Let’s consider how to get a grip on our narcissism. When we cut to the chase, problematic narcissism very much boils down to patterns of chronically mismanaged disappointment. From this perspective, practice managing our disappointment more effectively—and voila!—by definition, we can make big strides towards taming our narcissism.
Now this is no easy task if we’ve spent years, perhaps decades, habitually “acting out” our disappointment in aggressive, passive-aggressive, variously punitive ways. If so, it’ll take big motivation, big self-awareness, big self-honesty and a regular practice of daily mindfulness to successfully confront our patterns of mismanaged disappointment. And let’s be honest, few things in life are easier to mismanage than disappointment.
Incidentally, isn’t pretty much everything in life about management? Our demons, our insecurities, our anxieties and depression, our anger, fears, our vulnerability, our self-consciousness and self-doubt—doesn’t it make sense to focus on good, sound management of these inescapable vulnerabilities versus laboring futilely to evade them?
From this view it becomes unnecessary to fix anything at all about ourselves to be healthy, psychologically and emotionally. All that’s necessary is to manage more effectively all things that put us at risk of sabotaging our, and others’, welfare and fulfillment.
And so, returning to the question—we can become less narcissistic by recognizing that life is disappointing, that people are disappointing, that life and people will regularly frustrate us, let us down, leave us feeling underappreciated, misunderstood and invalidated.
We become less narcissistic when accepting that all this disappointment is inevitable and not to be protested. We become less narcissistic when we stop demanding from others, and life, protection and special exemptions from disappointment and frustration. Most importantly, we lessen our narcissism by confronting regularly, through ongoing, mindful awareness, our sense of entitlement to be accommodated at demanding, controlling, self-centered levels.
Now sometimes it may be necessary to confront those who’ve disappointed or hurt us. The idea isn’t to deny and/or suppress our self-expression. We can embrace occasions that call for honest, assertive expressions of our disappointment. But crucially, when we choose to express our disappointment, we make the commitment to do so non-aggressively, constructively.
I’ve already referenced the underlying attitudes that drive narcissism—namely, attitudes of entitlement. To lessen our narcissism nothing requires more proactive monitoring and ongoing self-confronting than our tendency to lapse into entitled attitudes. I’m alluding particularly to aforementioned attitudes of entitlement that delude us into the conviction that we somehow deserve (are entitled) to be regularly accommodated and spared disappointment, frustration and hurt.
To lessen our narcissism, then, we can remind ourselves daily and repeatedly, “I’m not entitled to be accommodated on a regular basis. I’m not entitled to be spared disappointment. I’ve been conditioned to think and react like I am, but I’m really, definitely not.”
We can recite mantras like, “Nothing entitles me—I am absolutely not entitled in any way, shape or form—to ongoing accommodation. I accept the unavoidable reality that life, and people, are often and regularly unaccommodating and disappointing. Therefore, so long as I want to be a mature, well-adjusted, less narcissistic personality, I must stop chronically resenting and punishing people for disappointing me.”
I can’t overstate how intrinsic our “entitled attitudes” are to our problematic expressions of narcissism. Our entitled attitudes, most importantly, poise and condition us to experience our disappointment with outrage. When we feel entitled to something, anything, owed it, and perceive that it’s being withheld from us, what’s the natural thing to feel? Outrage.
And from outrage it’s a dangerously quick leap to rage. (The word rage forms half the word “outrage” for a reason.)
And so, highly narcissistic individuals feel easily and often outraged. And they feel rage a lot, too. This makes them easily and often resentful. It makes them punishers—from their entitled mentality, punishers of those who had the audacity to disappoint them.
And so, lessening our narcissism requires that we look hard, seriously hard, at our tendency to experience disappointment with outrage. It requires that we understand that so long as, from entitlement, we experience our disappointment as outrageous, we’ll be inclined to rationalize punitive, rageful responses to it.
Reigning-in our narcissism means constantly reminding ourselves of these interconnections, e.g., “My sense of entitlement conditions me to feel I should be spared, exempt from, disappointment. Therefore, I experience disappointment as an outrage. This conditions me to deeply resent, often to feel furious with (and enraged at) those who disappoint me. My well-conditioned and well-rationalized rage then support my well-rationalized pattern of meting out punishment. In the end, I rationalize, ‘If you disappoint me, this entitles me to make you pay! And I will! You must not disappoint me! Or, I will make you pay!”
We can further and regularly recognize, “I must constantly surveil my tendency/capacity to act-out my attitudes of entitlement. Because they lead to interconnected paths of destructive responses to others, I must hyper-vigilantly track the presence and expression of my entitled attitudes, working very mindfully to curb them against the rip-tide of my conditioned rationalizations to normalize them. If I can make this a lifelong practice in which I take great pride, I can significantly lessen my narcissism.”
If we’re serious about lessening our narcissism, the perspective I’ve outlined above, if we can make a dedicated practice of applying it, can be a starting guide.