Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Narcissism

One of the things I like best about Buddhism is that it has shown me how to do something useful with my narcissism.

Practice shows us how to bend the arc of our narcissism, how to press it beyond the stifling scope of self-concern and into the open air of deep and persistent awareness.

I'd assumed my vanity was just a problem to be solved. But I didn't see how the misguided compassion that animates it could be repurposed.

Enlightenment is narcissism extended.

19 comments:

  1. I think that Buddhist practice can be and often is narcissistic. The idea of bending the flashlight of compassion 360 degrees such that it lights up oneself is a mistake, methinks.

    Studies show that if you include loving yourself in a project of loving others, your self-interest [ego] trumps true compassion and your project of opening your heart gets waylaid.

    Still, the idea of self love is hot on the Buddhism book charts. The idea [which sabotages ones Buddhist practice, IMHO] sells books and helps sell Tricycle magazine issues.

    Transcending Self-Interest is the 'project' we should be engaged in. But that seems hard and can be. And our ego denies that it has any payoff for us.

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    1. That's not true at all. Narcissism and Buddhism are complete opposites.

      A narcissist thinks "Me, me, me", while one of the main tenants of Buddhism is "Self is an illusion, do not cling to a 'self', do not think 'me, me, me'"

      Sure, there is a degree of "self love" in Buddhism, but it is not excessive. Narcissistic "self love" is excessive.

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    2. TheColaGoodfellow. I'm not sure if you are responding to the post or my comment. *I* agree with what you've written, absolutely.

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  2. I think I agree, Tom. Though I'm not interested here in using narcissism as a door into self-love (which, as you note, is fraught with peril) but as a door into mindfulness.

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  3. Buddhist Rap: Making fun of Buddhist narcissism -- great fun! I am sure you have seen it. Illustrates how narcissism can find us everywhere.

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  4. innacurate. self- empathy when it includes outward empathy is not narcissistic.
    you have misunderstood both budhism and the definition of narcissism.

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  5. innacurate. self love becomes self-less- empathy...it is not going one way or another- from inward to outward or vice versa.
    it is increased empathy/ compassion. quite the opposite of narcissism.
    you have misunderstood both the teachings of budhism and the definition of narcissism which is not self love- it is worship of one's own reflection/ ego at the expense of the real self and of the world around him/her.

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  6. My mother is a narcissistic. No, no good comes out of narcissists. If you want to fool yourself into believe that you can be a 'good' narcissists, be a 'good' vain person then you are truly twisted in your mind. I've lived 30+ years with a vain, narcissist mother and I can truly say I've seen evil. You love Buddhism because it's a religion that doesn't ask you to 'change'. It caters to your narcissism. If you were truly a good brave person you'd nip your vanity in the butt and live your life out of the mirror and focus on others. Instead of 'justifying' your selfishness in such a twisted way. The mind of a narcissist is truly sick as I can see from your blog.

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  7. Anon,

    I know where you are coming from as my first wife almost certainly would be diagnosed with narcissistic personality. She can be very difficult. The best strategy I have found is to have as little to do with her as possible (I would avoid her completely if we didn't have a son together) ;to disengage emotionally from her and all dealings with her; and to calmly stick to my guns on important and winnable issues; to not be provoked into arguments despite nasty, undermining comments and behaviour; to be well-informed and be strategically and emotionally clever. She will never change.

    On the other hand, I think you've misunderstood Adam. We're all narcissistic to an extent. It's normal and not necessarily harmful. Adam isn't saying that he has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Let alone that he is using Buddhism to avoid doing anything about it.

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  8. I think this is actually very insightful. It's good to think outside the established realm of psychological terms. To a certain extent, if it weren't for our ability to be self aware, there would be no Buddhism. Narcissistic tendencies exist in all of us. The author is not necessarily embracing this tendency but simply stating how awareness can be a way to transcend it rather than push it away.

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  9. I think this a very healthy debate. My Dad has narcissistic traits, and though he may not have full NPD, he may have a mild form. When he is at his worst he certainly seems to have NPD, but he can have other moments when he is genuinely self-less in his actions.

    In order to discuss narcissism we must discuss self awareness, because narcissistic actions stem from a mode of self awareness. In order to do this we must understand self-awareness. I find it helpful to be mindful of the difference between the true-self, and the myth of self identity. A narcissist’s mode of self awareness is locked in a mythological construction of who and what they are, something that is the product of introverted and extroverted constructions. Many people have a healthy and balanced construction, one that is pro-social. Narcissists have an anti-social construction of self. From this perspective, they function in the same way as pro-social, in the sense that both are locked in a false construction. The problem is that narcissists cause others to suffer for them, they feel no sense of self worth until somebody does.

    Many factors combine in the mythological constructions that come together to form the self-identity, and this self is a myth that has nothing in common with the true-self. It is actually a form of gap filler for the black whole of ignorance that we are born into, though if left unchecked, it also functions as a block to truth.

    It matters not whether one considers themselves a Buddhist or not, for this is simply part of the myth. The true self is available for all to find, given dedication to own self enquiry, with own self effort. This might be called an obsession with the self, however it is not narcissistic, for the seeker is obsessed with finding the truth of what they are, and this involves de-constructing and abandoning whatever myths they have conditioned their identity with.

    The narcissist on the other hand is obsessed with the myth of self, and will do whatever they need to do to ensure their internal perception of this myth is mirrored in the external reception of others around them. It leads to a kind of parasitic self involvement that is utterly unenlightened, simply because it completely obscures the true self, with the creation of a false self. The reason so many narcissists require themselves to aggressively defend the external view of themselves, through manipulation or other means, such as materialism, is simply that this myth of self is so fragile it could break at any time. When one is free from the myth, they are free from fragility, and founded in the true self. Enlightened, they have no need to exert their false self on others, for the false self is gone. It is an interesting point that the false self seams to be a means to an end, one that must be abandoned, and replaced by true-self knowledge.

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  10. Beyond the self-help level of engagement with the Buddhist path, you will find that the notion of "not-self" is pretty central. Attachment to "self-view" is in fact considered one of the biggest obstacles to awakening. The deeper the practice, the more this becomes apparent. You can be pretty sure that no "self" has ever become enlightened. If your practice is making you more self-absorbed, less engaged with the world, and generally more detached, these are warning bells that something is going wrong, even if you feel increased inner peace. If your practice is not leading to increasing kindness and compassion for others, talk to a teacher or more experienced practitioners about why and how you might be stuck. At its core Buddhism is, in many ways, about learning to get over yourself.

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    1. This is an excellent point. I know a Buddhist who is rather narcissistic and everything you stated here seems to be true for this person. He is so self-absorbed and seems to only think about himself. He would not dream of helping someone else if it gets in the way of his yoga class, Buddhist class, men's group meeting, etc. etc. He is also not engaged with the world and is very detached. He sometimes says things that are incredibly hurtful and somehow doesn't realize that what he said is hurtful. Thanks for this post. I find it helpful

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  11. I arrived here looking for a Buddhists take on a narcissist. I am not narcissistic but have to deal with a brother-in-law who is very narcissistic. I wish there was something I could do to get the family closer but his whole persona has caused conflict.

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  12. I'm incredibly narcissistic and have been living in a Buddhist community for the last five years. I've done nothing but talk about myself to others the whole time I was here and I finally got told to leave, because it 'was always all about me'.

    Now I feel sad and upset, because I will be living on my own, isolated and ostracised from the community I loved and who I feel I gave so much to. Worst of all is the feeling that I will be living with myself, who is a terrible bore, as I only ever talk about myself and it drives me fucking crazy.

    That's why I came to Buddhism in the first place. So Fuck Buddhism, and Fuck you.

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    1. lol, you're kidding, right?
      It seems to me, the issue is your narcissistic behavior, not Buddhism. It reminds me of a story of an old lady who got kicked out of her town, when members of her town asked her why she would get kicked out of her town, she responded by placing all the blame on everyone else but herself. The new town promptly kicked her out, believing that she would bring her troubles to her new town. The issue is you.

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  13. Lived with a narcissist for four years, she was absolutely the most selfish person I have ever known . I realize now just shocked everyone in her chant grout was that I had anything to do with her. This was a very destructive time in my life, but the lessons I learned about human behavior will serve me for better or worst the rest of my life.

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  14. I know 2 people that practice Western Buddhism. They are among the most narcissistic people I know. Just saying...

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