On Narcissism

“I've been arguing with my wife. My kids are flunking school. I hate my boss and my job. I got back problems, high blood pressure, and my dog has diabetes. Do you have a sliding scale?”

”Johnny is going through something. We don't know what's going on with him. He won't clean his room or do his homework. He's been getting angry and talking back. All he wants to do is play video games all day. I'd like to drop him off and have you take a look at him.”

Our American society probably has the highest expectations in human history. We really do expect to find deals, short cuts, or a pill to fix our marriages, our jobs, and our kids. We expect that we can get something for nothing and, thus, escape the work required to improve our situations. Weeks ago, while on the presidential campaign trail, GOP front runner Donald Trump was asked by a reporter who he consulted with on foreign policy matters. He said, "I talk to myself. I know a lot." 

From the client who desires a therapist fix all of their problems, for a reduced fee, to the parent who believes psychotherapy is like auto repair, or the politician who thinks he can govern the United States of America without input from others, narcissists see red when their expectations are not met, when they are handed a reality check that really does require payment.

Narcissism seduces therapists, too. It's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking one really does heal people. In one forty-five minute session, a therapist can think he is really going to say something that will alter the destiny of a client who has been sabotaging himself for years. It's easy to forget that psychotherapist collaborate, facilitate, and communicate, but they don't actually lay hands on and heal anyone. Years of training and experience can cause a therapist to overestimate how skilled he is, and underestimate the tenacity of a client's problem. For talk therapists, narcissism can lead to doing more work than the client, or it can make one personalize the client's progress (or lack thereof).

Narcissism is at the heart of wanting what we want, right now. Inflated by grandiosity the slightest difficulty can puncture our sense of who we are. We can get angry at the world for not complying with our expectations and become disillusioned with our partners, our kids, and our jobs.

When our narcissistic fantasies go unsatisfied we don’t just get disenchanted. Our unhappiness can trigger behavior straight out of a reality TV show: rudeness, defiance, anger, profanity, dishonesty, belligrence, whining, and aggression. "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" have nothing on us. Just look at the current election campaign.

There's no easy way out. No one is going to save us from our own self-centeredness. When life fails to bow to our expectations, we have to accept it without turning into jerks.  


What Goes Around Comes Around

I know it's a cliché, but one that's worth exploring when it comes to relationships. It's almost springtime and love is in the air. There is nothing like a new romantic relationship to get those endorphins firing. They evolved to provide a chemical hook to help us bond with a new love interest by making us feel good about them.

While intoxicated by love the feelings can make one feel alive, like life is worth living. Along with their upside, endorphins can also blind you from seeing aspects of your partner that would otherwise make you think twice about him or her. But while you’re under their spell, feeling invincible, you quickly paint all red flags green. While under the influence, one feels bulletproof. When the high wears off, one feels shot through.

It’s not like the signs are not there it’s just that endorphins are so powerful they can make it impossible for us to see what lies in plain sight and trigger us to rationalize and justify the most outrageous nonsense when we do see inconsistencies.

Take Martha, for example. She loves bad boys. Men with tough guy attitudes and behaviors. Bullies. She never considers that the behavior they direct toward others will come back on her at some point in the future, when she falls out of favor. Intoxicated by love she's rendered helpless. Or take Ted who finds nothing wrong with having dalliances with women who are in relationships with others--until his partner leaves him for someone else.

Back in the day, when I was dating, I had a “road rage rule.” Whenever I saw it, I would politely decline any future outings because if someone I was going out with was driving around threatening other people, I believed, and still do, that when they got upset with me, everything I had witnessed them do to others was headed my way. I can't witness wrongdoing, say nothing, and believe I'm not an accomplice.

I hate to be a buzz-kill, but karma comes up so often, both privately and professionally, I felt compelled to write something about it. Here's the rule: if you witness your significant other doing anything to someone else that you think is foul, don’t think you’re special, immune, or protected. Remember, what goes around comes around.


“Endings are beginnings.” I hear people say that sometimes in an effort to provide comfort. As helpful as they can try to be you still have to go through the discomfort of letting go and all the painful feelings that ensue.

One reason endings can be so unpleasant is that you may have never wanted the relationship to end. You may have even found yourself blindsided by a partner who, unbeknownst to you, decided to disconnect. 

Even when you decide to end a sick relationship, the pain can be unbearable. You may even toss a grenade into your relationship to create a diversion to avoid your feelings and to flee. You are not the first person to start an argument or blame your partner, in order to leave a failing relationship.  

Why? I'm suspicious that you may be ambivalent and not recognize it, or recognize it and not know how to deal with it. It's hard to admit, “I love you, but I'm leaving.” Anger developed to help us hide primary feelings like disappointment, shame, and guilt. Anger can be used as a means of image control, according to Dr. Raymond Novaco who posits that anger used in that way may serve to display strength and resolve rather than sadness and vulnerability. Anger and bitterness can disguise love, fear, and sadness. Anger is a fine intoxicant. Loss can be one of the most painful experiences of your life.  

Feelings, no matter how strong, will not kill you. In fact, as Nietzsche said, “if it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger.” The strength you gain from facing endings and the feelings they evoke can make future relationships more satisfying.  

There is a way out. By embracing your humanity, you can allow yourself to experience your feelings—the good, the bad, and the painful. In that way, you can not only survive the loss but also gain inner strength as a result. By adopting a humble approach, rather than dodging uncomfortable emotions, you can learn how to improve your connection to yourself and others.  

Relationships are not permanent. Your job is to love wholeheartedly. That's impossible to do if you are afraid or misdirected by your feelings.