Protecting ourselves and those we love is a default behavior of human beings. We survive, and often thrive, due to our ability to self-preserve. Narcissism is defined as: “Excessive or erotic interest in one’s self and one’s physical appearance.”
Although the term is tossed about to describe seemingly selfish individuals, when the disorder is clinical it wreaks havoc on an individual and their loved ones. All humans are guilty of experiencing occurrences of overly narcissistic behavior, or “Everyday Narcissism.” Over-blown senses of self-importance abound, whether it is displayed by our own behavior or that of acquaintances, clients, or loved ones.
In Everyday Narcissism: Yours, Mine, and Ours, psychologist Nancy Van Dyken describes an important conditioned behavioral element. Dr. Van Dyken’s book draws a distinction between the clinical personality disorder and… everyday narcissism. The latter is “a garden variety form of narcissism… [that is,] feeling responsible for other people.”
“Carrying the well-being of others on your shoulders? Heavy, isn’t it? Meanwhile, a very important life is being neglected. Yours! We humans take extraordinary measures to feel safe, even sacrificing awareness of our truest selves in order to follow explicit and implicit rules. Our own false self then relates to the false selves of others. How precarious is that?”
Van Dyken identifies five myths of everyday narcissism in Knowledge@Wharton, a newsletter and podcast:
Myth No. 1: We are raised to believe we have the power and responsibility to control how other people feel and behave.
For example, “a 5-year-old girl being told by her parents to give her 65-year-old grandmother a kiss goodbye. The child doesn’t want to, but she’s told that grandma will feel badly if she doesn’t. The child then gets the message that she is responsible for the feelings of adults. It gives her a real false sense of how much power and responsibility she has. We hear that over and over and over enough, and we come to believe that we do have that much power and are responsible for others in that manner.”
Myth No. 2: If I take care of you, you’re supposed to take care of me.
“In a common exchange, person A might say, ‘Well, I wouldn’t have gotten so mad if you had come home on time.’ Person B might respond, ‘Well, I wouldn’t have gotten so angry if dinner had been on the table on time.’ It’s holding the other person responsible for how I feel, and if anger’s in there, it’s your fault that I’m angry. Some people express their anger by yelling, cursing or calling names. If someone gets angry in that manner, that has nothing to do with you or me. That has to do with a decision they made about how they’re going to express their anger.”
Myth No. 3: Your needs are more important than mine.
“Van Dyken expands on the example with the grandmother and grandchild. In that case, the child’s needs did not matter. They were so unimportant, no one even talked about them. They didn’t care the child was hurt or uncomfortable. Just make sure Grandma’s happy.”
Myth No. 4: Rules are more important than I am.
“When societal rules, church rules, family rules or any kind of rules are considered above a person’s feelings, it can be harmful. Van Dyken recalled one man who said to her, “Well, I know that there’s a social rule that says I’m always supposed to feel adequate and sexy and secure, and don’t talk about those feelings [of inadequacy] if you have them because you’re not supposed to have them.”
Myth No. 5: I’m not loveable.
“This is the myth behind the psychologically damaging message that you were not born loveable and must do things to become loveable. If you’re told that your feelings don’t count, then you’re not very worthwhile. If you’re told that what you want and need is unimportant, then you’re not very important. You’ve got to change all that, then you’ll become important. We are born perfect. Who we are is perfect. That doesn’t mean we don’t have flaws and things to learn. If a puppy urinates on the floor, chews up shoes or generally misbehaves, the owner doesn’t stop loving it just because it’s being a puppy. We’re exactly the same: Perfect as we are.”
“The most powerful relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself!” -Diane Von Furstenberg