N is for Narcissism
I am currently blogging, along with my daughter, all the way through the alphabet. Check out how the idea started, and get the rules here.
I am a narcissist.
So are you.
I don’t mean I have a psychiatric disorder. I don’t mean I stand in front of a mirror admiring myself for hours every day. I don’t mean that I lack a healthy respect, and even love, for others. My narcissism is a garden-variety type, which is of course why I’m sure that you are a narcissist too.
My narcissism often blinds me to my own faults. My narcissism is what is behind an assumption I often make that my perspective is the “right” one. This assumption is so deep that I don’t even realize I’m assuming anything. I assume my own rightness, and the superiority of my way of being in the world, at the same level that you are assuming, at this moment, that you will not lose anyone you love before the day is over. The assumptions we don’t realize we are making are the deepest and most powerful ones.
Many of my frustrations with other people (though not all of them) arise from my narcissism — “what a wonderful world it would be if everyone else were more like me.” My narcissism is at the root of most of my frustration with life. After all, I get upset when I have had a bad day because something in me feels like I deserve to have only good days. If I did not feel this way, the occasional bad day would not upset me. I sometimes take offense when someone disagrees with me because in some ways I continue to believe the world revolves around me and that everyone ought to agree with my opinions and perspectives. My narcissism is, of course, at the root of arguments I sometimes have with my wife.
Doubtless you can see some of these same things at work in your own life. So what is the “cure” for our narcissism? How do we address it? I am convinced it begins with forgiveness. We must forgive ourselves for not being as good as we think we ought to be. We must forgive the world for not serving up perfect days for us each day. We must forgive others for falling short of our expectations. And we even must forgive God for being the center of the universe instead of ourselves. Forgiveness is always a type of letting go. It is not simply giving up. Forgiveness is not simply rolling our eyes and saying “whatever.” There is no bitterness or sarcasm in true forgiveness. There is no resentment. (If we ever forgive someone in order to get back at them or make them feel bad, we haven’t forgiven them — we have assaulted them passively.) Forgiveness always carries gentleness and grace and healing in its wings. Forgiveness says, “I’m not okay, and you’re not okay — and that’s okay,” and learns to live in this truth.
To move out of narcissism is to learn to forgive — to live with open hands — to not hang on so tightly to the things we believe are rightfully ours — to not insist that the view from our tiny corner of the world is the only valid one and that everyone else must share it or else run afoul of our expectations. Once an old man was asked by a younger man what he believed was the secret to the longevity of his marriage. He replied, “Four words.”
“What are the words?” asked the younger man.
The old man, smiling, said “You might be right.”