Often in sports we try to push our boundaries, to see who we are. This goes for any physical activity. We want to push our bodies and see how much our mind can overcome physical limitations. But, why is it that we don’t wish to ever test the idea of ourselves. Forget the body, why do we have such attachment to an identity we ourselves construct that is certainly not part of reality? It’s got to be a human trait, this attachment to identity. If, as often purported, we’re all narcissists, then we could reason the only way to truly test ourselves is to challenge our constructed identities, because narcissists will give up anything to defend the identity they’ve constructed for themselves.
This wouldn’t necessarily dissolve our narcissistic tendencies but, perhaps, has the potential to at least enable personal growth.
Orson Scott Card, author of the famous sci-fi novel Ender’s Game illustrates this idea in his third novel from the Ender series, Xenocide, well over a decade before the popularization of narcissism at the start of the new millennium. As the all-knowing computer being, Jane, attempts to convince Qing-jao that the ruling power of all worlds, Starways Congress, has betrayed the citizens of the colony Path by creating a genetically altered group of geniuses, Qing-jao is tested in the form of questioning that exact alteration Starways Congress implanted in her: does Qing-jao have a modified version of OCD, meant to control her and keep her obedient, or is Qing-jao actually one of the select god-spoken?
“But for these brothers—and for you, Qing-jao—the terrible lie has become the self-story, the tale that you must believe if you are to remain yourself.”
Though Card attributes Qing-jao’s attachment to a constructed self as being a result of genetic alteration, these attributes also depict modern narcissism. When Qing-jao’s father attempts to explain to her why she has compulsions to trace wood grains in the floorboard, Qing-jao is devastated. Qing-jao cannot accept the challenge of an identity she has grown an attachment to. She cannot tolerate a questioned identity because, if this identity is no longer a part of her reality, then she must admit to being an empty being, unfulfilled and lost.
Emptiness and uncertainty of one’s self are two main ingredients of Narcissism. The effort a person puts into maintaining and projecting an identity to others indicates the emptiness a person feels. One who goes to great lengths to maintain an identity thrives upon the feedback of others to confirm this identity. His own being, what I will call the self or could also be considered part of the ego, is at the mercy of others. And when this identity is not confirmed externally, the person tries even harder to convince the world that he is what he says he is because, sub-consciously or (rarely) consciously, he knows he is empty.
Everyone has at least one of the many traits that comprise Narcissism, so how do we challenge ourselves to overcome these impulses?
I just finished Dr. Drew’s The Mirror Effect and, besides giving a great overview of everything Narcissistic, he also outlines seven ways to combat Narcissism:
1. Strive for increased self-insight and embrace the concept of something greater.
“Why am I the way I am? How did I get to this point? Who are my strongest influences? What do I believe in and what do I stand for? Do I ever question these beliefs and my own motivations? Do I truly experience my emotions? Do I have difficulty appreciating the feelings of others? Am I a well-adjusted person, or do I know I have personality problems that I haven’t addressed?”
2. Practice rigorous honesty.
“We need honesty to access our own genuine emotions, and to allow others to connect with the genuine, core elements of our true self. When you’re not straight with others, it becomes easy not to be straight with yourself.”
3. Keep things simple and live up to commitments.
Dr. Drew asserts we need to fulfill our commitments and allow our relationships with friends and family to give our life meaning and value. Often, those who are most narcissistic cling to destructive behaviors, even when these actions no longer serve a function, and blame the world on not cooperating with their desires and needs.
4. Spend time with a broad range of people.
“The opportunity for real change, particularly in how you experience yourself in relation to others, comes from spending time with people who aren’t deeply familiar to you, and who are therefore more challenging to connect with.”
While our relationships with close friends and family serve an important function for a healthy life, Dr. Drew points out that only spending time with this group of people will prevent you from being challenged to grow and can, occasionally, cement unhealthy habits.
5. Share your feelings.
Our basic drives and feelings originate in the amygdala region of the brain, resulting in more animalistic urges to influence our actions. A healthy adult can often resist these urges with logic and reasoning which originates in the pre-frontal cortex. A narcissist has difficulty experiencing, and often avoids, emotions which results in unhealthy behavior.
In order to learn to experience emotion, Dr. Drew argues the importance of intersubjectivity where, “As one person has an emotional experience, the other receives it, appreciates it, and returns some version of the first individual’s emotion.” Dr. Drew adds, “Only by learning to tolerate emotional vulnerability, without allowing past experience or present expectations of abuse, shaming, or exploitation to color our feelings, can we grow and change.”
6. Learn to appreciate the feelings of others.
This is directly related to number five, but with one important caveat. To appreciate another’s emotions, we need only to recognize how they are feeling and, perhaps, indicate to that person we understand how they are feeling. It is important to not try to save that person from how they are feeling, which would cause them to remain dependent on others in times of distress. We must also not become overwhelmed by how the other person feels.
7. Be of service.
Dr. Drew asserts this to be the most important number of the list. In order to make healthy connections with the world, we must perform, “selfless acts of kindness and responsibility.” According to Dr. Drew, these small acts will influence us to see the world differently and in a better light.