CREATING AN AUTHENTIC SELF IN THE FACE OF NARCISSISTIC ABUSE
If you have been abused by a narcissist, you have been abused by someone with a false self and a profound internal emptiness. This creates in the person a need to construct an alternate self which is often grandiose, self-involved and without empathy. Most clinicians believe that narcissists are created, not born; created by others who had a false self and who taught them that they weren’t good enough. Without intervention, this malady is passed down generationally.
There are three basic paths available to a person born to a narcissist. 1. Become a narcissist yourself. 2. Become co-dependent to your narcissistic parent and later to narcissistic friends and partners or 3. Heal and develop a healthy authentic self.
What exactly is narcissism? I am speaking here of the most severe traits on the spectrum of narcissism and that is Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration and a lack of empathy. This disorder often appears with Borderline Personality which is a pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and affect, and marked impulsivity.
According to the DSM, people with NPD have a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement. They believe that they are special or unique and can only be understood by other special people. They are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love. They have unreasonable expectations of others and are interpersonally exploitative. They can be arrogant or haughty in behaviors or attitudes.
Know anyone like that? All these features need to be present to diagnose the personality disorder but as I’ve talked about in previous blogs, narcissism exists on a continuum. The narcissist in your life may have all or some of these traits. Many highly successful people show narcissistic traits but only when these traits are inflexible, persistent or cause subjective distress to others, do they constitute NPD. According to the DSM, 6.2% of the American population has NPD. That’s approximately 20 million people and it doesn’t count the millions of others who fall short of the full personality disorder but who are on the spectrum of pathological narcissism. It is also known that 50-75% of people with NPD are males.
What does all this mean? I believe we are in an existential crisis. Existential is a big word but essentially, it’s about meaning. THE MEANING OF EXISTENCE. We have lost our way (or perhaps never found it). Why are we here and what is our purpose? Very few ask this question of themselves. As a result, marketers, advertisers, politicians and theologians ask and answer that question for us. Their answers are often self-serving. We are here to consume, buy, wage war, holy or otherwise, have the best car and the biggest house, get the highest paying job, raise the smartest children, graduate from the best schools. Be good, better, best, superior and do that no matter what it takes and who it hurts outside of our family/tribe/social class/country. These standards of good, better, best are externally imposed. They do not usually come from a deep contemplative process of our own authentic best and they do not support the REAL AUTHENTIC SELF.
What is the real/authentic self? This may be as difficult to answer as “who am I”. In fact, they are probably the same question. But if you were raised by, married to or befriended by a narcissist, asking yourself who you really are is absolutely essential. We start the process of finding the authentic self by realizing that WHO WE ARE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION. It’s not what we do, or how we look, or how much we have or do not have.
We continue the process by understanding that all humans have challenges and dilemmas so that we can find their meaning and through that process, move forward toward the goal of being our authentic self or realized self.
We do not mask our problems with grandiosity, self-involvement, narcissism, drugs, food, sex, co-dependency or materialistic accumulation.
We challenge our thoughts, examine our feelings and speak the truth.
We seek help from the wise, be they living or dead, knowing that our intuition will guide us to those who are truly wise.
How do we accomplish this goal of reaching the authentic self? First realize that it is the work of a lifetime and it is ongoing in that the world changes and we change with it, as does our authenticity. Some parts of our real self are immutable, others are not. Know the difference. In general, my advice is to do the following:
Meditation, yoga, spiritual study, martial arts, breathwork
Self-exploration through psychotherapy, coaching, or some other avenue
Awareness through reading, listening, presence
Keep company with like-minded (meaning they also want to become authentic) and wise people