I was draped across an old, grey, broken-in sofa, the first time I heard the word, narcissist.
I was 14 years old when our family therapist slowly and emphatically said, “They are a narcissist”—in reference to a family member of mine. Her tone was much different than the sweet one she usually used when our family was all together. I couldn’t help but feel like she had singled me out to prepare me for something horrible.
And, it wasn’t until years later, while I was studying the DSM-4 (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) for a psychology internship, that I understood the gift she’d given me. Her sage insight certainly made my teen years easier, although I didn’t emerge completely unscathed.
I thought (and hoped) once I was out and on my own, I’d be done with narcissism, altogether. Yet, I saw the telltale traits of it (grandiosity, self-importance, lack of empathy, the desire for admiration, and entitlement) everywhere—including within myself. My supervisors assured me these tendencies existed at normal levels within everyone. Still, I couldn’t shake the discomfort I felt.
I never found peace with this discovery until I read the teachings of Eckhart Tolle.
In A New Earth, he explains:
“Many mental disorders consists of the same egoic traits that operate in a normal person, except that they have become so pronounced that their pathological nature is now obvious to anyone, except the sufferer.”
And, his words on transforming our own egoic traits were what helped the most. He describes a shift we make from thinking to awareness—a detachment from our thoughts, emotions, and reactions. This happens when we begin to recognize our minds’ penchant toward separatism.
I recalled a time when I’d been involved in a property line dispute. A large number of mature trees I’d planted from seedlings were uprooted during the discord. The plants began to wilt away and die. It was then that my perspective became skewed toward my ego. I overidentified with “my” trees that “I” planted. I believed those trees had been “mine.”
In reality, though, the trees were no more mine than the land had belonged to the other party. I’m not saying that zoning or other laws shouldn’t be followed. But, I believe differences can be settled with both the law and everyone’s best interests in mind.
However, I couldn’t see this then. I was under the delusion of my grandiose ego and it’s entitlement. Those words, “me,” “my,” “I,” were my clues that my ego had taken the reins. I lost the concept of the greater good and the ability to find commonality.
No, I can’t say I’m a narcissist or suffer with a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) from this one incident. But, I must admit, there are similarities within my behavior to someone who ranks high on the narcissism charts.
If I can recognise these narcissistic traits within myself without personalising them, then they aren’t threatening. I don’t need to defend myself against the light being shined upon them, or feel sick about it, either. They can be viewed as just a form of my ego. They have no bearing on who I am.
This awareness, no matter how small it may be, is the shift or awakening Tolle speaks of in A New Earth. I am learning, this transformation is how we end conflicts and our suffering. It is how we begin to choose happiness and fulfillment over needing to be right and flawless.
Tolle tells us that we don’t get to decide when another will wake up to the trappings of their ego. We do, however, get to choose our own awakening. And, when we make this change, we live the life we’ve always wished to live—one with joy, peace, and presence.