A couple of words about narcissism

by Veronika Leonova, MA

Narcissism, narcissist, – we hear these terms everywhere, and amount of posts about narcissism on different social media platforms is constantly growing.

In these posts narcissists are usually described as manipulative, cold and abusive, and the focus is placed on how to identify and avoid them or if that mission has failed – how to recover from a relationship with them. This social media trend makes one think that we are surrounded by “them”: lurking unrecognised in the crowd, waiting to destroy our self-esteem. As opposed to “us”: warm, kind and loving folks. But what if them and us are not so different?

Narcissistic personality disorder is a rare condition (only between 0.5-5% of population might receive this diagnosis), but having narcissistic traits in today’s world is very common – so common that it’s unlikely to find a person that doesn’t have a narcissistic component. Let’s try to explore what happens in us when this component in gets activated. 

My internal experience, when it happens is as follows:

  1. I am insufficient. If only I were smarter/more beautiful/wealthier/received that promotion/got into this relationship/achieved something/etc. – then I would deserve love, attention and the right to be. But the way I am now, the real me – I don’t deserve it. I feel ashamed of the real me.
  2. When I get in contact with the real me – for example my partner observes my behaviour and mirrors it back to me, or someone catches me making a mistake/being imperfect – I experience a wave of anger, because (see pt.1) to me being imperfect means denial of love, attention and right to be. This anger often gets poured out on others that have witnessed my imperfection.
  3. As I can not be better than I am – I find myself in a constant need of faking it, by inflating a bubble of grandiosity around my imperfect, insufficient self. Keeping this bubble inflated can devour a big part of my resources. I feel superior and important but this feeling is fragile.

How does this bubble look like in reality? 

  • I feel like I have to be accepted, recognised and admired by everyone. Since it is impossible – I try to create an illusion of it by maintaining a wide web of superficial relationships, where people know me only from the sides that I choose to show them. Social media is a very good place for that. 
  • My apartment/clothes/job title/vacations have to reflect the superior image I have created. I might find myself using resources I don’t have (like buying things I can not afford, getting in credit card debt, etc.) – to keep this image up.
  • I don’t allow myself to be weak, sick, tired, unproductive or in any way insufficient. But because I sometimes am all of those things – I have to hide it from myself and others. That means that I often don’t ask for help and don’t receive support when I need it.
  • I might avoid trying new activities where I am sure to “make a fool of myself” in the beginning (like learning a new language or an instrument) as every “mistake” I make burns me with shame. 
  • I struggle with closeness and openness in relationships and find it easier to be alone or  maintaining some distance from the person I am interested in. I prefer them admiring me from a safe distance and quickly become disappointed when they come closer.

As we live in a modern society that values individual success and provides countless opportunities to compare ourselves to others, we find ourselves in a very narcissism-prone environment. When in a click of button I can see how many people on this planet have achieved more than me/are more beautiful/earn more/are more productive/pick your poison – I am very likely to experience insufficiency and inflate my own bubble. But the more resources I invest in it – the more I ignore my real self. How do I reconnect with it again? 

I can start by asking myself questions: where is my narcissistic bubble? Where in my life do I make choices in favour of pretending rather than being? What part of my resources goes into maintaining this bubble? 

And then – where is the real me within this bubble? What do I really feel, really want in this situation? 

How can I be respectful of my real needs, how can I show compassion, love and support to the real me today? In the end, it’s the only me I actually have.