If we cured narcissism, I believe we would have a world that works for everyone. All the problems in our society from rape to murder, war, torture, greed, and economic oppression, bigotry, and all forms of discrimination stem from narcississm. I know this is a bold claim. Take a close look at society and you will find the disturbing truth that our modern world is overrun by narcissism. The key to breaking the spell of narcissism is understanding how it works and helping to bring love to all the feelings involved in this traumatic territory. When all the feelings are loved, the boundaries of the heart will be the guiding light to liberate us from this hellhole.
Understanding narcissism is one of the keys to unlocking the potential in humanity: narcissism has infiltrated our economics, politics, and many human relationships. You can find it equally from the boardroom to the bedroom. These tendencies toward self-centeredness and entitlement are on zoom calls and in personal interactions. When we awaken to this phenomenon, we realize that it has permeated nearly every aspect of modern society.
Understandings on a Spectrum
Many things exist on a spectrum or graduated continuum. Autism is one of the largest phenomena which illustrates the importance of understanding how certain phenomena exist on a graduated spectrum. With Autism, one side of the spectrum has people who communicate in such radically different ways that they are often unable to live independent lives due to profound disabilities. On the other side of the spectrum, we have fully functioning and creative individuals who can live independently and flourish. All autistic individuals need to be treated with respect no matter where they fall on the spectrum, just as with all people of whatever gender, race, persuasion, or distinction.
Autism and narcissism are completely different phenomena. The reason I mention Autism is to help illustrate the need for a spectrum approach to diagnosis and treatment.
The Spectrum of Narcissism
On one end of the narcissism spectrum, we have those who are severe enough to have a diagnosis from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Their life is haunted by this force and they alienate everyone who gets close to them. Often they don’t realize this, as the narcissist is convinced that the problem lies in other people and not themselves. In the middle of the narcissist spectrum, we have people who are extremely egoic and always take things personally, but are better able to maintain relationships. At the other end, we have people who are very empathic, yet they are prone to underestimate themselves and rarely, if ever, inflate their egos. Even on this side of the spectrum, there’s a narcissistic quality in the ego deflation. The voice of “What’s wrong with me that I’m not good enough” has a kind of self obsessed focus that is narcissistic. Ego deflation creates self absorption too. We often don’t see this kind of narcissism.
We Are All on the Narcissism Spectrum
When I began my exploration of narcissism, I was coming out of a cult with a leader who was, upon reflection, clearly a narcissist. I began with a very “us versus them” mentality, believing we were in a battle for the human soul against the evil forces of narcissism. I recently realized that the polarized way of looking at this was in itself a narcissistic perspective. The idea of us vs them was polarizing me or dividing me against my fellow human beings. I was taking a narcissistic approach to narcissism by condemning it. In other words, in condemning it I became it.
I’m now of the persuasion that we all are on the spectrum of narcissism. Just by virtue of having an ego, we all have self-absorbed tendencies and behaviors. We take positions and get completely identified in what we believe sometimes. If we want true wholeness, we can not condemn or judge these tendencies. We must learn to live with some ego identified tendencies and love them as part of us, just as we must learn to live with and love narcissists. I don’t mean that we have to put up with behaviors and treatment that feels wrong to us. However, we must learn to understand, allow, tolerate, and actually accept each other. Setting clear boundaries from the heart is the only appropriate action to take when you encounter any kind of narcissism.
The Mind is Narcissistic & the Heart is Empathic
The mind is inherently narcissistic. Left to its own devices, the mind tends to orbit around fears and self-absorption. When the mind is in service to the heart, body, or whole being, then it is in its right place. When the mind is serving itself, it fully displays its narcissistic tendencies. The heart naturally takes care of the whole body by pumping blood and carrying oxygen to every part. The heart first fills itself with oxygen to oxygenate the blood. It then circulates the oxygenated blood throughout the body. This act of service places the heart in empathy toward every other part of the body. It’s my understanding that the heart feels every part of the body in order to nourish each part and carry the right amount of blood. When we center in our hearts, we are empathic. When we center in our minds, we are narcissistic.
Malignant narcissists are pathological liars and manipulators. They often believe their lies as truth. These lies have devastating consequences on loved ones and those who are close to them. Narcissists are often incapable of true empathy and only treat others as objects in their environment to be used and discarded in order to fill their needs. Malignant narcissists often display sociopathy, characterized by lack of empathy and impulsive behavior. They account for some of the most gruesome human behaviors such as genocide, rape, and murder. All rape and most murder (that’s not in self-defense or war) is narcissistic. Most human cruelty is a result of malignant narcissism.
All narcissism has an element of evil since it is covering up the truth and integrity of the being. To me, evil is not necessarily bad, it’s just a state of inauthenticity or lack of integrity. When a narcissist engages in truly evil action, they attempt to use lies and power to gain an advantage over another. They will attempt to manipulate and corrupt the soul of the person out of the selfishness or self-interest.
Covert Versus Overt Narcissism
Overt Narcissism is much easier to spot. The person props themself above others continually and lives in a fairytale world about how great they are. The covert narcissist (or vulnerable narcissist) has learned to blend in with society and hide their narcissism. They’ve created a finely crafted false self to blend in. They do not appear to be grandiose, in fact they often appear deflated. The covert narcissists talk about their problems readily and can seem very open about their personal challenges.
Covert narcissists get stuck on certain issues. With covert narcissists they will constantly reference themselves and every issue filters back to them. There’s a slight feeling of coldness from covert narcissists. When you are in a love relationship with them, and they are getting what they need from you, they will not appear cold in any way. It’s not until their needs go unmet that their true colors will emerge.
When their needs are not met, they will immediately blame and lash out at you as the source of the problems. Their issues will seem logical and clear and draw on issues you actually have. And yet, the source of the issues will always relate back to them objectifying you in some way. And when they are done with you they will simply move on and drop you very easily and quickly.
Covert narcissists are often more functional than other overt narcissists. Covert or vulnerable narcissists do not appear inflated often. They can have empathy, and seem more normal than even the other narcissists. My experience with a covert narcissist was hidden so well from me that it wasn’t until after a year of not being with this person anymore that I fully realized the extent of the trauma I had experienced. These covert narcissists in many ways are the most dangerous to everyday people because they are even harder to spot. All narcissists hide behind illusions and lies. But covert narcissists do it even better. They are the true masters of deception.
The Violence of Narcissism
Narcissists penetrate the other with their reality in the service of their ego. They function very much like a penis attempting to rape a vagina or asshole. If that metaphor is too crude for you, we could also say it’s as if they are psychically molesting you with their energy. They only feel safe if their sense of reality, which is a lie, is dominating the environment. They can hold their ego in and pretend to go along with situations.
Egotism of all sorts plague our world. Loving the Ego is the way out of this. There’s no problem with having an ego. It’s necessary for humanity. It protects us and serves us. The ego is like the psychological skin. The skin defines the barrier between your body and other bodies. It defines the barrier between self and other. But the ego must know its place. The ego is not meant to be the arbiter of truth. The ego, left to its own devices, will become infested by the mind and run on fear. This everyday egotism leads to narcissistic tendencies.
At the core of narcissism is self hatred. Underneath this core is unfelt fear. If the narcissist is willing to face their fear, everything changes.
Spotting Narcism is not easy. Narcissists of all kinds are in constant hiding. Here’s the DSM’s list of criteria and then I’ll give you mine. Together, I believe they round out the picture. I find the DSM’s definition lacking accuracy in some of its features. At the same time, it is helpful and informative to understand how it is currently defined in the professional mental health community.
Characteristics of Narcissism (for a simplified version of the DSM language, here’s a good article.)
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
- Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or a grandiose logic of self-importance.
- A fixation with fantasies of infinite success, control, brilliance, beauty, or idyllic love.
20 Signs of Narcissism I’ve Experienced
- Constantly Lying. There’s always a level of a lie happening either to themselves or others.
- Always Self Referencing. They tend to link every topic back to self and what the self needs. They are not good at the win-win or sensing others’ needs. They can be extremely good at reading other people’s needs to appear to be good or right, but it’s got an insincerity embedded in the center of it.
- Weave a Web of Stories Around Them. They weave a web of stories that support their position and how they want to be received.
- Create Divides Between People. (usually unconsciously) and sees the divide as stemming from the other.
- Blaming Others. They will tend to blame others either overtly or subtly. They will have very good reasons for why they blame others.
- Holding Grudges. These may be obvious or subtle. Even when they admit their wrongdoing, they don’t completely let the issue go. Apologies will be insincere like there’s still something unresolved.
- Always Assuming. Everybody makes assumptions sometimes. The narcissist assumes everyone else is assuming what they’re assuming in a way that’s not coming from the other people. For example, someone who is insecure is reading their insecurities into the interaction and projecting them onto the other person, thus assuming what they are doing.
- Behaviors Coming from Fear, Anxiety, and Protection. They filter input from the world through the lens of anxiety, fear, and protection. Their behaviors take a defensive stance against life as they are constantly defending and protecting themselves.
- Excessively Mental. Constantly referencing thoughts in the mind and not slowing down or taking the time to feel more thoroughly into the body.
- Constantly Experiencing Underlying Stress. It takes an enormous amount of force and energy to resist being true to your being. But the narcissist has become so unconscious to this force that their body always bears the strain somewhere. We all have this tendency of somatizing our imbalance. It’s often more extreme in narcissism.
- Self-loathing. “Holding onto self-loathing with both hands” as Aaron Rivera says. Holding grudges and longstanding resentments. Sometimes this is overt. But sometimes it’s hidden behind false confidence (aka arrogance).
- Crazy Drama Making. “Say one thing, do another, then argue that’s not what you did.” (lyrics from “Straight Jacket,” a song by Alanis Morissett). The narcissist will spin drama around them, especially if anything gets close to exposing their pattern.
- Can’t Take Feedback. They will rebut, deny, or pretend to listen while never actually taking in feedback. They may show they are trying to learn, but they rarely if ever move off of their position or sincerely take in input from the outside.
- Uses DARVO. Deny Attack Reverse Victim Offender Relations. DARVO is the preferred weapon of most narcissists.
- Alienation and Isolation. Often they feel alone and don’t have an easy time forming friends. Even when they have friends, they don’t often feel close to them. And they don’t enjoy time alone.
- Excessive Body Discomfort. Uncomfortable in one’s skin. Carrying undue stress constantly that they are trying to avoid.
- Voice is Grating, Hollow, or Guarded. Their tone of voice is grating, hollow or guarded. It’s not pleasing energetically to a sensitive ear. The tone of voice is slightly thin and hollow (energetically) – even if they have theater training or other professional speaking, there’s something that just sounds and feels off to it. A non-narcissistic voice is open and honest. A narcissistic voice always has something veiled or hidden.
- Power-Over Relating. They tend to relate unconsciously from a power-over dynamic rather than power-with. They will intimidate, bully, and use leverage to get whatever they want. They will often use cold logic to get their way. Much of the legal system is set up to serve narcissists communication style – point and counterpoint, with no empathy.
- Boundary Crossings. Narcissists will often cross both directly stated boundaries, as well as implied boundaries. They are so focused on what they want, they don’t really perceive the other’s wants and needs.
- Attempting to Gain Believers. They gain believers who will enable them to be the way they are. The more people believe in their lies, the easier it is for them to feel justified in the life they are living. Each narcissist is like a mini cult. They surround themselves with people who empower their lies. The symptoms of this disconnection run very deep. Another way of saying this is that our society is plagued by disconnection and it sorely needs and craves connection. When each and every person has enough connection, empathy, and love, our society will become what it is meant to be.
There are four ways we abandon our experience: fight, flee, freeze and fawn. We fight when our experience is intolerable to us. This is the narcissistic tendency. We flee into activity or something that will distract us from our experience. We freeze into a dissociative state with substance or sleep or checking out. We fawn and go along with something that doesn’t feel good, as an attempt to fit in. This is the codependent strategy. We abandon our own pain and we turn to care for someone else. In both codependency and narcissism, we use the other. Fawning is not violent or evil. Fighting without provocation (when it’s uncalled for by the energetics of the situation) is violent and evil and leads us into narcissism.
The Antidote for Narcissism
The antidote for narcissism is simply to center yourself in your heart. When you center your energetic awareness in your heart, you no longer come from narcissistic tendencies. The heart wants what is best for all our relations. It is not biased and it does not discriminate against feelings or people. It simply loves. When you center in your heart, you will also feel and be more aware of attempts to manipulate and use power over you. The more we all can center in our hearts, and unconditionally love ourselves and each other, the better we can make a world that truly works for everyone.
A Hope For Healing
When love is restored to any trauma wound, the wound resolves. Innocence has been lost in these wounds. When love touches the wound and the healing happens, we reclaim our lost innocence. Goodness, joy, and power returns with the return of our true self. There’s a deeper sense of knowing, purpose, and being after we’ve healed these wounds. The gap has now been closed, the separation and division has ended. We return to a deeper state of wholeness and oneness with ourself and all that is.
Anyone who is impacted by these kinds of wounds, come gather around Heart-Centered Revolutions. We have the tools and perspectives to make a world that truly works for everyone.
If you need help getting free of narcissistic abuse, please reach out to Adam Bulbulia for coaching to support you.
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