called narcissist doesn’t care if he or she shows up boldly and forcefully. Let’s drink a little of this medicine. Not showing up for each other and Life because we fear ridicule points to an equally unhealthy self-obsession that is evident in our passivity.
Sandy Ibrahim is a Canadian of Egyptian and German descent. She does not know if her grandmothers are cheering her on or rolling over in their graves. After leaving her childhood home at 17, she has been pursuing sovereignty while maintaining a state of reverent bewilderment. She’s spent the last two decades raising two sons, and has worked as a systems analyst, a boxing coach, and a book-marketer. You can currently find her practicing Yoga, freaking out, writing, and volunteering for TreeSisters. You could contact her via her website.