The Fear of Seeming Narcissistic

JubilationEarlier this week, my friend Sherry came over for dinner. After asking all about her trip to Las Vegas and briefly discussing our vacation, I finally got around to telling her of some recent developments in my writing career (more about this in a moment). After a few minutes, she said to me, “So you just told me all these marvelous things that are happening in your life and your demeanor hasn’t changed one bit. You’re not smiling. You don’t seem excited. What that’s about?”

One of the great things about Sherry is the way she calls you out (in a loving way). She is nothing if not frank. Anyway, I explained to her that I didn’t feel comfortable “tooting my own horn,” but that I was in fact very excited. When it comes my turn to talk about myself, I tend to keep it short and to the point … though I’m secretly hoping other people will show that they truly are interested by asking more questions. I’m usually disappointed in that regard (but that’s a different issue).

In my writer’s group on Thursday, as I was telling everyone the latest news, I noticed that I was speaking in the same flat way, not quite conveying my enthusiasm. Then I told the others about what Sherry had noticed, and my explanation about feeling uncomfortable showing my excitement. I added that I didn’t want to seem too self-impressed, as if I were gloating. Our teacher Laurel said, “But you can be excited here with us and we can be excited for you.” The others were actually effusive in their congratulations and genuinely happy for me. I then acknowledged to them what I find it very hard to say: What is happening to me now is fabulous, and even better than I ever imagined it would be.

I even feel uncomfortable writing it. But I suppose I’d better explain.

During the last two weeks, there have been a number of important developments. I wake up these days wondering what other good thing is going to happen because it seems that I am on a roll.

1. I sold the translation rights to Why Do I Do That? for mainland China.

2. I had direct inquiries about translation rights from publishers in Italy and the Czech Republic for the same book.

3. My publisher for The Narcissist You Know informed my agent that they are going to pay me extra to record an audio book — my own voice, not somebody else’s.

4. My foreign rights agent sold translation rights to TNYN for mainland China (same Beijing publisher, more money).

5. An editor from the The New York Times invited me to contribute a piece to one of their forum discussions in the “Room for Debate” section — it will be my first appearance in the Times.

6. My foreign rights agent sold rights to TNYN for Australia and New Zealand.

Reading back over what I’ve written, I feel like there ought to be exclamation points all over the place, but (in my warped view) that would be bragging. Best to be as matter-of-fact as possible when announcing good news.

Part of this has to do with a fear of being envied, I know. The only person with whom I feel I can be completely candid and enthusiastic is my friend E., whose first novel has been extremely well reviewed and nominated for a couple of important awards; she has already sold her second book. Her UK publisher is flying her to London for her first book’s debut there, where they propose to wine and dine her. She’s doing so very well herself that I have no concerns that she would envy me. I can feel how genuinely happy she is on my behalf.

But even more important, I think I’m afraid of appearing narcissistic, as if I see myself as special and superior. I’m really afraid that I will appear to be gloating, so I tone it way down. I have a hard time drawing the line between pride in authentic achievement, on the one hand, and narcissistic self-congratulation on the other. I’ve worked very hard for many years to achieve my goals, and I believe that I have earned every bit of what I’ve got. I feel proud of myself because I’ve had to overcome some personal shortcomings, grow a lot, and persevere in the face of repeated disappointments to get here. Then why do I feel so uncomfortable telling other people that I feel this way, and to give voice to my excitement?

A memory comes to mind. I would have been 10 or 11 at the time. In chorus, we had been learning “O Holy Night,” a carol I have always found beautiful and deeply moving. I was so enjoying the music that I sang it for my mother at home one day after rehearsal. With her usual ironic gaze, she listened all the way through. At the end she smirked and said, “Nice” in her blunt and cutting way. I probably didn’t sound so great (I’m a middling singer), but that isn’t the point! I wanted her to share my joy in the song and say, “That’s beautiful!” with true enthusiasm. I probably wanted her to find me beautiful, too, no matter how I sounded. When children express joy, they want their parents to join in and “amplify” the joy, as my colleague Susan S. would say. My mother instead shot me down.

(By odd coincidence, my son Paul just texted me that Tom Ford’s studio in London offered him an internment for the summer. I sent him back a text full of yippees and hurrays and lots of !!!!!!!!)

I think many people of my generation had similar experiences with their parents. Pride goeth before a fall. You’re not supposed to feel too good about yourself or something bad will happen to you. Kein Ayin Hora or Kina Hora is an expression used in Yiddish to ward off the “evil eye” after discussing one’s wealth or good fortune with other people. Immersed as I am in a book about narcissism, I also can’t help but question my own motives. Do I think I’m a “winner,” now that I’m finally having success as a writer? Do I think that I have somehow triumphed over all my shame and damage? There’s nothing wrong with keeping an eye on one’s narcissistic tendencies — we’ve all got them — but I wish I could just feel happy and leave it there.

The truth is, every once in a while my grandiosity does kick in and I’ll be indulging fantasies about rave reviews and having a bestseller. And then there’s the next book which will be nominated for an award! It probably doesn’t help that the co-agent out in Hollywood got so excited about the prospect of selling a television series based on my new book. I can really get going on that one if I let myself! (Fortunately, I spent much of my life on the edge of Hollywood and have seen too many people in the business get excited and then come crashing down.) At those moments, when I am being narcissistic, I turn my thoughts to some of the distressing events from recent months. It has been a year of extremes: the traumatic emergency in mid-summer, worries about my oldest son, and a death in the family, on the one hand, and all this recent good news on the other. Remembering the bad bits has a way of “down-regulating” my mania, and that’s a good thing.

But it doesn’t feel entirely “normal,” if you know what I mean. Someone who’d come from a healthier family would just feel happy about his success, end of story. The fact that I’ve learned to observe, understand, and manage myself — the benefit of a lengthy analysis — is no small achievement, but it’s only second best. It’s not the same thing as having had a mother whose eyes teared up at the sound of “O Holy Night” and said, “I’ve always loved that one, too!”

By Joseph Burgo

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


  1. Congrats man!

    As for: “I tend to keep it short and to the point … though I’m secretly hoping other people will show that they truly are interested by asking more questions. ”

    People are usually more interested on the emotions you convey, and therefore the emotions you make them feel, than about the actual content of what you’re saying.

    If you communicate something with a quiet manner and attempt to convey as little emotion as possible, while (I guess) feeling some shame and awkwardness, then all they feel is a very quiet mix of awkward little emotions, which might rub them the wrong way and make them want to switch to a more familiar territory.

    In other words you might be telling something glorious but most people will fail to hear you or see you, because they are in synch with the more visible part of you, the one that’s repressing, so they will side with that repressing. Your way of communicating is telling them your story is not worth following through, there’s little substance or importance, there might be dark stuff you’d rather not talk about, etc. It takes a “hunter” conversionalist to chase you down and extract the real story. You’re probably one of such hunters, but most people are not.

    Storytelling and entertaining – captivating the attention of people – are art forms of their own and there’s nothing wrong with making people into you and let them experience the emotions and images you’re going through. It’s not “narcissism” but a communion. Sharing your stuff with other people adds value to their lives. You like to experience other people’s stories and emotions, let them experience yours. You just have to make them palatable to them.

    * * *

    You were probably raised (like I was) in a narcissist environment where showing off was a competition, so you learned to do only half the dance, the listener side. All you’ve got to do is to learn the rest of the dance. You already have the desire to communicate and to be appreciated, and plenty of people will join you in your story and celebrate you, as long as you start and carry the celebration.


    1. You speak wisdom, Yohami. I know you’re right because I know (and admire) people who do just what you describe, and they don’t necessarily strike me as narcissistic. It’s funny, if I were telling a DIFFERENT story — say, one that didn’t involve me “tooting my own horn” — I would try to make it entertaining, emotional and engaging. I’ll do my best to follow your advice. Thanks, Yohami.

    2. Wow, I needed to read this today. Thank you. I too was brought up that saying that you did something well was being ‘showy’ and not ‘ladylike’ and I think that’s why I too struggle with how I’m received. Deep down I feel I have so much to give just like what you guys are all saying and maybe if I just get out of my own way like you have done Jo and Yohami, maybe I can be at peace at just being all of me, the good, the bad and maybe the book publishing success!

  2. What a deep post, I can relate to you not wanting to seem like a braggart, I was raised that way too, it’s quite a brainless and shame based style of parenting o imply yo a child they should never talk about themselves in a positive manner, kind of like it would be erroneous for them too feel “too” good about themselves as they are “really” like x or not better than anyone else ( despite their accomplishments) which is not mentioning the whole “worry about what other people think” context which is like asking a beautiful woman to hide her face lest she make her neighbours jealous.

    If I may flatter myself by giving you advice I would advise you not to focus on your disillusionment regarding your mother as if this was more important than your very tangible success.

    You don’t get that time back.

  3. You are full of yourself. What’s the point of this article? To say that you don’t want to say what you’re dying to say, because it’s great, because it’s grand, because it will be profitable bla bla bla? A serious writer would know all this and keep on typing, would not need to blow the news to the 4 corners of the intergalactic world? Why do you care so much our opinion? Yours should be enough, right? And your partners, friends, children. // Yes, I am envious because I always wanted to write many books, some cartoons, and I know that I never will, mainly because of my mental illness. Good luck and go break a leg.

    1. I had thought about deleting this comment but then decided I’d just go ahead and post it. You and envious people like you are exactly what I’m afraid of, and why I have such a hard time sharing my good experiences. You’re obviously new to the blog, or you would know that I often write about my own experience in the hope that it will resonate for other people. Please don’t come back. Even though I recognize that this is your problem (your envy), your hostility still wounds me.

      1. Well said Joe- I have recently been trying to understand why some people wound despite clearly having been on the receiving end themselves. Healing for me has been helped by trying to ease the suffering of others, and although I am sure I become the green eyed monster at times, I know this only amplifies my pain. Know that already intergalactically (?sp!) your ability to provide insight as an equal keeps those of us in New Zealand fortunate enough to have come across your blog/website eagerly waiting for more. Kia kaha Joe.

        1. Thank you. I hope you noted that the new book has just sold for the territory of Australia and New Zealand. One of my joyful fantasies is that I will go on a trip to both countries next year (always wanted to go there) and that maybe my publisher will even chip in for airfare. It would be so much fun to go on a mini book tour down under!

      2. “Then why do I feel so uncomfortable telling other people that I feel this way, and to give voice to my excitement?” You answer that yourself earlier in the paragraph: “”I think I’m afraid of appearing narcissistic” and, very telling: “I have a hard time drawing the line between pride in authentic achievement, on the one hand, and narcissistic self-congratulation on the other.” while it is obvious you did the hard work. The international(!) succes wasn’t handed to you on a silver platter, so narcissism doesn’t apply here.

        “You and envious people like you are exactly what I’m afraid of” you respond to this mean comment after having shown vulnerability. It’s like the memory of your mother’s reaction to you sharing a beautiful song that touched you deeply. You had opened up to her in all innocence and she might as well had slapped you in the face. If it were merely her belonging to our generation of parents wanting to protect you from the pride before the fall (I believed this as a child), then why the ironic gaze and the smirk? That sounds more like someone who wants to hurt and not like someone who is concerned about your well-being.

        Could it be that behind the fear is a profound sadness?

      3. Im glad that you did not delete Margo’s post Joseph. Amongst what she wrote are lessons. Yes, she may be projecting, but she does own up to it. She does have a point, in asking why it matters so much as to what other people think. This is something we all struggle with and its good to reflect on. While your post resonated with me, so did Margos.

      4. Remember that this person would never say this to your face. All of the other comments said, whether praise or criticism, would generally be said to you if you were in front of them. People like him/her have to hide.

        1. Apparently I’ve met people who do feel entitled to say and make cruel comments to my face and that includes my family and also complete strangers. They’ve made critical, UNSOLICITED comments about my voice and looks, etc. They do usually hide from making those comments in front of others, but not always. A lot of people are truly malicious.

          I told my first therapist about the comments. Her response was that she felt that it was envy and it would be good if I could turn those comments into something positive.

          It was extremely hurtful to me given my family and especially my older sisters and how they behaved. They would state that I was the “pretty” one. I never felt that way though. So they needed to constantly put me down and usually it was a way for them to try to make me feel inferior (as in stupid). It was a common very put-down and attack.

          My SIL is another extremely competitive person and it is all about her looks.

          We are all estranged and have no relationship.

          So, I don’t think that everyone hides the ugliness that is inside of them.

      5. Your honesty and assertiveness here is so fresh and wonderful Joe – I love that you model this vulnerable strength. I am learning to be more like this… e.g. recently told my boss (respectfully) to not shout at me, not raise her voice at me. I could never have done this a couple of years ago but I have more respect for myself now. We don’t deserve to be treated disrespectfully, even if the person doing the bullying has issues themselves – why should we put up with it?

        Anyway… also wanted to say your absence has been noticed by me and I’m sure other readers – I hope you are well and focusing on a holiday or writing a book or something else wonderful is taking your attention away from the blog.

        I eagerly await your next post 🙂

      6. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but I think it is good that you left the negative comment, it really proves a point. It shows that some of our fears or concerns of misperceptions can occur, even despite our very clearly spoken intentions, but yet we can rise above it and recognize that it’s not our fault or issue. We can do everything in our power to try to “take care of other people’s perceptions” of us, but we are not responsible for them, they are. What shapes them is more about them than us. If they feel envy, then that is their problem, not ours. Envy is a disease. It is not contagious-no one can give it to anyone else, it comes from within and is self taught and destructive. It often begins with low self esteem, selfishness and distorted thoughts. The truth is that not everyone will like or understand us correctly no matter how hard we try.

      7. This is the sign of the times. People will write anything and I mean anything on the internet as if it were not going to be received by a person. I think the internet is a narcissistic device, an extension of self without boundaries.

        I have made two videos after extreme hard work and here they sit. I cannot market them because of fear. Your description of your mother matches my own. Her only comment after seeing the video was “I never realized your eyebrows were so bushy”! Then she looked at me in person and said “Oh, I guess they are”. I could go on about how outrageous she seems to me but it would not serve. I love Yohami’s comments. I have always felt that I am only listening and not expressing or only expressing in ways that are well thought out and pre-taped, never live. I love how Yohami describes what others are perceiving. Clears up a big mystery for me of what others are perceiving. Thanks for that.

        1. I have this same type of fear. Fear of marketing myself. I have so many things I could have done, but am afraid to put out there. I feel awkward, exposed, naked about it. Go for it, if you can. Put the best one out there. (I’ll try to hear my own words, for myself.)

          Ignore your mom’s comment. My mom tells me I’m fat, every chance she gets now (I just have a bit of a stomach, which didn’t bother me until she said something). Once I realized/recalled how often she’s complained about her own belly, I realized clearly that it’s about her. Even though I know this, it still takes a lot for me to reject her criticism.

    2. Oh Margo! Huge hugs for you, if that’s okay.

      I hear all that you’re saying in your comment … and it really resonated with me, the struggle, as someone who has had to scratch and claw for every hard-earned achievement.

      I think Joe is saying that it can be awkward/uncomfortable/hard for many of us, regardless of where we’re at, to accept-believe-allow the good stuff, especially if we’ve been harmed as children — as developing psyches.

      So many feeling go along with it — why me? Am I good enough? Am I deserving?

      I’ve fought anorexia all my life, and I have to say from experience, that a therapist who owns his own stuff, and who lets us join him in celebrating the good?

      Golden. Precious. Priceless.

      I wish you wonderful things, Margo. And if you have a dream to write? Do it! Share your wisdom and experiences. You matter.


  4. Well done Joe. Really feel pleased for you-
    It is impressive, when people do the yards and reach goals of personal ambition.
    My 16 yr old son, loves to share his scripts/ stories with me- I do enjoy his creative, mind. I also , at the same time, feel a tinge of regret, that though I believe I have had talents- I’ve never really put the effort into following thru.
    But I love the clarity and joy of his creation.. And with you, i do sense your clarity and joy. Standing strong and firm in ones creative achievements, is that narcissism? I don’t see that. Doing work, that will contribute to others healing- a gift.

  5. I’m so inspired by your success, Dr. Burgo. I wish I could say more, but I’m meeting my husband for dinner and I’m almost late!

    The New York Times! Wow!

  6. I am so proud of your recent achievement and I am so glad you shared them with us!!! I am happy for your success, and so glad you are able to articulate your emotional states so well. They do resonate with others in a wonderful way. With your continued authenticity and wise counsel, there will always be those who do not support your views… so I am very sorry that the negative post was so mean-spirited. It took a lot of courage to post that one- but even more courage to admit that it hurt. I admire your courage and want to give you lots of !!!!!!!!!! for your excellent contributions to healing others. High 5’s!!!!!!!!!

  7. You’ve been successful Dr Burgo and that is certainly something to celebrate and be proud of. The success is yours, but its success at something that so many other people benefit from, so its far from a selfish success. Imagine if you hadn’t had these successes- you wouldn’t have reached so many people who are affected in a positive way by what you do and many would be worse off . This post is really helpful to understand how we behave the way we do and where our sometimes bizarre feelings stem from, its helped me a lot because i relate to it. Who doesn’t want recognition for things they do well and succeed at? We all do- you too Margo.
    Margo, believe me i know where you are coming from when you talk like that- you’ve been deprived your whole life and deprived not only of opportunities for elaborate successes but even the very basic and fundamental things in life that most people take for granted. How can you celebrate someone else’s good fortunes when you’ve struggled for the mere scraps of life? But just think about this case- Dr Burgo is a good person you can see that from the blogs he writes and he’s motivated by doing good .He’s good at it too, why deprive him of that and all the people who gain from it? He’s not won it at the expense of anyone suffering or by cheating or even by luck but well and truly deserves his success . Save your anger at all the injustices in this world- not the good. And why not read Dr Burgo’s story and be inspired to achieve your own success too? I know its hard when you have the limitations of mental health issues but the same issues often give you lots of resolve, gritty determination and gutsy fight so embrace those parts and channel it into something for yourself- write those books and cartoons you crave and if they’re good you’ll get recognition too and you’ll glow in the pride and sense of self worth, don’t be a meany and begrudge other people’s pleasures, certainly not genuine ones like these.

    When i do something good or achieve something i want to tell the world. I know perhaps i shouldn’t but i do, i just can’t help it!

    1. That was kindly put, what you said to Margo. I think for the deprived person consumed with envy, it feels as if the world is a kind of zero-sum game where my having something means that you don’t. You were quite right to point out that I’ve haven’t won my success at the expense of anyone else, but on some level, it can feel that all those people who have so much are depriving you of what you want. Not rational, but the feeling is real.

  8. Hey Margot, a little intense- though you did own up to your envy- and also your mental distress. But, don’t leave reading Joes posts. If you wanna find ways to heal, the dialogue on Dr Burgos site, could be of benefit. I feel. It has been for me. In my healing process.

  9. Dr. Joe,

    I don’t know how to verbalize what I’m feeling right now, other than to say that I’m STUNNED!

    First of all, every good wish your way for your success! Congratulations! Okay, enough of that, for fear of feeling like I’m ‘love bombing’ here, lol!

    Seriously though. . .I ran into this VERY same issue this week and discussed it with my therapist. I understand just what you mean about your writing, but more so about appearing narcissistic. That is exactly my fear too and for the same reasons, robbing me of a true feeling of ‘joy’ and allowing myself to embrace even small success.

    This last week (and I’m small time, comparatively), I got an email from a writer at the HuffPost requesting an interview with me to talk about my experiences with psychopaths, as I come from a pathological family. When I read the email, I just about fell out of my chair! A feeling of excitement (bordering on mania) came over me and I wanted to jump up and down for joy, because I know that it’s hard, if not impossible, to make it as a writer, even if you are very, very good!

    Still, I couldn’t move from my chair. Frozen, I talked myself out of a ‘moment’. My therapist asked me to describe how I was feeling. I told her that it was fear. Fear of being happy, fear of being validated and acknowledged with my work. Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of getting so excited, only to have it end as a ‘footnote’, but more so, that if I really ‘go’ with the feeling, then I become ‘over confident’. . . narcissistic, do you know what I mean?

    When I’ve allowed myself to enjoy my little triumphs, inevitably, it’s criticism that sidelines me. Brings me back down to earth. But when I say down, I don’t mean lightly, I mean CRASH! UGH! So I continue in fear, but learning that it’s ‘okay’ to feel happy about good things happening, when they happen, embracing the ‘moment’, but not projecting it into any potential future (seeing myself at my own book signing lol). . .

    Dr. Joe, I tend to pathologize myself a lot. It drives my therapist crazy. I do it a lot less now than before because I’m more mindful of it now, but it still happens.

    Something you shared hit me especially hard and provoked thought for me. I was the scapegoat in my FOO. They sabotaged every effort I made to better myself, to achieve goals, personally and professionally. Oh, the stories I could share . .but anyway, I never learned life skills.

    I wasn’t nurtured or loved by any adult in my pathological family or outside of it. I had no point of reference for what healthy and appropriate emotional response looked like. Feeling love meant being abused. “Life skills” meant dependence on a man and relationships. Emotional response meant “you should be ASHAMED of yourself for feeling that way”..

    Something I’ve had to admit recently, that has been very difficult for me to accept, is that I will never (I know, never and always aren’t good), be able to embrace emotions of happiness and joy, when it comes to my work, that ‘normals’ can. I will never be able to move beyond a certain point with life skills because there is so much damage. Writing is all I know how to do that wasn’t effectively sabotaged by my pathological family. I kept it a secret, because it was catharsis. . . no wait, it was oxygen for me. . .

    So instead, what I’m learning how to do, is have honor and respect and compassion for myself, with all of my limitations, BUT also with all of my triumphs, no matter how small they are. I’m learning how to embrace ALL of it, good AND bad, embracing the moment. . .

    I’ve always felt different from other people because of the abuse. Most of the survivors that I support/mentor, had at least one adult to show them what love looked like, or showed them life skills, or showed them by example, what it was to embrace their humanity in some significant way. I guess the shame for me, is rooted in the reality that I’m still learning how to do those things. I’m learning to accept it, even though there are times I feel very sad about it.

    As for the comment you allowed: I have plenty of those on my blog too, but I don’t let them through. It is very hurtful anyway and I understand what you mean when you share that.

    I use to take a position where I would allow anyone to say anything they wanted. Now I don’t. I began to realize that not only is it hurtful to me, it’s hurtful to others commenting to see such pathology show up in the form of trolls. Right now, I feel as if I want to implement a rescue and ‘defend’ you because this kind of garbage was the kind of stuff my pathological family would do to sabotage me through trying to exploit guilt and shame in me for feeling anything that was remotely close to joy or happiness, and instead was instant competition, spontaneous envy. Something I still carry with me and probably always will to some extent.

    There was one time where you didn’t allow a comment of mine through because you disagreed with how I presented it. It made you feel uncomfortable. With what I remember from the ‘conversation’ via email, it turned out okay and I respected your choice not to post it and appreciated you sharing with me why. We just agreed to disagree!

    I learned from that experience and now do this with survivors on my blog too if there is something that I feel might create drama, chaos or that might trigger another survivor.

    So, while I don’t agree with everything you say, Dr. Joe, I still read your posts, but this one today hit me especially hard. I think only adult children of a pathological parent, could truly understand what you are saying and that it doesn’t come from a place of narcissism. Every time ‘we’ post our thoughts and feelings, we open ourselves up to targeting and are vulnerable.

    But this is what I think makes your blog so special to me.

    Again, congratulations, Dr. Joe. I hope that someday, with more successes, that you will be able to embrace it fully….for the moment.

    Bless your heart. . .

    1. Kelli, I agree that it’s hard for people who came from healthier environments to understand what I’m talking about. And as for that not-so-nice comment, I approved it because the author of it acknowledged her envy and I thought that might be helpful to the discussion.

      This stood out for me in what you wrote:

      “Fear of getting so excited, only to have it end as a ‘footnote’, but more so, that if I really ‘go’ with the feeling, then I become ‘over confident’. . . narcissistic, do you know what I mean?”

      I think that I know what you mean. For me, it’s as if a kind of mania kicks in and the feeling gets “too big,” if you know what I mean. Trying to keep myself humble and to remember the “bad” parts is a way of regulating that effect and keeping my feelings the “right” size. Does that make sense?

  10. I am not envious of the rude commenter. That frame of mind is a horrible way to live.

    Congrats on your successes! Enjoy them while they last. Your real friends and good people will just be happy for you. When someone succeeds, we all succeed.

  11. Your friends are full of it. They think something is wrong because you speak in an unemotional tone? What do these people want, for you to jump up and down like a clown while you tell your stories?

    I think you are right to keep your achievements to yourself when you talk to people, or at least be humble about it. Why even bring the topic up?

    Don’t be so hard on yourself! Got news for you… you ARE special and superior to many people in some unique way. Everyone is. I have not published any books and I’m broke as I can be, but I know of one thing that I am absolutely great at and that I am SURE that you can’t do. So what? What’s the big deal?

    You’re thinking too much into it. That’s what you do – THINK and thinking people let it go too far at times.

  12. Personally it seems like a good strategy to avoid the envy of others rather than a fear of seeming narcissistic.

  13. Hi Joseph
    One simple point struck me as I read your post (congratulations by the way!) – you are a psychotherapist because your mother’s behaviour planted questions in your mind and a study of psychotherapy has provided some of those answers; and probably you would not have driven yourself so hard to achieve what you have without her being the way she was. Good on you – you are now nurturing yourself in a way she couldn’t.

  14. Sincere congratulations, these are huge achievements. And thanks you for a very honest reflective post; much of it resonated.

    I had an idea, I’m sure you’ve already had it, but how about rewriting the post (and maybe sharing it somewhere safe, your writers group, or home, or not at all) sharing all of the feeling bubbling deep inside, and the dreams (of films, and awards and recognition; because I think they’re important too), just to see what it feels like, and to practice expressing it. Just thought I’d share the idea, because it came to mind as I read your post, and I might try it.

    Take care,

  15. I have a similar but different case. It’s not that I am afraid of telling people my good news, but rather I don’t really care to tell people. I feel the pride and joy in my self but don’t have any need to share it with anyone. The thought doesn’t even cross my mind. On the contrary I very much enjoy listening to other’s good news and feel very happy for them and can see and feel the pleasure they get out of telling me (although I only feel this way towards people I like, hearing narcissists tell me of their achievements is quite irritating).

    My mother never really took interest in me and showed little concern if I broke the rules or made bad grades. Doing something praise worthy was met with a sort of forced approval, like she felt it was the right thing to do and would have felt guilty if she didn’t or she would get very ecstatic and take narcissistic pleasure in what I did. I sometimes felt the latter to be repulsive, almost like she was molesting my psyche, using my achievements for own self worth then forgetting about me.

    So I wonder if this kind of self enjoyment is just my nature or if it’s something pathological, stemming from my mother’s relationship with me. It doesn’t feel pathological though.

    On a side note, you mentioned several times the title of your new book, “The Narcissist You Know,” without directly talking about it. You made a posts where you mention that you talk about your achievements in passing as a sort of evasive narcissistic defense so I think you unconsciously mentioned your book in the same way. The announcement of you new book is quite a big deal so I don’t see why you would talk about it so passively without it being defensive.

    Anyway keep up the great posts and I can’t wait for your new book!

    1. Thank you, Grant. I wonder whether you learned from your mother to keep good things to yourself because of the way she exploited them — molested you — in that narcissistic way.

  16. Congratulations!!!! I’ve read your posts for a while now, purchased your book WDIDT that day it came out, read it … I guess “gazed” at your journey in blogging … I don’t even know you, yet I’m very happy for you!!!! The down side of awareness is to be vigilant about our “healthy” behavior in light of our wounds … I hope you can let go & celebrate your success!!!! So very happy for you!! CHEERS! :-);-):-D:-(:'(:O All the eemoticons!!!

  17. Congrats, Dr. Joe! Enjoy the success that comes with all your hard work. We are thrilled for you.

    One of the most helpful aspects of this blog is that you give voice to the feelings that those of us who grew up in the company of narcissists often have. Perhaps those who have not had a similar experience simply can’t understand the long-lasting impact narcissism in a parent or authority figure has on children. Despite all the therapy I’ve had, self-study about this topic (including via your blog) has been most helpful to me. You have many kindred spirits out here. Carry on!

    1. Thanks, Elaine. I think you may be right. For people who didn’t have this kind of upbringing, it probably seems like we should “stop analyzing” everything and just get on with it.

  18. What a surprise! A therapist who is shame based and learned SOMEWHERE to deflect attention away from himself , and to devote his life to taking care of others . Welcome to my club! 🙂

    Do yourself and all of us in this profession a favor and model for us the following : shout it from the rooftops , sing it from your soul , jump up and down with enthusiasm !! Tell all who will listen !! You have worked hard and now have achieved noteworthy success !! YAY !!

    It is called JOY !!
    Keep it up !! Penny

  19. You’ve mastered the art of analyzing everything but the kitchen sink. It’s not about narcissism at this point, it’s humility for all the money you’ll be raking in. Keep that profundity coming. $$. Linking it into not appearing “overly narcissistic” was a clever continuation. No one will catch on. 🙂

      1. Selling to China? You must be making some cash. You don’t need my support. You’re doing just fine. I get paid for the sarcasm. If you were miserable you wouldn’t be writing anything.

  20. I have the same thing. I’m not ashamed of my accomplishments but I’m ashamed to be happy about them. It’s ingrained in my mind that feeling effusively happy or optimistic = being stupid and naive and dropping your guard so that it’s easier for someone else to hurt you. (Given the way my parents behaved, this is not a surprise).

    I actually feel embarrassed for other people as well, when they become too excited or optimistic about something. I know rationally that I shouldn’t, and that this is me projecting my own emotions onto them, but I feel like they’re setting themselves up for a humiliating public rejection.

    What I hear in the story with your mother is that you made yourself vulnerable by sharing something important about yourself with her (if we’re excited about things, it’s because they’re important to us) and she rejected you and made you feel that you should be ashamed of placing such importance on that thing.

    I think part of the reason that I don’t like to brag is not just because I don’t want to seem like a jerk (although that’s part of it, too), but also because I don’t want to tip my hand about what’s important to me, and open myself to attack.

    1. It is all so complicated! Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just feel good about our accomplishments? I need to write a post about this issue of being ashamed of excitement and enthusiasm. It’s what my colleague Susan T. would call “prophylactic shame” … but that’s a long story. Thanks!

  21. i have never commented so far, but think you are brave to have blog like this as you make yourself vulnerable. But it is appreciated. Don’t think I would have the courage.

    Thank you for your insights

  22. Hi Joe,
    Yes first how incredible and amazing! After years and years of hard work and stamina. So happy for you! I is so strange that you have realised these amazing successes and yet you still have to agonise even over your very reactions. Like you said, you can’t just relax and enjoy it. And you can really get into it and start questioning and beating yourself up for not relaxing and enjoying it. I know this game all too well. I relate to this post and think about these things lots. I of course do the same thing. I think I am a cool person or awesome or good or….I can’t really even type what I think I am because something inside me kicks back but I will leave it there and see how that feels. I have had a long career as a successful pediatric clinician and helped lots of people, I have become an associate professor of clinical pediatrics. Because of 20 years of teaching students in my clinic I was recently asked to give some lectures at a London medical school for a new class of students in my field (which may open up more opportunities for international lecturing). I just enjoyed the success of a 5 year quest of a spiritual group I am involved in the leadership with to purchase a property to grow our group here. I am an athlete who has completed many century (100 mile) cycles, run many races including marathons, climbed many 14 thousand foot peaks, I play the guitar, write poetry and am an excellent singer. Yet I am even terrified right now typing these things to send them on. It makes me cringe in shame even to type it. And I don’t know if it makes sense but most of the time I can’t even relate to the person I described above. I feel most of the time like that is someone else. Strange I tell Ya. However, I very much am working now on feeling RIGHT no matter what. This is so simple yet so difficult. When I feel this embarrassment and shame coming on for being just who I am I try to stop and really be ok with it. I tell myself, whatever I am feeling at the moment is right, it is understandable, it deserves compassion and deserves to be heard. I am RIGHT no matter what I am RIGHT. This all sounds so pop psychology but it is so exhausting thinking over and critically analysing everything I think or do. Rewiring things within the relationship with my therapist is the catalyst for all of this as well. This is so ingrained and deep it really does take years to work with it but I feel some change and healing going on. As you point out Joe, it never really goes away but I aim to do the best I can! Thanks for the post. (BTW I’d like to know what Yohami’s mom was like!)

  23. Excellent news, Joe!! How wonderful to see the fruits of your hard labor! Anyone who’s followed your blog at all knows you’ve put your heart and soul into your writing and for you to get such recognition of its quality must be deeply satisfying. And well worth shouting from the rooftops!

    Your story about your mother and her reaction to your singing O Holy Night (my personal favorite Christmas song) hit me right between the eyes. Over the last few years, I’ve embarked on a midlife career makeover. I found work I love and that fulfills me in ways nothing else ever has. I’ve been doing it as a volunteer for a couple of years and I was recently offered a full time paid position. I was (and am!) very excited about it and called my father to tell him. His response? “Yes, that’s fine.” And then he proceeded to tell me about the record low temperatures in his town. I should have known better than to expect him to share my excitement or to just be happy for me.

  24. Dr. Burgo,
    Much congratulations to you for all of your success! I hope you enjoy it each and every day. I really look forward to reading your blog posts because of your honesty and the courage you have to be vulnerable. It’s also a good feeling to know that others have similar feelings and experiences-that we are not alone with life’s difficulties. Having grown up with a disturbed mother I have struggled with letting myself have success and other good things. I’m so thankful I found a therapist who has helped me and that I have had the determination to do the difficult work involved. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Thank goodness there are people in the world like you who understand and help others. May you have much continued success and may you truly enjoy it!

  25. Hi, Joe,

    First, congrats!!!!!!!

    Second, I think you may be struggling to stay humble at the same time as being proud of yourself. It’s challenging to do.

    I read somewhere that it is a best practice to only share good news with those who will be happy for you. Those people who will build you up and share in your hard earned victory. Share only with people who understand the struggles you have had to overcome to reach this point, who appreciate the time that you have invested, the sweat and tears and the rejections that you have faced along the way.

    There will always be the ugly people who feel so insignificant that they will comment “why does he think he’s so special”, like all of this has happened out of the blue and with great ease.

    I think that when you are in the security of people who love you and know you well you have the right to show your excited and proud of your accomplishments – they know where it comes from. Others, not so much 😉

    So, I guess, choose your moments, choose the people who will share in your joy and accomplishments – get excited about it. Do a strong fist pump and yell YEEESSSS!!!!!!!

    Good things come to those that work hard,work smart and to those who wait, are persistent and never give up.

    CONGRATULATIONS, CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    HIGH FIVE, WAY TO GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. Hi Joseph,

    Congratulations on your recent successes !!!!

    What you say is so true about not wanting to appear narcissistic. I think the fear of envious people is realistic (sadly) and maybe it’s wise not to be too happy in their presence.

  27. Warm congratulations, Dr. Burgo, it seems like you’re on a much-deserved roll at the moment! You’re clearly a hard worker, focused for many years on your goal of becoming a clinician-writer, and thus, you have the added satisfaction of knowing your success/recognition is well-earned.

    As yet another reader who grew up in circumstances even starker than your own, I know that the sense of well-being can be fragile in those for whom a sense of self-worth was not naturally acquired. Lengthy analysis provides a lot admittedly, but the truth is that folks like us will never feel the same sense of self-love as others more fortunate.

    I’m now in my third career begun at the age of 50, and ten years on am just starting to feel the sense of satisfaction that comes with growing expertise, together with a modest recognition among that small group of those who upon occasion employ my services as a scholarly translator. I describe my role as that of a “moderately-sized fish in a minuscule pond”. Still, every day when I sit down to translate, there’s that sense that “I’m not good enough, I’m a fraud, this new job will be my undoing”. One thing that I’m glad I did: a couple years ago, we had a bookshelf built to house only my translations, with a special shelf to display the latest publication. When I’m feeling unworthy, I visit the shelves that hold my publications and feel a bit of solid reassurance. It’s not the same, but it’s something: it’s tangible.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that the month that has just passed can be used by you in future as a sort of tangible reference-point as well – February-March 2014, the month in what many good things came together, all of them very real. Would your mother have cared – or even understood – the significance of your accomplishments? Perhaps or probably not. But you have friends, family, and readers who are very capable of understanding them, and of applauding and wishing you all the best.

    1. Many thanks for this. And I sadly agree that most of us will never feel the same degree or kind of self-love as those who had good enough parents. It doesn’t ruin my life or my sense of pride in my real accomplishments, but I know at heart that it’s different.

  28. Dr. Burgo,

    Thank You for being open to vulnerability and so personally candid.

    I can relate to what you’ve expressed. I have struggled with being an, “Over Achiever”. Instead of feeling good about my accomplishments my Mother truly believed pride before a fall. My friend who was side by side with new on the honor roll or fellow would get presents and hugs, words of praise I witnessed. This unconsciously hurt deeply. An obsessive drive developed to perform even better to be recognized, sadly even recognition seemed like it was a lie that I truly wasn’t that good. A grandiose feeling at graduation with Four awards and then a rapid beating of myself up for being proud. A profound truth my Dear older fatherly psychiatrist in his seventies’s said was even if you don’t think you are the truth is you are very intelligent. Can you own that? Why can’t you? He helped me look at why. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings if they felt hurt that I was or feel stupid and insignificant. Instead as a young child I tried to teach and help my classmates with honework. When the teacher was boring or my peers were acting out or confused I sensed it and would stick my hand up to get the teacher to focus on what was nit explained and engage a lively discussion forcing them to explain better. It worked I was well loved despite my grades and made it very clear I was on my peers side not a teacher’s pet or a primadona. However, to this day the pain of never having my Mother’s praise cuts deeply. It’s good to know I am not alone.

    Even though it creates mania and a struggle for you please continue to get support from you writing group and stick close to those true friends who celebrate and encourage your greatness. Your writing has been a gift to me. Before surgery I had to read the section on control again in your book, Why Do I Do That?.

    I want you to know that WDIDT is a life long refernce for me to be revisited as needed.

    I will look for your book on Narcissism. I have a very painful Mother in law that can manipulate me and put me in a very unsafe place inside. I am too sensitive to be close and need more disarming techniques so I can Love her and hate the disorder not the hurt damaged person inside of her.

    It’s difficult to love unconditionally mankind. I’m a person who loves People naturally. Lots of growth and work to do.

    May you get through the ups and downs of elation. Keep fighting for greatness you are using it to help not ever harm anyone and that’s GREAT!

    Marne Rhonda P ;0)

    1. Reading this makes me feel awful, that it has taken me so long to acknowledge your kindness. Thank you so much for taking the time to express your appreciation. It means a lot to me.

      1. I hope that you can change your feeling awful to feeling happy I received your appreciation. Any gift of kindness never needs recognition. That is given freely and from the heart. I had forgotten that I had written this to you. A gift to read again and understand my dynamics and a connection to others. I truly feel mania is rooted in a need for perfect performance . It becomes painfull as one loses control over the drive to create or become a worthy and recognized individual. Not a look at me I am better than you; rather a please accept me and see that I am not worthless. Anyways, maybe you can feel relieved I am okay with not getting a response quickly. Realize my encouragement is unconditional and I am okay with expressing myself without feedback. Glad you checked in with me so that you know it’s all good.

        Have a beautiful day,


  29. Another great post, Joe.

    What I feel you do so well is getting that great balance of professionalism and insightfulness, whilst also being very ‘human’ -being real and honest. I feel this is what resonates well with your readers.

    Yohami -so well said and very true: you deserve the freedom to share your success and dreams with others without fear of judgement (although I understand how difficult it is, as suffer this myself often). Your story serves to inspire so many of us and we wish to share in this joy with you. As the saying goes: “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”. Perhaps this is not a quote from an “expert”, but a sentiment I feel brings me comfort 🙂 I hope it does for you too.

  30. I haven’t read all the comments, apologies if this duplicates others.

    Here’s the challenge to you: Replace ‘seeming’ with “being” in the headline. What happens for you?

      1. Hi Joe, narcissism is lots about how things look. So I was inviting you to replace “seeming narcissistic” with ‘being narcissistic’. So the headline would read, “The Fear of Being Narcissistic”.

        1. I don’t find that particularly helpful. Being concerned about appearances doesn’t make one narcissistic — sometimes, it’s quite the opposite. People with very low self-esteem, for example, are often painfully concerned with how they look.

  31. It’s not the same thing as having had a mother whose eyes teared up at the sound of “O Holy Night” and said, “I’ve always loved that one, too!”

    Oh I am so glad I stopped in here this morning. This. THIS is why I left a recent conversation with my mother feeling so sad and empty, and even angry. At 56 I still long for this kind of “joy amplification” from her. And maybe it’s why no matter how much growth, no matter how much good mirroring and healing happens in therapy – that I will still feel this. And be tempted to stay far away from situations that put me at risk of not receiving it because the pain cuts so deeply. That’s the current growth path for me now – to feel safe enough to take those risks and increase the chance of getting into a positive feedback loop.

    Thank you so much for your writing. It’s good to see you back here again! I appreciate your openness in sharing your process. All the growth, all the work, and the way you are able to to celebrate your accomplishments now (while at the same time with an eye to what holds you back from naturally doing it with joyful abandonment). Second-best. Yes, that’s it, exactly. But still something to celebrate and revel in and soak up and enjoy. And share!!! Congratulations!

  32. PS – Wait, that didn’t come out quite right. I didn’t mean your work or the reason to celebrate was “second best”!!! I meant all the affirmation, the celebration shared, all the joy amplification mirrored back! There is growth, there is help, there is hope for change and something far better and far healthier. But you can’t go back and erase what was or add what wasn’t. That juxtaposition of hope and realism is comforting to me! And so full of present moments and possibilities and life. Thank you so much for sharing it, for living it, from your own experience.

  33. Hi Joe,
    I behave the same way. Someone had to tell me that I didn’t have high highs or low lows, and that they thought it was boring. I guess I sort of agree with that, but I too, have always feared being envied. I even was afraid to enjoy things or be too happy around my mother and sister. I’m not sure where this comes from. I’m sure that it comes from my grandparents, who got it from their parents, and on and on. I have had my share of very difficult times, but I’ve also had some good fortune. Maybe I just try not to oversteer either way, so that I don’t have to over-correct either. I also don’t consider myself a pessimist, but consider myself a realist. A lot of people I know get very excited about things that don’t pan out.

    I really enjoyed your post.

    1. It seems like it’s more ok to express negative emotion strongly than it is positive emotion. I think of how it’s more ok to be “outraged” about things, but not ok to be “passionate” about things. More so, it’s like we’re taught to be even keel.

      I find it hard to express emotion strongly. This goes for negative and positive emotions. I mean you don’t want to be a drain and you don’t want to be a braggart. Just where is that line? I think after reading this article and these posts, I’m going to push the envelope, just a bit, when I share a positive experience, and see how it goes over with the crowd.

  34. Yep, I’m the exact same way, and so is my brother. We rarely speak about any of our accomplishments, talents, qualities, etc. as if we were ashamed of them. Also, I have a hard time accepting compliments from others.
    Just a thought: isn’t there an underlying narcissism in trying not to appear/act narcissistic? Like a kind of hidden or inverted narcissism?
    As in the case of someone who is obsessed with material belongings and, in order to detach himself, pursues a very austere, spartan lifestyle. The two extremes are in fact two sides of the same coin. Even though it may appear so on the outside, the person with the extreme spartan lifestyle hasn’t really freed himself from his materialistic obsession.
    In the same way, couldn’t we say that there is something in common between the overt narcissist and the person who goes to great lenghts in order not to appear narcissistic?
    Ok, don’t know where I’m going with this, just thinking out loud…

    Anyways, congrats on your success!

  35. I got to the end, and I read: “The fact that I’ve learned to observe, understand, and manage myself — the benefit of a lengthy analysis — is no small achievement, but it’s only second best. It’s not the same thing as having had a mother whose eyes teared up at the sound of “O Holy Night” and said, “I’ve always loved that one, too!”” and I burst into tears. Boy, did THAT hit home. And while I am extremely grateful that I, like you, realize how important it is to “amplify” OUR children’s joy, I feel so incredibly sad that you and I, apparently, will always only have “second best.”

  36. Hi j, I really believe your recent successes are well earned, both by the quality or your work, and through the many years you’ve honed your craft and toiled! to reach a larger audience. I also think that actually practicing showing/displaying your pleasure and excitement at these positive developments, in your voice and smiles/body language, etc will not only make it easier and easier to do better and better, as well as give the reader and listener the signals necessary for them to respond in kind, when folks are genuinely interested in/connected with you. bd

  37. Congrats to you, and to your son, though I hope it is an INTERNSHIP he is getting and not an INTERNMENT …. Though from what I have heard about some internships, being buried is not that far off..
    However, I read your post just after coming from an environment ( not writing, but physical fitness) where I experience tremendous envy at other’s accomplishments,
    and I partially attribute my failures to my mental illness ( depression).
    So I was disappointed in your response to Margo. Today I relate more to her than you.
    Years of failure can cause bitterness, which I struggle with every day. She was unkind, yes, but
    I certainly share her envy.

  38. First, congrats on all your success! I’ve been following the blog for a couple years now and I gain a lot of insight from reading it. This installment was quite interesting to me since your story began with the telling interpersonal interactions with your intimate friends and colleagues in face to face interactions and how you felt about sharing your good news and joy with them and then it continues with the reader comments and your responses to some of those comments. Sort of like a picture of the picture within a picture The re-telling or continuation of the story online in an electronic format is interesting to me in that today’s social media often sees people sharing only good news with people such as on Facebook or Twitter; the” humble brag”is a term a friend of mine uses to describe the endless photos and posts people may share on social media of their lives continually looking good on the outside with snapshots of their status accomplishments. There has been much written about this and the “narcissism” of people communicating through social media, broadcasting to a community of their making. Your sharing on the blog in this installment and others breaks through that veneer of “looking good on the outside” and you share with us your vulnerabilities while also sharing your successes in the online format. I wish you much continued success, especially when you share in person with your friends, family and co-workers about your accomplishments and triumphs and you feel the joy of it, for this in-person sharing and receiving both the vulnerable and otherwise is where true intimacy is built I believe.

    1. This makes me very happy. One of my main goals on this blog is to NOT to make it all appear so good on the outside but also to describe the ongoing pain and struggles. Thanks!

  39. Not a single word you wrote sounds narcissistic to me. (Perhaps I’m blind to narcissism, including my own?) If you’d just started writing yesterday and expected success, fame and fortune in a year or so, that would seem unreasonable. But you’ve been writing for several years, and in some way working towards this goal for decades. What was all that work for if you don’t *enjoy* your success? Your readers are happy for you! And we’re also very happy that more material will be coming out 🙂

    I really appreciate sharing the memory about your mother. I’ve struggled with similar experiences too, and I’m trying to understand why my parents didn’t encourage or share my joy in my activities when I was a child. Perhaps they were bitter and dissatisfied with what they had achieved. They said often that they didn’t fulfill their aspirations in life, and they still say that sometimes. So maybe they were trying to warn me not to dream too big, lest I be disappointed. I’m glad I didn’t listen and that I have friends and a family of my own now who share my joy in my little successes. Perhaps thinking that way is narcissistic, but I really can’t afford to worry about that… Life is short and good times are not here forever – so we should try to enjoy them as much as possible when they do come.

  40. Joseph,
    First, congratulations on all of your successes! For those of us who have been reading and following you for any amount of time, we know how hard you work and how long you have been cultivating your skills. This wonderful, wonderful news.

    Most of us here can relate to exactly what you are saying about fears of narcissism, fears of being shot down — the whole dysfunctional ball of wax. We do understand. Which makes your success in pushing through these thorny issues so much sweeter for us all. Keep going! We will, too.

    Yours in healing — and success!

  41. Hi Joe,
    It feels great to me to hear all the good that is coming your way. Life is a murky soup and we need to notice, devour/celebrate the sweet bits, if we wish to keep surviving. To live well might mean to fully embrace all our emotions but hey, feeling happy, proud, productive and valued and sharing that with us makes me feel connected to something poignantly human in you, even though I don’t know you at all except via a blog. E. M. Forster’ s quote ” above all connect” really resonated for me today in your writing. I was in a very dark place and I turned to your blog to get back on the rung of the ladder and climb out. Revealing your not so pleasant experiences and celebrating all that you have achieved and what it means to you personally is valuable to me. More than being joyfully exuberant, your post relates the importance of hope and perseverance in our lives. You completely lost me with the narcissist comparison. I felt no alienation from your triumphs at all rather inclusion.

    Well done and thanks again for your scary honesty.

  42. Not to diminish your other achievements, but I’m really excited by your opportunity to work with The Gray Lady! That means you’ve really arrived!

  43. The envious and snarky will always be with us, Joe. They are unhappy people, and you know that. As for narcissism you also know as well as I do that mentioning one’s achievements is not narcissism. (Indeed I would hazard that the envious and snarky are the narcissists, right?).

    I feel anger on your behalf, Joe, while reading about the O Holy Night episode when you were a child. It is a beautiful piece of music.
    I don’t know what to say.

    Many congratulations to you on your achievements and good wishes for many more of them.

    1. Thanks, Hermes. And I am so sorry it has taken me this along to approve your comment. I am woefully behind but I think I may actually get caught up today!

  44. Is it also fair to say that part of the reason you feel comfortable sharing your excitement with your friend E. is that you know for sure that she values what you value (with regard to writing), and so there is no risk of experiencing shame when you bring your feelings of excitement to her? I’m not sure if “afraid of being narcissistic” is the most accurate way to describe the impact of having a narcissistic mother. My guess is that that phrasing is what led to some of the hostile comments. Is it not more accurate to say you are afraid of being needy (of validation)?

  45. It seems to me as if you are almost embarrassed by your success or shying away from it. You have worked incredibly hard for what you have and are finally starting to see the fruits of your labors come alive. Feeling proud of your accomplishments or feeling happy about them is not wrong as long as you do not go towards excess. The problem (as you know) is that some people will never be happy about your successes or will see any thing you accomplish as a threat to their own path in life. To be honest, I think someone who is too closemouthed or appears to be “too modest” about their achievements is as bad as someone who brags too often and too much about their life – i.e. I believe moderation is a sign of healthy mind and ego versus one who exhibits too much or too little. Congrats! 🙂

  46. Is it possible that some of the fear of enthusiastically sharing your achievements comes from not wanting to have someone shoot down your enthusiasm? You mentioned to me once that shame is the emotion of being interrupted and reprimanded in the middle of a pleasurable experience (or something along those lines). Your positive emotions of pride and expectations of affection in singing O Holy Night to your mother were dashed by her bluntly responding “Nice.” After that sort of experience, being cautious about how you share future accomplishments feels less about “not wanting to be seen as narcissistic” (which sounds like a rationalization to me) and more about emotionally protecting yourself from the disappointment of not having your audience match the enthusiasm with which you share. And then, since your half-hearted sharing isn’t met with enthusiasm (big shock there), your sense that others won’t share in your enthusiasm is reinforced.

    I know because I do this myself.

  47. First off I’d like to say congratulations. “I think many people of my generation had similar experiences with their parents. Pride goeth before a fall.” I did. I had a whole family like this including my older sisters. They missed no opportunity to put you in your place much like the example you gave of your mother as shooting you down. Sadly, I experienced many people the same way, especially women who expressed themselves much like Margo–all to eager to leave an insensitive and thoughtless comment.

    I was much like your friend, Sherry to others– at least I have one male friend who would describe me that way as “frank in a loving way”. The relationships with women fell apart because they were too much like Margo. It is exactly how my sisters behaved and eventually my MIL and SIL.

    I wound up being as you describe afraid to share anything–only unhappy news because I felt so wounded by their hostility and mean-spirited behaviors which they NEVER OWN. Everything was always about them anyway. I knew full well that those people and those that I would call their enablers would merely unjustly label you as a braggart. The same types of people though expect you to be generous towards them when something good happens to them and they will make a huge deal about it.
    I used to be in a few writer’s group, but I never experienced the type of generosity that you’ve described–more Margo types. I’ve learned that it isn’t/wasn’t emotionally safe to share any feelings of joy or happiness because of those types of people. They will always place a negative spin on joy unless of course they have kids and then they seem to feel that I should stroke their ego’s and fawn all over their kids. I have the same fear that you do of being envied.

    “You’re not supposed to feel too good about yourself or something bad will happen to you.”

    I’ve learned exactly that, but the “bad something” that happens are people. I can count on them to be total jerks. I always said that I never wanted to be like those people–who and what they are, so I became more generous and frank, but I also made myself more vulnerable. What I learned is few people appreciated that quality, so I’ve become even more discerning. However continual exposure to people like that–the unhappy Margo types–has worn me down emotionally and especially any feelings that I may have had of compassion and generosity. I no longer feel much like giving to anyone and certainly only to those people who demonstrate reciprocity. Even though I know that it is their problem it’s taken a huge toll on me emotionally and I no longer feel like giving of myself as I felt so starved emotionally.

    I, like you, have only one person who I feel that I can be candid and enthusiastic with, but I rarely am given my constant exposure to people like Margo and people like have been numerous.

    One of your other commenters made this remark, “which is not mentioning the whole “worry about what other people think” context which is like asking a beautiful woman to hide her face lest she make her neighbours jealous.”

    It’s what I’ve done, but in my family and in-laws we became estranged. I recall sitting in my first therapist’s office telling her all of the malicious comments that usually came out of the mouths of women. Men on the other hand made and behaved in extremely inappropriate sexual ways. There was no shortage of people who want to tell you how ugly you are–much like the negative comments that people will make about celebrities.

    They sound petty, small and envious, but if you’ve come from a family where you’ve experienced much the same then it is a lot of hard work to overcome. Those same types of people will be braggarts about themselves though and will also chase you down talking about themselves seeking you to hold up a mirror and make appreciative noises at them.

    I’ve become discerning and don’t make myself vulnerable to people. I’ve found too few people who merit such openness or sensitivity. I don’t trust people and I’ve become extremely disappointed in most as I find their behaviors predictable. I react more like the person who stated, “I feel like they’re setting themselves up for a humiliating public rejection.”

    I tend to agree because what I’ve learned so well from knowing and experiencing people like Margo–the type of people that her comment represents–is that when you share something important about yourself (you make yourself vulnerable) then you open yourself up to attack.

    I don’t feel that expressing joy is the same thing as being a braggart, but those people tend to interpret it that way. Any Dr. Joe congratulations and thank you so much for what you do and your blog.

    1. Thank you, Karen — and I apologize for taking so long to approve this comment. I neglected the blog for a bit while working on the book, but now that I’m finished with my first draft, I’m trying to get caught up. I’m glad (and sorry, too) that you understand so clearly what I’m talking about.

  48. Hello Margo, no Dr. Joe is not full of himself, he is a professional who sees and tells things like they are which he should be proud of because very few do so. Common sense is not so common in most people but Dr. Joe has things figured very accurately.

  49. Dude, can I give you a piece of advice my mother shared with me when I was a kid? “It’s not bragging if it’s true.” You may as well own your successes. Otherwise, this apparently reluctant acceptance of them can come off as a humblebrag.

  50. Hi Joe,
    This is my first comment post on the Internet!
    Your dream of a book tour in Australia is well worth pursuing. It is a beautiful place to live and at present Melbourne is awash in a stunning sea of autumnal colour and brilliant blue skies.
    I resonated with your post and admired your ability to be so generous with your honest experiences of grandiosity, narcissism and envy.
    Your therapeutic work has enhanced your capacity for insightful reflection – this doesn’t sound very “second best” to me. However, I do wonder if therapists who have developed their reflective capacities are even more sensitive, as their “shame antennae” has been so acutely developed.
    When I read this post what came up for me was the normal need we all have to avoid excruciating exposure. I see this as shame getting activated. We put out an achievement, longing for positive feedback but fear we won’t get back the responsiveness we need. Quickly we close it down again. For me shame is the feeling that short circuits me blurting out for too long. This can play out unconsciously almost as soon as I start to get “too big”. I understand that shame is the emotion that is supposed to assist us to conform. Yet I often think if envy is present, it is a defence against feeling inadequate, we hit out at the other, rather than feel our humiliation inside.
    I’ve never thought about it in this way before, but I also wondered about it being a kind of re-living of the relationship to the narcissistic parent who will strike you down with their mis-attuned response or envy? So if this were true, those of us with narcissistic parents would be more easily and acutely shamed. Is this “second best” feeling, when the shame becomes maladaptive for us? Not sure, but I could certainly relate to deflecting the attention away from the self for fear one would get the wrong sort of attention back!

  51. Hi Joe,
    This is my first comment post on the Internet!
    Your dream of a book tour in Australia is well worth pursuing. It is a beautiful place to live and at present Melbourne is awash in a stunning sea of autumnal colour and brilliant blue skies.
    I resonated with your post and admired your ability to be so generous with your honest experiences of grandiosity, narcissism and envy.
    Your therapeutic work has enhanced your capacity for insightful reflection – this doesn’t sound very “second best” to me. However, I do wonder if therapists who have developed their reflective capacities are even more sensitive, as their “shame antennae” has been so acutely developed.
    When I read this post what came up for me was the normal need we all have to avoid excruciating exposure. I see this as shame getting activated. We put out an achievement, longing for positive feedback but fear we won’t get back the responsiveness we need. Quickly we close it down again. For me shame is the feeling that short circuits me blurting out for too long. This can play out unconsciously almost as soon as I start to get “too big”. I understand that shame is the emotion that is supposed to assist us to conform. Yet I often think if envy is present, it is a defence against feeling inadequate, we hit out at the other, rather than feel our humiliation inside.
    I’ve never thought about it in this way before, but I also wondered about it being a kind of re-living of the relationship to the narcissistic parent who will strike you down with their mis-attuned response or envy? So if this were true, those of us with narcissistic parents would be more easily and acutely shamed. Is this “second best” feeling, when the shame becomes maladaptive for us? Not sure, but I could certainly relate to deflecting the attention away from the self for fear one would get the wrong sort of attention back!

    1. At last I’m getting around to responding! So sorry for the long delay.

      Shame, according to affect theory, is what you experience when a positive affect is interrupted or cut short. The kind of envy you describe (parental mis-attunement) would definitely produce shame. I wrote an earlier post about the relationship between shame and envy that might interest you:

      And I agree that most of us fear excruciating over-exposure and we’re afraid of impending shame. I know that I am.

  52. Congratulations, you obviously deserve your success because of your insight and compassion that is probably helping a lot of people, and will now go on to help a lot more. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.
    As for curbing your enthusiasm when talking to people about your success, I kind of think that’s a commendable thing in that you’re sensitive to the chance of your success making them feel inadequate. Not just that you’re scared of their envy. You could be less restrained perhaps when you share your successes, but I still like your way of doing it! But then I’m English, and we’d generally cut a limb off before blowing our own trumpets…

    1. That’s a nice way of thinking about it, and I think it’s also true. That’s why it’s nice to have the rare friend whose feelings I don’t have to spare because (thinking of one in particular) she’s as successful and satisfied in her writing as I am.

  53. Hi Joe, as a person who has been emotionally stripped of my self esteem I have worked hard on myself to find that happy place and be happy with who I am. As a person with a new outlook on life I extend my happiness to you. Envy plays no part in my psychi only happiness for someone that has worked so hard to be so successful in tbeir own right. Thanks for sharing.

  54. I think the underlying problem is that society doesn’t find it ok to express joy. The underlying message from childhood is “stifle yourself”. True, we don’t want to come across as braggarts. But why? Because joy is too scary for most to express or hear. So we reject it as bragging.

    But why is joy not ok? Why are only children allowed to express it (whilst getting the “stifle yourself” message once it’s more than a little)? I think it’s fear that if one expresses joy, tragedy will show up to take its place.

    1. I think I agree. Joy is not terribly acceptable, even for children who, as you say, are continually told to “settle” down. Some down-regulation of joy is necessary, but how much?

      1. I’m wondering what life would be like if real joy was not stifled, except perhaps only if it’s not an appropriate time or place – like shouting with joy about a job promotion when a baby is sleeping or at a funeral. Hmm, maybe I’m onto something. Maybe it’s simply that we feel like it’s rarely an appropriate time and place. I don’t know. I think there’s more to it.

  55. Aside from being uncomfortable tooting my own horn, I am even more uncomfortable when another brags about my achievements to others, small or large. Is it because they’re stealing my thunder? Is it because I am put on stage? In an odd sort of way, it feels shaming, even though it’s about something positive.

    As a hypothetical example, what’s going on when Susie says, “Guess what everyone, Mary just got a new CONVERTIBLE. She got a HUGE promotion at work and bought this new convertible. It’s parked outside. You’ve gotta see it” (Consider that Mary didn’t specifically try to tell Susie about the car. Susie happened to see Mary with the car the other day and asked her when she got it. Mary, being the “humble” person she is, justifyingly told Susie that she got a good promotion at work and finally decided to buy this car and that she’s wanted for years.) Everyone does a toast to Mary’s success.

    Is it envy? Why does it feel like shame?

    1. I’m not sure about Susie’s motivation there, but for some of us, almost any attention that gets directed our way can stir up shame. We want to remain invisible so no one can see our “defects” — that could be why it feels like shame.

  56. I was thinking about this subject a little more and it triggered a recent memory of a reaction/comment made by my mother during a visit. I hadn’t shared with her that I remodeled the kitchen in my old home. I never told her because I didn’t want it to be all about her–her negativity or criticisms. I also didn’t want her to gossip to my sisters and spark their criticisms. She stopped in the kitchen and noticed right away and stated that she liked it. She sat looking at it for awhile and then she sucker punched me with a comment. She said, “And you did it all by yourself and did a good job, SURPRISE,” and then smiled after she said it. She did it for a reaction, but I didn’t react or give her one. It was supposed to elicit a why would you be surprised response, so that she could smile and say, “Oh never mind”. She didn’t want me to feel good about the remodel. She kept up the same kind of behavior during the entire visit–pushing my buttons to see if she could get me to react–usually this was directed at my looks. She’s always tried to infantalize me in some way.

    At the time the therapist that I was seeing was not helpful. She just didn’t seem able to help me to deal and cope with my mother and her obvious need to belittle, demean and berate her daughter. She just seemed to have some need to hurt me and to find ways to try to undermine me in any way that she could. The therapist understood that I was hurt, but she seemed befuddled as to why my mother would choose to indulge in behaviors that clearly were alienating and created a ton of distance.

    My mother could have allowed herself to feel good that her daughter finally realized an opportunity to remodel.

    My husband also had some friend–I didn’t call him that given his behavior, but my husband tolerated this person when he shouldn’t have. This guy made some nice comments about the kitchen, but then he had to nitpick. He had to find one little thing to point out. This person is no longer in our life–not due to that specific incident, but many and he butted into our marriage and crossed a line. Apparently my husband told him to apologize and he never did and despite that my husband continued to see him. He tolerated this behavior as he is very conflict-avoidant and passive. Eventually after more ugly and inappropriate behavior I wrote the guy a letter delineating my feelings and stated that he was not welcome at my home and to never show up at my home uninvited ever again. I also stated that I would file a restraining order. The idiot actually wrote a Xmas card basically trying to suggest that I invite him over. Eventually he sent some card which may have been an apology, but I never read it and threw it in the trash as he crossed a line. People like that are not entitled to forgiveness.

  57. dear dr. Joe,
    First, I send my warmest congratulations to you on the well-deserved successes that are coming your way! You have every right to be delighted in seeing the fruits of your labor take off like this — I say exclamation points are warranted!!! Especially considering all the people you’ll be helping and healing as they read and learn from your books. Really, all your hard work and efforts are geared toward helping others. So you have every reason to celebrate!

    I am one of those people you are helping. I discovered your blog just a few weeks ago and already purchased your ‘Cinderella’ book on narcissism. I’m 50 years old, and only in this past year have I begun emerging from the “spell” cast on me as a child by my very Narcissistic mother, and seeing her through real, unblindfolded eyes. It is more than a little eerie to witness her maniacal manipulations and constant twisting of the truth. It FREAKS.ME.OUT.

    That said, along with the fact that I’m especially steeped in the effects of maternal narcissism at the moment (she visited here last weekend and I’m still recovering), I really and truly don’t see you as acting anywhere near narcissistic or grandiose, as you expressed in this post. Fantasizing about your book getting rave reviews and making the best-sellers list is not a far cry from reality! Now, if I fantasized such things, having never written a book … maybe that could classify as grandiose :-). But you know, I don’t really see it that way. I used to daydream all the time about being a famous singer … when in reality I couldn’t sing a note. But the reason for my dreams? … to win my mothers approval once and for all. ‘If I get famous, THEN my mom will be proud of me’, is how my thinking went.

    Just some food for thought. I am so glad I found your blog, and appreciate all you share here with such openness and raw honesty.
    My best to you, Mo

    1. Thank you, Mo. I related to what you said about recovering from your mother’s last visit. While she was alive, it used to take me days to “detoxify” (as I thought of it) from our encounters.

      1. Hi again Dr. Joe,
        I just discovered this reply from you, (8months later :-o). Thank you! You do an amazing job of responding to your many commenters. As i revisited this post and comments, a memory came to me, which might correspond to your feelings of discomfort in telling others about your successes. (on a smaller scale, but perhaps the same idea?)… In 6th grade, my teacher Mr. Lisjack would always read my creative writing assignment out loud to the entire class. I’m not sure if he did this to show the class a good example of the assignment, or simply because he liked my piece and wanted to share it. (My gut says it was the latter, because he always seemed excited to share it with everyone, and then he’d point out all the clever little elements in it. And every time he did thus, he always seemed so … happy; like a mixed bag of amusement, a tidbit of amazement, and something else — pride in his student, maybe? Or surprise?. ( now I’m feeling narcissistic going on with this :-o. ). Anyway, I cringed with discomfort and mortification every time mr. lisjack did this, which was at least once or twice a week. And he always said who wrote the piece. So one day I went up to his desk and asked him to please not read my stuff to the class any more. He gave me this look … It started out as surprise/confusion, then settled into a sideways glance with a little grin of understanding, mixed with what seemed to be a hint of sadness.
        The next day, Mr. Lisjack stood in the middle of the classroom holding a paper — just like he always did when he was about to read my writing piece. He said, “The person who wrote this told me not to read his/her work to the class. So, I won’t tell you who wrote this … and then he quickly added, “But you know who it is.” Everyone chuckled and looked at me. They were never envious of me, but i was afraid they might start resenting me; i didnt want it to seem like i was bragging or felt better than anyone else (even though I had nothing to do with what Mr. Lisjack chose to read). Mr. L shot me a quick smiling glance, and began to read.
        I was so happy.

          1. Hi Dr. Joe,
            Thank you for taking the time to read and reply. Your insights about not wanting to appear geeky and uncool make a lot of sense — but i remember this event so vividly (for some reason; i’m not sure why really), and I’m sure the geeky/uncool factor didnt even enter my mind. It was specifically my fear of getting rejected by my peers bc they’d think i was ‘conceited’ or that I’d get a big head, or something. Also, I think I was afraid my classmates might get mad at me, bc my teacher read my stuff to the class but not theirs … so I guess i also felt a little guilty? It’s kinda weird, now that i think of it …

      2. P.s. Sorry about that novel I just wrote :-(.
        I wanted to quickly address your need to “detoxify” after being with your mother… A few years ago I told my therapist that anytime i see my family, I get buried by overwhelming feelings of shame, failure, inferiority, inadequacy, incompetence and overall loser-ish-ness — to the point I believe fully that I am nothing but a worthless waste of a human being. (This is not an exaggeration; it’s actually worse but I can’t describe it). This dark despair and anguish lasts for a week or so after I see them. My therapist explained that my family is “toxic” to me, and being with them is no different than getting food poisoning, or being exposed to an allergen … It makes me to sick, with symptoms lasting up to week after ‘exposure’ — until my family is “out of my system”. I found that fascinating, and right on the money. So I love how you describe the ‘recovery’ phase as “detoxifying” — perfect!

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