Another Everyday Narcissist — Me

Painful WristA number of site visitors took issue with one of my recent posts, largely because of the way I used the word narcissist. Most people use it as a synonym for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, so it’s understandable that those visitors heard me calling Ellen a bad name. But I use narcissistic in a descriptive sense to cover a wide range of behaviors, not all of them pathological; an Everyday Narcissist such as Ellen is in no way the same thing as a person who suffers from NPD.

In order to make this distinction clear, I’m going to describe another Everyday Narcisisist — me. Shortly after my return to North Carolina, I went for my first piano lesson after the long summer break. I’ve been studying with my teacher Pei Fen for more than four years; my oldest son William studied with her for two years before that, so I’ve known her for six or seven years now. She’s a friend as well as my teacher. In addition to the playing and instruction that goes on during our lessons, we also catch up and talk about our personal lives. I had a lot to tell her about my time in Colorado.

Reading between the lines in my posts, you might have gathered that I had a difficult summer. In addition to a highly stressful trip to Chicago for William’s graduation, I also endured an upsetting family emergency; the weather was lousy (meaning we didn’t get to enjoy the hiking as much as we usually do); we had too many house guests (it stretched my emotional resources to be a gracious host, though they were all loved and welcome); plus I was worried about Will’s state of mind following graduation. Since Pei Fen has known Will since he was 15 years old, I told her all about his graduation and my concerns. I talked about the bad weather and the parade of houseguests and my family emergency. I went on at length. I didn’t realize it beforehand, but I think I was looking forward to sharing my experience with her, unburdening myself in a way.

We turned to the music and I was about halfway through the opening theme in my Chopin piece when I realized with a feeling of shame that I hadn’t asked Pei Fen about her own summer. I’d been so hungry for a friendly ear that my own needs crowded out my interest in her experience. I stopped playing and told her, “I was so self-absorbed that I didn’t even ask about you. I’m really sorry.” It turns out she’d had a serious wrist injury, which meant the cancellation of her summer concerts, and she was deeply anxious about her upcoming visit to an eminent wrist surgeon at Duke.

My point in telling this embarrassing story about myself is that, at times, we are all narcissistic. Whenever we’re deeply stressed, emotionally thin or deeply needy, that experience may overpower the empathy we display under normal circumstances. On occasion I, too, can be an Everyday Narcissist — someone so caught up (albeit temporarily) in his own experience that he did not empathize. Some people are so constantly caught up in their internal struggles that they are never able to empathize, but that would be much further along the spectrum toward Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

So let’s return now to Ellen. With a little imagination, it’s not hard to understand what might have driven her narcissistic, insensitive behavior. She works as a hostess at an expensive restaurant, located in one of the most affluent cities in the world. Even with the additional income she earns from training and lessons, she still needs to take on the occasional odd-job to make ends meet. She’s 40 years old and probably single, trying to build a new life in an unfamiliar place.

When I think back on the sky-high prices in those Aspen shops – Prada, Gucci, Van Cleef & Arpel, Fendi – I wonder how it would feel to be barely scraping by while surrounded by such incredible wealth, to work in a restaurant whose menu lists wines that run as high as $24,000 a bottle, to hold a job seating millionaires and celebrities who probably spend the equivalent of your entire year’s wages on a one-week ski trip. It might make you feel small and insignificant. You might want to tell your story to strangers, to attract some attention in order to feel that you actually do matter. No doubt Ellen’s ego could use a small boost from time to time.

She clearly felt proud of the fact that she trained horses; even if my friend never disclosed his connection to Olympic riders, his mention of those Grand Prix jumpers might have made her feel diminished; she had to move on quickly, lest his experience eclipse her own. If she acknowledged his birthday, it might shift badly needed attention away from her own story. For reasons that aren’t too difficult to imagine, this hostess at an Aspen restaurant probably needed to compensate for some doubts about her own worth, monopolizing conversation in order to boost her self-esteem.

With her friends or family members, she probably doesn’t behave this way. If she were more secure in her new life, less anxious about her status, she might have shown more tact and wished my friend a happy birthday. I think we can all put ourselves in Ellen’s shoes and imagine how easily we, too, could have become an Everyday Narcissist like her.

In other words, from time to time we’re all narcissists.

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

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58 Responses to Another Everyday Narcissist — Me

  1. Fawn says:

    You sound like you need a hug (((Joe)))

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Actually I’m doing much better, now that summer is over. But I appreciate the virtual hug, Fawn. Thanks!

    • K Wilson says:

      Thanks for your blog…i had a therapist help me separate from my mother during the time my mother was dying. (His agenda, not mine.) He encouraged and gave me permission to blame her for my life and all of the poor choices i had made to that point. Granted, i was a mess and needed to get the critic out of my head…but after many years of therapy and actually becoming a therapist myself, i look at this with distant and objective eyes.
      I have lived with a great deal of heart ache over the years…knowing my mother died alone in a hospital. No children by her side. She didn’t deserve that kind of hatred. She did her best within her own character dysfunction and creativity.
      Don’t get me wrong…my mother was an emotional cripple and serious alcoholic. It was an extremely disturbed environment in my childhood home.
      Please do not encourage clients to blame one person. Sure, anger is important. We may need it (if that’s what’s there) for strength and to separate and become our own person.
      In our process of individuation we want to develop and/or maintain some objectivity and compassion for ourselves and our mothers.
      That being said…a mom who tries to drown her child is very disturbed and I wouldn’t necessarily categorize her as narcissistic. The child who survives this and goes on to thrive has much to celebrate!
      Thank you again for the opportunity to share.

      • Joseph Burgo says:

        I hear what you’re saying. When parents are extremely toxic and destructive to a client’s psyche, I do advise them to get some distance, but I also think that we may owe something to a parent on her deathbed. Had you been my client, I might have said to you — “You have to take care of yourself and imagine how you’ll feel in later years, knowing that your mother died alone and you might have been there for her.” It’s a different kind of self-care by avoiding future guilt.

  2. Nick G says:

    A sensitive counter-piece to the first post. Good call.

  3. Michael says:

    I love your ‘from the heart posts’ really inspiring. I think I said before I really admire how much of yourself you put out there and how you take the time to address peoples concerns. In the UK the word narcissism has taken similar negative connotations. When I use the word I use it with a deep understanding of the pain that creates the need to be narcissistic. I think that therapists own narcissism can be the elephant under the carpet in some psychotherapy training.

    Thanks again for your huge contribution to our field.

    Michael (as you can see from the ‘Is’, I am also working on my residue narcissism!)

  4. Miranda L. Payne says:

    Yes! When I first read what you had said about Ellen, I felt bad because I am Ellen on a bad day and I wanted to tell you that, but i was too busy nursing my hurt feelings from over identification. I got very defensive of Ellen! So I am impressed with this post ! and it is big hearted of you to be able to reflect differently on it and to put it in a different perspective. So good on you Joe and thankyou for your wonderful and refreshing insights. Now I can keep reading them without getting caught up in my own stuff!!!!!!!!!

  5. Jas says:

    I find all this self-flagellation distasteful (sorry!). Why sd one feign interest in others – especially strangers one meets at a restaurant. For instance: I generally couldn’t care less about either my own or other peoples’ birthdays (since I was about 13 years old I think). I certainly couldn’t give a —- whether a hostess at a restaurant remembers mine – in fact I wd *much* rather be left alone to talk to my friend. I mean really Joe are you trying to get yourself (and us!) into heaven or something? (If so can you please leave me behind!) You certainly seem to be assuming we all share your anti-narcissist zeal. Just let people be self absorbed if they want. Really: it’s okay! Whisper it but it can even be fun. (But I don’t think yourinto that at the moment?)

    • George says:

      Given the critical (or perhaps defensive?) opinion you expound, I am truly curious as to why you even bothered to visit Joe’s blog? Your comment reminds me of the arguments used by narcissisits when confronted with how their behavior is not okay. Plain and simple, the reason NPD is considered a disorder is that it is, firstly, a psychological condition that leads to profoundly antisocial behavior and can be very toxic to those surrounding the person in question and, secondly, a condition that can lead to profound depression in old age, when a narcissist’s “narcissistic supplies” dry up.

    • Sent for meds says:

      Yowza. Having a bad day, dude? I don’t the point is to feign interest in others, but on the contrary, to instead have moments of connection with others. That’s impossible to do if you’re monopolizing the conversation. Sure, can ignore it, but when someone is going on and on about themselves, it’s had to ignore. And it’s interesting to think about why that just happened. (Whispering:) Relax… it’s okay, Jas, really.

  6. Kathleen T says:

    Fabulous explanation Joseph…
    Kath

  7. Dolma Beck says:

    Hi Joe, intense post. Good though, to see the intense introspection , compassion, you have brought to Ellen’s story. Nice completion.

  8. Rich says:

    I do want to say something about your statement:

    “I wonder how it would feel to be barely scraping by while surrounded by such incredible wealth, … to hold a job seating millionaires and celebrities who probably spend the equivalent of your entire year’s wages on a one-week ski trip.”

    A lot of people in our materialistic society are affected by what you are describing. The trick is to realize that all money and celebrity means NOTHING.

    The problem is – “those at the top” want everyone to be controlled by their system of money, advertising, false “status,” etc. They prefer for poorer people to feel envy for wealthy people. Divide and conquer.

    Everyone is a victim of this system. A true sense of peace comes from attaining the “realization.” Once you can get your mind/spirit out of the gutter and into a TRUE MODE OF LIVING, you will be far superior to all those millionaires. Why? You will be able to live you life to it’s fullest.

    I know millionaires. They are all scumbag lunatics who would sell their little sister for a buck. Why would I want their dirty money or their mental illness? Why would I want to be like them?

    Yet many mislead people worship celebrities and the rich. How foolish. Man created money, it is created out of nothing. The evil people make the most money, the good people never have huge amounts of money.

    I am a poor person, probably always will be. Does the fact that other people have millions bother me? No. Having to do without things you absolutely need can be rough, but you’d be surprised how much of those “things” you really don’t need.

    Good luck to all on the path to true freedom of mind in an enslaved world.

  9. Gordon says:

    I get those situations like the one you talk about with your piano teacher. Many times I’ve realized I forgot to ask friends about their holidays, their new job, how they are, etc; even when I’m genuinely interested. But I’ve always blamed anxiety or sleepiness for it.
    I wonder if this everyday narcissism is caused by anxiety or sleepiness. Is it a defense mechanism, or is everyday narcissism our natural state that we then try to change into a more empathic state when we have the resources?

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I think what happens is that our own needs/emotions (such as anxiety) sometimes overwhelm us and crowd out our capacity for empathy at that time. The true narcissist is so preoccupied with her own needs/psychological issues (defenses against shame, primarily) that she has no room left for anyone else.

  10. Craig says:

    Personally, I think the people who took issue with the Ellen story were the one’s who found the issue hitting a little too close to home. I thought your original post was spot on. Your candor in sharing personal moments to illustrate a point is very refreshing. I felt that sharing the Ellen story was a very important point to make, regardless of what some people may think.
    In contrasting your story with Ellen’s, the distinction turns on you recognizing that you were monopolizing the conversation with Pei Fen and then felt shame for doing this. I have a funny feeling that Ellen didn’t recognize her imposition and doubt that she felt shame since she continued to monopolize the conversation. Maybe Ellen was having a bad day, and maybe you’d need several meetings with her in order to diagnose her, but I trust your eye for spotting the telling signs of these people. I’m currently a student and have the pleasure of sitting near one of these needy people. Constant hand raising in class, constant references to her life and never once asking about anyone elses’ life. She always has some drama going on in her daily life. Ugh!! I felt your above concessions were very contrite and more than generous for those who have issues with you calling it like you see it. Please continue to call them like you see them. Your intimate and visceral honesty is what makes your posts such a pleasure to read.

  11. Sarah says:

    I’ve had at least two narcissistic therapists, both were able to empathize with my pain unless it had to do with their own behavior-then they attacked and pushed me out. I’ve read a lot about narcissism and see myself in the description, too (I can empathize with people, but I feel it’s ‘let’s talk about me’ time too often). I wonder what the dividing line is between being an ‘everyday narcissist’ and someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      It’s an interesting question, and I don’t think there’s a hard-and-fast line. But having the capacity to feel empathy sometimes, under certain conditions, is certainly a much less severe condition than “NPD.”

  12. Cameron says:

    I feel you’re first post was more authentic. It feels like you’re backtracking to avoid offending some people.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Maybe. But I also thought I could understand her behavior better upon reflection. It was also useful to me to delve into her psyche as a means of explaining “everyday” narcissism, rather than NPD.

  13. klem says:

    I was glad to see you re-visit this. . . and re-examine the behaviors and responses.
    This is how people learn to hear.

  14. Catherine says:

    I go and come back to this site quite frequently because posts such as these and the one about Ellen are frustrating. I sincerely don’t mean this to be offensive, but there is an underlying tone that seems a little high handed.

    Rather than giving her an Everyday Narcissist label, and creating a whole story about her and sharing it here, why not just live in the moment with her and have this discussion with her? Or not and just let people be people?

  15. Lizzie says:

    “Whenever we’re deeply stressed, emotionally thin or deeply needy, that experience may overpower the empathy we display under normal circumstances. ”

    This is so helpful, thank you! I too had a rough summer and have been less than delighted by my self-absorbed behaviour at times, and my inability to empathise with others’ pain. Very painful to feel so disconnected from others. Your post really helps me put this into perspective. Actually this isn’t my normal way of behaving, but it was kind of all I had then. In some ways, what else could I really expect of myself? Thank you for the perspective and for sharing yourself so fully.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I think of the true narcissist as someone who is so CONSTANTLY consumed by his or her internal struggles, shame, neediness, etc., that there’s no emotional room left over for anyone else. But we all get that way from time to time and it’s usually temporary.

  16. Y says:

    This is totally off topic, Dr. Burgo, but what did you think of this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/15/opinion/the-45-minute-therapy-hour-a-sign-of-the-times.html

    Should sessions be 45, 50, or 60 minutes long? It’s such an interesting topic, and there are so many different opinions! Also, have you ever given one of your patients more time and felt guilty about it?

    This might be a whole new blog post :) .

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      My sessions have always been 50 minutes; I “grew up” with the 50-minute hour and it’s what feels right for me. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong length per se. I’ve never felt guilty about running over — and I do from time to time.

  17. m says:

    I recently had a narcissistic cluster experience where I
    visited a newish friend’s house and was talked at solidly for the whole time I was there. The subject was her disastrous holiday with a relative who had not stopped talking about herself the whole time! I realised too that I had gone there to vent about myself too but couldn’t get a word in edgeways…

  18. Kim says:

    Hi Dr. Burgo, I also think it is courageous to come back to a subject with another perspective which honors the complexity of every human interaction. One blog could never capture the totality of any experience. I have found myself in the same position of awkwardly catching myself kind of dumping on someone who is kind enough to listen. I am a good listener too and I feel like sometimes I save things up and don’t talk and when I find someone willing I just sort of vomit out all the stuff. Anyway, I think the crucial point in your experience with your friend is that you recognized what happened, stopped and took action to ask her about her summer too. I guess this distinguishes you from Ellen a bit (although I’m sure Aspen is an ego-sucking place to live for anyone). Is there a difference between self flagellation and self reflection? I think so.

  19. susan says:

    Thanks for this. I have been having issues with my sister who never listens to my story, it becomes really tiresome just listening to hers. I wonder, does my story diminish hers?

  20. Graceful Swallow says:

    I read the first post and wholeheartedly identified with Joe’s perception of the host’s naricissism and self-centeredness. Many times during my work day have I run into people who exhibit this type of behavior. In my occupation, over the past thirty years, I have witnessed increased self-absorption, entitlement, and grandiosity from all walks of life. However, the most egregious examples of narcissism come from people identified with groups who have been marginalized. These may include but are not limited to African Americans, gays, and women. I realize my views might be labelged sexist, homophobic, and racist. Yet, what about the idea that those who have been “victimized” become the victimizers – offending from the victim position.

    Given the current “totalitarian” edicts of political correctness, anyone who suggests that Ellen’s congenial diatribe is a form of grandiosity, narcissism, and self-absorption will be subject to the “mob” rule.

    I sincerely admire Ellen’s enthusiasm. And, yes we all have tendency to go on about ourselves. Yet, Ellen offers herself as the poster child of the “new,” independent women. She’s empowered, free to express herself, realize her creative gifts, and engage in fulfilling hobbies. Yet, Joe’s narrative of his interaction with Ellen, also suggests an overabudance of self-promotion and need for attention. And hence, the rub, the new women requires total and blind allegiance. To suggest her presentation was corrupt or imperfect shatters the fantasy of perfection and unconditional acceptance. Ellen may be wounded and damaged. Thus, she inadvertently hurts others because she still has wounds to heal. And that’s okay. We all do. Thank you for your first post, Joe. I intuited guilt and shame urged the second post. Stay with your initial integrity.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      This is so very interesting. I think that the narcissism you identity in groups who have been marginalized is a defensive reaction to the social shame they have felt. Your views aren’t politically correct, as you say, but I agree. I often think of the gay pride movement as a kind of defensive, “I refuse to be ashamed!” kind of narcissism. Understandable, but not the same think as authentic pride.

      • Karen says:

        I found this comment interesting too, especially your observation around the idea that those who have been “victimized” become the victimizers – offending from the victim position. I’ve often felt the same, but keep those views to myself for the same reasons that I don’t care to be labeled or vilified. It is another reason why I became so disenfranchised from the “feministe” movement–I used to comment on a several blogs. The edicts of political correctness squash any dissenting viewpoints no matter how gentle the challenge to the status quo.

        I don’t have children so I’ve been judged, vilified and marginalized as well, especially by women who have children. These types, especially someone like Ellen, routinely compare their life to mine–everything that they experience is so much more, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately I found that people like Ellen routinely would compare their life (situation) to mine–their’s always being worse of course. It’s a convenient launching pad to negate my feelings or ignore my needs while at the same time trying to make all kinds of unreasonable demands on me.

        Ironically the person who I’m the closest too eschews the political correctness movement. Our conversations include what we talk about here. He is the one person who has always encouraged me to be open and honest and that I finally feel that I can be authentic with as he accepts my emotions. That type of closeness has been rare to non-existent, although I feel that I’ve offered that to other people.

    • Sarah says:

      Ellen is a restaurant hostess-that’s not an empowering job, trust me, I’ve been there and I’m grateful I wasn’t in my forties at the time (I know she gives lessons as well).

      Hostesses make less money than servers-no tips (unless they pool their tips-either way the money isn’t much and the status for both jobs is very low).
      I worked in restaurants in NYC-the pay was not enough for my own apartment.

      I just doubt Ellen sees herself as the poster child for the “new” independent woman.
      Having to stand for hours in a low status job leading people to tables they then refuse (well, that’s New Yorkers) for minimal pay is DISempowering.

      There are many educated women in their twenties and thirties with well-paying, fulfilling careers and they would be distraught to imagine themselves as a divorced restaurant hostess at 40.

  21. Catherine says:

    Joseph,

    This is one of the things I so enjoy about your ongoing posts. You absorb what you’ve felt and said and done, and then what you’ve felt about what you’ve said and done. You reflect and revisit issues as they evolve within your own consideration of them. You model that about what you speak — walking the talk. It feels good to be privy to this. Thank you.

    Although you were technically quite correct in your initial assessment of Ellen’s behavior, the first post did feel as if you were still a bit brittle, recovering from your challenging summer. None of us is immune to being in need as you so well show here in your anecdote about your own bout of every day narcissism with Pei Fen. As much as we must work to avoid too many bouts of this, we must be compassionate with each other and ourselves when they happen: There is so often a difficult back-story.

    Yours in ongoing healing,

    Catherine

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Thank you, Catherine. I think your assessment is correct — the more distance I gain from my difficult summer, the softer I feel myself becoming. Whenever we’re stressed, I think we fall back on our old defenses. They never really go away but lose their hold as we grow.

  22. Marina M says:

    So well explained. This post does not undermine, but confirm the first one: we can be empathetic in one circumstances and narcissist in another. When it is not about pathology, of course. I also noticed that often we (me at least) tend to “compensate” the behavior of our companion. Means: in the company of a good listener we tend to speak and open up more, while when facing a self absorbed individual we show more empathy and compassion.
    Thank you!

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      You’re welcome! This is the gist of the book I’m currently writing — that narcissism is a universal behavior, not by definition about pathology, though it becomes pathological under certain conditions.

  23. Fiona says:

    In my experience when I meet someone like Ellen and get to know her better, in all circumstances they turn out to have either NPD or several unpleasant traits. I wish it were different! I can see that a healthy person will sometimes indulge in excessive talk about themselves but more often (in my experience) people like Ellen turn out to have too many narcisssitic traits.

    I agree with the comment about gay people. I’m one of them and I’ve yet to meet a lesbian or gay man that doesn’t have a lot of unhealthy narcissism. The only reason I’m different is years and years of intensive psychoanalysis. It’s made me lonely in many ways. And it’s taboo to say anything about the higher than average rate of mental illness in the gay community. I’m Irish too and we have high levels of Narcissism, probably as a result of the shame we felt when the British ruled us for many years. But as you’ve said these issues can’t be talked about.

    I enjoy the debate and thanks for the blog.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      What you have to say about the gay community is so very interesting, Fiona. And yes, it’s definitely taboo to mention it. We could have an interesting discussion about the reasons why it may be so without implying that it is something inherent in being gay per se. There are some obvious reasons that I’m sure will occur to you.

    • Karen says:

      I know this is an older comment, but I found it interesting too–your comment about Ellen because that has been my experience too, but also about gay people. I’ve known more gay men and at least with a few of them, one in particular I felt that he was a pretty severe narcissist. I agree that the subject is taboo which makes it very hard to feel like one is being open and honest. He died from complications from AIDS as did most of the other men he knew. The story I heard from one of his best friends (a childhood friend) was about the way he chose to come out to his parents–he left a copy of a tape for them to hear his conversation to someone else about his being gay. His mother basically wanted a priest to perform last rights, which I’m certain she probably pushed for. Till the very end she maintained this position that he knew that he could have had another life (being married to a girl). I’m certain that was all about her–her denial and that she just couldn’t accept his being gay. It was all very tragic. Her bi-polar son once talked openly to me about his issues with her. She had four sons and two died–another one was a Benedictine Monk. I don’t know the whole story, but he died from asphyxiation. The mother claims that he was murdered, but the man was never charged. The childhood friend of the other brother also told me that she thought he was gay as well. The mother is a very devout Catholic. Outwardly she is a nice person, but I have a hard time relating to her especially knowing what I do — it feels rather burdensome knowing all of it, but somehow feeling that you are participating in sharing some big secret.

      The other point Fiona brings up is one that I’ve often felt too–about the years of psychoanalysis and how it’s made her lonely in many ways. I feel the same. I’ve always been very aware though and it always made me feel very different from other people–that they couldn’t relate well to me at all.

  24. Karen says:

    My initial gut reaction to reading this article was also similar to what some people already expressed–that you may have been backtracking to avoid offending some people. Your first post felt more authentic and I find your candor refreshing. I think I initially avoided expressing it as I didn’t want to offend you. However I never took issue with your first post either and believe that the people who did–that it hit a little too close to home.

    I know that you provided yourself as an example and I get your point however the difference that I took away is that she is a friend and, more importantly, that you recognized what happened, stopped and apologized. Ellen on the other hand kept blathering on and on and I doubt she recognized her imposition either. Anyway, like others, I feel that you’ve been more than generous towards addressing those people who reacted to your story for calling it like you see it.

    I think I may have already stated this on another comment, but I’ve also heard the expression run-of-the-mill narcissist used previously or perhaps it was mainstream or everyday narcissist and I never took issue with it. I’m well aware of the distinction and what you were attempting to illustrate. Even if we may all be guilty of behaving self-absorbed (periodically) I’m certain as with other personality types that it’s all about degrees of the afflicted which falls along a continuum from mildly offensive to pernicious. It would be better if people recognized the behaviors for what it is and stopped making excuses for it.

    For what it is worth I would never describe your first post as appearing brittle. Then again so what you’re a human being too. I also appreciate your candor and felt the post was spot on regardless of what other people may think.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      Thanks very much, Karen. I’m not sure if I was “brittle” but I definitely felt annoyed with Ellen. That strikes me as only human, under the circumstances. But with the distance of time and more thought, I did come to feel differently toward her. And of course I agree with the idea that many psychological traits occur along a continuum.

      • Karen says:

        You’re welcome. I forgot to ask you the questions that were on my mind–that I mentioned on my other response. It has more to do with self-care, capacity and limitations.

        Mel wrote: “I just think that compassion and seeing things from the person in a ‘narcissitic flow’s perspective is helpful in easing our own annoyance as much as anything, and helps us to recognise it more when we do it ourselves too. Compassion supports self-awareness.”

        I’m certain most people could benefit from being more compassionate and self-aware and I would agree that compassion supports self-awareness. My questions may even sound counter-intuitive but I also wonder if there is a point where it can be self-negating–that one can be too focused on compassion and that in some situations it is an over-ask from others and not in our best interests. I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but especially for people who are highly attuned to the needs of others. That is to say that it can confuse the issue–being so focused on compassion that one can overlook the larger picture and wind up enabling instead.

        In one of your comments when someone asked if you ever thought of challenging her you wrote that, “Although I sometimes have the urge, I would never do it. If I had pointed out to Ellen that she was being self-absorbed or rude, I’m sure she would have felt painfully humiliated; as much as she irritated me, I wouldn’t want to hurt her.”

        I used to feel that way and would never want to intentionally hurt anyone either yet I realize that asserting myself that some people respond with hurt feelings, although I feel it’s manipulative. I also know from experience that challenging certain types of people doesn’t get me the results that I’ve hoped for. I’m not as focused on “not hurting” people as I once used to–not that I go deliberately out of my way to hurt them either, but I’ve started to feel that this hasn’t served me well. Hard to explain but I’m feeling more emotionally numb and at times very resentful. I sometimes wonder why I’ve ever been so nice and kind to people as they don’t seem to respond in kind or demonstrate respectful attitudes.

        At one time my feelings may have softened towards someone like Ellen, but these days they don’t. I hope I’m not rambling–I was trying flesh this out–to formulate my questions in a coherent way as they came up for me from your original post.

        • Joseph Burgo says:

          I agree that there’s a risk for people who are highly attuned to the needs of other people, and that includes me. There have definitely been occasions when I’ve come home from a dinner party in a state of anger and frustration, because some self-absorbed bore monopolized the conversation and I did nothing about it, suffering in silence. I have friends who are expert in cutting those people off without being obnoxious about it and I wish it was a skill I possessed. Rather than overt confrontation, I think it’s better to extricate yourself as quickly as possible.

          • Bbee says:

            Oh, I do so wish to read more about this: extricating from a self-absorbed companion, with some sense of compassion. I get in trouble with myself all the time by listening intently to a companion, with genuine interest, and then gradually becoming aware that I am overwhelmed with their self absorption – which I contributed to. And, I think the companion also becomes uncomfortable, because these engagements seem to typically end with a tone of anger – probably from both sides feeling overwhelmed. I think the best segue is with an empathic observation, but that is hard to do in the moment. Finding the balance in these situations is so difficult.

          • Karen says:

            “I have friends who are expert in cutting those people off without being obnoxious about it and I wish it was a skill I possessed. Rather than overt confrontation, I think it’s better to extricate yourself as quickly as possible.”

            I’ve been working on that skill–extricating myself as quickly as possible and I do think that I’m fairly good at it, but there is always room for improvement. How could one ever get too good at that skill anyway. I also think that I would benefit greatly from having a larger set of tools at my disposal. I wish I knew your friends who are good at this, because I really admire that quality and I’d be observing or asking them for input. I may even enjoy socializing more than I do or is it just a sad fact of life that one has to suffer fools so? Have you written about this previously on your site and if so where? I’d appreciate a link if you have or at least point me in the right direction. Thank you.

  25. Jolanda says:

    Why did you stop playing once you realize you forgot to ask about your friend’s Summer? Because of your narcissism. Why did you think that she would not be capable to understand your “faux pas’? You thought she was less than you: you did catch yourself in the social fault. You were perfectionistic. You were not allowing yourself to enjoy the continuation of the music, because your imaginary judgment coming from your lady instructor was torturing you during your sonata. You couldn’t conceive of somebody else thinking of you as somebody uncaring, and your need to prove her wrong made you stop and say “and how was YOUR summer.”? You need to let that go. Other people’s opinions don’t a good man make.

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