I didn’t grow up in a hostile environment. Quite the opposite in fact. Loving family. Wonderful friends. And opportunities abounding. But living with a co-dependent as a mother, and a father who daily pronounced me “perfect” took an insidious toll. In the world’s defense, I was born with a predisposed low self-esteem. It was inevitable. I came out of the womb screaming and wailing for a mirror so I could fix my hair, but no one could understand me. Not to mention, I was COMPLETELY exposed. So, alas, I had no choice but to endure.
How Realizing My Narcissism Made Me A Better Person
And when enduring is your only option, when it seems the world holds all the power over your vulnerability, your brain creates quite an impressive defense.
I grew into a happy child, who esteemed what her father deemed perfection. By the age of 8, I’d oftentimes reflect on how I hardly ever got in trouble, never broke a bone, and most importantly, had NO allergies. “No bee stings” almost made that list, but unfortunately, that clean bill was tarnished only a week before.
I did alright in Elementary school, but I tried my hardest to fit in, smoosh myself in with the other kids so I’d go mostly unnoticed. And that worked for me. And then I got glasses in fourth grade and suddenly, I looked different than my peers. I remember sitting with my mom, reading the movie titles on the sides of VHS tapes a few yards away and not really being able to. “I think you might need glasses,” my mother told me. I cried myself to sleep that night.
My friends at school actually took a liking to my glasses, but I still hated them. I hated the spotlight, however small.
In 6th grade, I got contacts, THANK THE LORD. But middle school is middle school, and those three years of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade were probably the worst of my life. Not because they were particularly traumatic, but because that’s when I came face to face with the challenge and the struggle of fitting in. Because now, not only did I want to fit in, I wanted to be “cool.” So I bought the skater shoes, and wore the tight pants. But there were days my friends would warn me to “never come to school like that again.” In other words, the outfit my mom picked out for me that morning would now need to be trashed immediately. I loved my mom, so this idea hurt me. But the bright red, flower-printed pants had to go. I guess? That’s what people were telling me. It’s important to note, I liked those pants. But it didn’t matter. These were the moments I left my identity behind, and allowed the opinions of others to dictate who I was.
You might confuse narcissists with confidant, self-fulfilled people. But narcissists are exactly the opposite, and they come in varying forms and levels. There are those who are outright jerks. And there are others who suffer quietly, hating the word in silence. I am THAT narcissist.
My best girlfriends in high school were beautiful. I don’t know why I put myself through that; I was really just setting myself up for insane jealousy, but I digress. They got everything I wanted: attention, boys, and beauty. I was jealous, no doubt. But instead of trying to turn that jealousy into inspiration, I put them down in my head. “Well, she may be pretty, but she’s kind of stupid. If guys would just talk to me, they’d realize that.” Or “Yeah, she’s got a good smile, but you should smell her farts. They’re disgusting.” My father thought I was perfect, but Dad, I’d often think, these girls have more than me, and THEY’RE not perfect, right? That’s my job. But being perfect is impossible. And deep down, I knew that. So, in an effort to make sense of the world and my place in it, I desperately sought for any excuse to put down my friends, to convince myself they weren’t “perfect.” Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED my friends, but my ego hated them and all of their “perfection.” Of course, I never told them that. THAT would be rude.
And then, the summer before going off to college, I developed an anxiety disorder and plummeted even further into the pit of low self-esteem. I had moments of pure bliss my freshman year, finally being on my own. But I resented anyone better than me, while acting like a perfect sweetheart to their faces. Really, though, the thing about narcissists is… they really only hate themselves. And they expect the world to LOVE them for all the trouble its put them through. They cast themselves as the victim, and grow angry when they’re expectations aren’t met. Would you believe narcissism is a defense mechanism? ‘Cause it is.
These narcissistic qualifications have only grown stronger with age. I’m 23 now, and have just come to terms with my narcissism. But not because I ever denied it; I just didn’t know I fell into that category. Narcissists are mean, and hateful, and selfish, and greedy. I couldn’t be that person? Could I? Well, yes.
Fortunately, for me, as much as I hate my guilt complex, it keeps me in check, as does my compassion for people. I may tell myself that “she looks really horrible in that sweater, oh my lord, take it off” but I know that voicing it aloud would do nothing but hurt her feelings. And that’s wrong. I also have a strong desire for acceptance, and I know that insulting people left and right won’t get me anywhere in that regard. Call me selfish.
Here’s the thing: I believed my narcissistic ideas—that the world is out to get me, that my friends suck, that no one cares, and it really hurt my relationships—until I came to see those ideas as products of a narcissistic, defensive mind. A mind that’s tired of hurting itself by always putting others down. You may feel temporarily fulfilled in hating on that girl’s sweater, but it does NOTHING good for you. In fact, it’s a form of self-harm, and it can leave scars. The deeper you hurt yourself, the longer it will take to heal.
You may read this and realize you have narcissistic tendencies, but that does not make you a bad person. It makes you human. And that’s okay! You just need to heal. And stop aiming for “perfect.” I had a therapist tell me once that instead of bringing people down in my mind, so that I felt more on par with these people I envied, I needed to build myself up and use my jealousy as inspiration to build a fulfilling life for myself.
This is much easier said than done. It’s been the hardest, most challenging journey of my life. So here’s a few things I’m doing to cure myself of narcissism. I hope they help you like they’re helping me:
- Reading “Happiness” books (i.e. Eat, Pray, Love and Furiously Happy)
- Therapy sessions. Talking to someone who can help you understand yourself can always help! Do not be ashamed of wanting to heal.
- Accepting my emotions instead of demeaning them
- Going out of my way to make someone smile (i.e. buying a friend a gift, affirming their appearance, or asking simple questions like “How are you doing these days?”)
- Spending quality time with family
- Giving up on “perfection”
- Treating myself (i.e. FLOWERS!)
- Searching for new passions and volunteering at a shelter
- Recognizing when my ego is trying to take charge or defend itself and gently reminding it to stand down; everything is okay
While your ego is the culprit for insecurities, narcissism, and all those negative thoughts that tend to run through our minds at the most inopportune times, you have to forgive it. You have to treat it like the child it is—vulnerable, scared, and just in need of love. I truly believe the cure to many of life’s problems starts with each one of us. Love yourself, because you deserve to be loved. And don’t rely on others to love you perfectly—only you can do that.