Is selfishness always a bad thing? What is narcissism? The word narcissistic is in the news a lot recently. What does it mean?
Narcissism is an exaggerated view of your own abilities and wanting praise from others.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines narcissism as “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration.”
While most of us would recognize the problem with narcissism, I do need to be self-centered in healthy ways. My body needs adequate sleep, healthful food, and frequent exercise.
When I neglect myself when I get too hungry, lonely, angry, or tired, and I am more likely to be self-centered. I may try to love others, but I am too needy. If I do not get 8 hours sleep at night, I may be so tired that my concentration is poor. I may not listen well. I may not be aware of myself and talk too much, too loudly, or insensitively.
Moreover, when I do not see myself and my story clearly, I relate to others from a cloudy point of view. This is called a projection.
I need to see others as they are – no more or less. I need to be see myself as I am. This is an authentic relationship. I am human which means I need real relationships. It is important to be noticed by others. I need to matter to myself as well as others. I need to be treated with respect. Others need to be treated with respect.
The golden rule is “to love thy neighbor as thy self…”. When I treat myself well, I have the patience and resilience to nurture others. This is being selfish in a wise way.
Psychotherapy, pastoral counseling, meditation, 12 step work, or coaching with energy psychology techniques enable me to learn to see my story more clearly. Seeing my narrative clearly enables me to see myself as well as others with more objective eyes.
For example, if I get angry or afraid when someone mentions money, then I am unable to listen objectively on the subject of money. When someone talks about money, I am distracted by my anger or fear, and do not hear their story. It is like driving with a dirty windshield; it is hard to see the road ahead. This lack of clear vision affects me when relating to others, like in marriage or raising children.
Our modern society is dominated with narcissistic and nihilistic ideas, Ken Wilber writes. In the Oxford English Dictionary, nihilism is defined as “the belief that nothing in the world has a real existence.” I may assume that we live in a 3 dimensional world made up of atoms. I may assume that nothing matters, therefore, I may as well do whatever seems to feel good and avoid obvious pain. So I may cheat to pass the exam or win the election. I lie to destroy someone’s reputation, because I want to hurt them.
It is ironic that those who neglects their own needs are the most self-centered. When I have a poor sense of self, I am the most narcissistic. My neglect of my own needs creates my own obsession with myself.
When I was born, I was self-centered. I perceived my mother and myself as one; each one of us does. As I developed, I began to distinguish between my mother and myself. When I cried, my mother did not always come to hold me and calm me. I learned that the world and I are separate.
Over the course of my life, I am learning to see myself as different from others. This learning continues until I die, if I choose to actively participate in the process of learning or not.
In addition to the normal human development of seeing myself as separate and unique, I can be wounded. I can experience being shamed – treated like I am worthless. I may feel unworthy of love. This self-hatred can be an additional block to seeing myself and the world clearly. The self-hatred can keep me frozen in self-centeredness.
The antidote to narcissism is authentic love of oneself. The feeling of self-love is healing for us humans. To consciously experience the sensation of self-love in my body enables me to heal physically as well as emotionally. Please watch this video from Michelle Minero, M.A., author of “The Self Love Diet: The Only Diet You Will Ever Need,” on learning to love yourself: