How do we honor someone who is on their own journey when their actions pose a threat to our own?
How do we remain in a space of non-judgement and non-reaction to someone who is behaving like a straight up narcissist?
It’s probably one of the biggest challenges of my spiritual practice. It’s not so much the “live and let live” aspect that challenges me. Nor is it the teachings that say we are all on our own paths and have our own lessons to learn, so just treat everyone as a mirror of yourself and do no harm.
Because I can do that. Most of the time.
But what do we do when the other person is entrenched in the narcissistic ways that we all are capable of displaying, and they constantly try to catch us in the crosshairs of their narcissistic living? And then we take it personally because the narcissist can make it seem very personal.
Unfortunately, this has been a common lesson for me these past six months. It’s presented me with a beautiful opportunity to reflect on my own narcissistic tendencies, so I can be more deeply aware of them and how they show up in my life as defense mechanisms. Remember, narcissistic traits are nothing more than distorted and amplified versions of some very human behaviors that we all have the potential to fall into. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t!
In case you’re new to the narcissistic personality, let’s discuss for a moment. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is defined as, “A personality disorder in which a person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige, and vanity, mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and others.”
If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we can all fall prey to vanity, prestige, or the allure of power. Running away from, and denial of, these traits is still an indication of their presence. However, in my opinion, there is a strong difference between displaying a narcissistic trait and being a straight up narcissist.
To further illustrate, think about Buddhists for a moment. We strive to transcend the illusion of self by mastering the mind and ego, while the narcissist is completely entangled in their very inflated sense of self-importance. So naturally, this is an extreme case of mirroring because according to Hermetic Alchemy, if I have the potential to be one way, I also have the potential to be its opposite (although I have no idea why I would want to!).
My interactions with these afflicted people in my life look a little bit like this hypothetical situation:
Bob comes to talk to me about the group project we have for school. I immediately put a wall up because I have a hard time trusting Bob, as he constantly manipulates things to serve his own delusional version of reality. It doesn’t matter if I’ve told Bob the same thing seven times. He will deny the chat ever occurred when his “standing” in the group is threatened. His reputation. Bob also likes to talk down to me and the other members of our group. He likes to exert his perceived masculine dominance over us (even the men), so he tries to get away with demeaning us by using little nicknames in an attempt to undermine our sense of self-esteem. He also does it to the other people in our class with whom he interacts with.
He will say really inappropriate things to keep people feeling uncomfortable, because to the narcissistic person this is perceived as having an advantage. And oh my goodness, don’t even get me started on Bob’s entitlement. He acts in a way that says he believes everyone is here to serve him. It’s as though he believes he is a monarch and we are his subjects! More than anything, he is absolutely unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others. It can be maddening. Because we love our dear friend who is Bob’s partner, we’ve tried to express to him some of our concerns. And dear Bob has no f*cks to give about our needs or feelings. He just wants everyone to do what he wants and the way he wants—whatever the cost to others.
If you’re anything like me, you’re shaking your head at this point. This challenges me to the deepest level of my Buddhist practices for living. I invoke Thich Nhat Hanh and other high lamas when I think of my interactions with this type of person. I want to experience whatever I am meant to experience from this person so I can clear the karma or learn the lesson—whatever that may be.
But sh*t—it’s really hard! My natural Taurus/Scorpio moon nature wants to take this guy down every time he threatens my illusion of security. Because on a higher level, I understand that all security is just that—an illusion. So, as a Buddhist, I can stop my frustration in its tracks when I ask myself what am I so worked up about, because how can this person threaten something that isn’t even real anyway?
If I am truly living according to the teachings of impermanence and non-attachment, then there is simply nothing to be frustrated or threatened by. This brings a very real element of humor to it for me because I can get so worked up by the narcissistic types in my life when caught off guard.
What we can do is this: Just use them as a mirror to see what traits we also have within ourselves. I know, it doesn’t feel good to look at that less than pleasing stuff, but if we are really practicing Buddhism, we have to get in there and see it. As Pema Chodron says, when we feel really sh*tty and squeamish, those are the areas we need to take a real good look at—and admit we feel not so good about them. There’s healing in this. It sure takes some bravery!
Next, we must absolutely refuse to take the behaviors personally. Remember, we are all just mirrors. How we choose to act says nothing about those around us. It says something about us. Sure, we can all blame everyone else for how we act, but ultimately we all know that’s a bunch of bulls*t. So it may take a lot of deep breathing before choosing a response, but we can remind ourselves that their behavior is theirs not ours, and it has nothing to do with us.
And finally, we must practice equanimity. We must tap into our ability to not be swayed no matter what is occurring around us. The more we meditate and come back to the breath, the more we become master of the mind and emotions. And that is where we truly master the narcissists that sometimes we must deal with.
In equanimity, we find our true power because what better response to one who seeks a reaction than no response at all?
Author: Lindsay Carricarte
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Travis May