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Let’s Talk Relationships: Could I be a narcissist?: Facing unpleasant discoveries about ourselves requires courage and self-honesty

Amy Newshore

For the Recorder

Published: 6/30/2023 2:37:15 PM
Modified: 6/30/2023 2:34:08 PM

This column is part three of a three-part series on narcissism. Click here and here to read the previous columns.

Are you wondering if you might be a narcissist?

To ask such a question, one must be able to self-reflect, with a sense of curiosity and a willingness to be honest with oneself. Sadly, those with narcissistic traits generally lack the ability to be introspective and do such self-inquiry. However, there are some people with narcissistic tendencies that find themselves at a point in their lives where their distress and pain related to their interactions with others (and perhaps in life in general) is just too great to ignore. The good news is that there is increased evidence that those suffering from narcissism (from mild to severe) can learn to manage it so that it no longer controls their lives.

Some individuals have publicly shared their experiences of coming to terms with their narcissism. Lee Hammock, a well-known TikTok creator and YouTuber, discribes himself as a “self-aware narcissist.” He became aware of his narcissism when his wife unexpectedly said to him one day, “It is so hard to live with a narcissist.” After characteristically blaming her for being the one who is the narcissist, he decided to look into what narcissism is and why she might have said that.

Hammock found that he matched commonly cited traits of narcissism such as constantly seeking attention, admiration and praise; having an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement; being unable to feel and offer empathy; and lacking respect for others’ boundaries, needs and feelings. He then sought help from a psychotherapist, who diagnosed him with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and he started his journey of self-discovery. He has shared on social media that, despite the difficulties of coming to terms with his narcissism and learning how to change his behaviors, he has been experiencing tremendous relief, hope and improvement in his marriage, and in his relationship with his children and others.

He came to understand that he was pushing people away with his overbearing self-centeredness, to the point where he was going to lose everything if he didn’t change. So, how did he start to change? He acknowledged that he consistently blamed others for his extreme reactions (such as excessive anger, jealousy, and impatience). Instead of feeling victimized in his relationships, he came to see that true personal power comes from taking responsibility for one’s own thoughts, feelings, and reactions.. Instead of trying to change everyone around him, he came to realize that he can make an effort to take control of his own reactions. If he blurts out hurtful words and raises his voice in anger, he is the one responsible for his anger and how he expresses it.

When others would offer constructive feedback, Hammock would often interpret this as an attack. For example, if his wife told him “I am not experiencing you as listening right now,” he’d feel unjustifiably criticized. He has since learned to respond to such feedback without experiencing it as a personal assault and making the other person “wrong” for their perceptions. He has learned that it is important to value other people’s thoughts, values, and feelings – even when they have to do with him.

Here are some tips for those with narcissistic traits or NPD:

■You did not ask to have narcissistic tendencies. Humans have to adapt to challenging situations like childhood abuse and neglect, and develop certain traits and behaviors to protect themselves.

■Hearing someone point out your narcissistic tendencies is an uncomfortable experience at best; however, it might be wise to listen and try to self-reflect. Even though living with narcissism can be challenging, being a narcissist does not have to define your identity.

■In your interactions with others, your reactions are often emotion-based, so take a few minutes to calm yourself in order to resist the impulse to speak or act out of raw emotion. Take some deep breaths, go for a walk, etc., before responding.

■Ask yourself, “Are my words and actions right now intended to show how great, unique, special, and superior I am?” Catching oneself doing these things can help you resist the impulse to prove your worth in these ways that can be off-putting for others.

■When you feel offended by someone’s comment, ask yourself “Is this person truly trying to hurt me? – or trying to help me?”

■Own up to your mistakes and apologize for them as soon as you can. These apologies must be genuine and without any defensiveness or explanation. For example: “I realize I was insensitive to your feelings just now, and you don’t deserve that. I’m sorry. If there’s anything else I can do to make this right, please let me know.”

■Everyone experiences pain. Be self-compassionate. Self-compassion is not the same as self-indulgence or exaggerated self-importance. Rather, it allows you to comfort yourself during vulnerable times, and to empathize with yourself for the struggles you face.

■Seek help from a therapist who specializes in narcissism. Therapy can provide the opportunity for self-discovery, greater authenticity, and learning to create healthier and genuinely loving relationships. Therapy is a safe place where you can be yourself without judgment, and explore your triggers, patterns, and goals for change.

Facing unpleasant discoveries about ourselves requires courage and self-honesty. Another self-aware narcissist, Sam Vatkin, states “Taking the first step in self-discovery could be the start of a life well-lived, no matter what our particular diagnosis, limitations, or past trauma has been.”

For those of you who may notice a voice inside, an inkling that narcissism might describe some of the ways you think and behave, I want to applaud you for being open and brave enough to listen. I am cheering you on to continue learning about narcissism, and if applicable, to make a solid commitment to free yourself from its grips and to achieve what all humans are destined to do: to be our true selves. It is undoubtedly hard to change ourselves, but it is definitely possible, one step at a time.

Amy Newshore is a couples therapist/coach who earned her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Antioch New England University and went on to train in the Developmental Model for Couples Therapy along with NonViolent Communication which serve as the foundation of her work as a Relationship Coach. For more information visit her website at www.coachingbyamy.com.


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