I have been thinking about narcissism, although not really directly. I have just been thinking about how we interact with each other. People interacting with each other form a system. I imagine how you feel and think and I respond to that. You imagine how I feel and think and you respond to that. We respond to our imaginations of one another. This is felt. I imagine your feelings by briefly reconstructing them in my own body. I look at you feeling successful, for example, and I feel a little bit of your joy at success within myself. That’s empathy. Part of it, anyway.
I think narcissists don’t do this. There are many much more complex ways of explaining why narcissists behave the way they do, but this seems simpler to me. They feel their own feelings. They do not feel these little copies of other people’s. So if someone does well, they just feel inferior. They don’t feel someone else’s joy in success.
It means they respond essentially only to whatever consequences there are to themselves. If there are no consequences, they aren’t motivated to restrain their behaviour in the same way someone else might, because they don’t feel sad at someone else’s sadness. Not even briefly.
It leads to a lack of effort at learning how to get along and how to compromise. They restrain their impulses to avoid consequences to themselves, but that’s it.
One thing I have learned throughout the process of integration is basically the impulse to punish is tied to anger. When someone hurts us, we feel like punishing that person for it. The narcissist restrains this impulse when it seems there will be consequences to themselves.
Otherwise, they will hurt the other person however it seems easiest to do so. I feel like hurting myself when i am reminded of traumatic experiences.
I feel that way because I was imagining the perpetrator’s mental state. And that person wanted to hurt me. My impulse is a piece of that memory.
I was feeling particularly horrible today after school. I didn’t know why. I could point to a lot of ways I have fucked up in my life both recently and in the more distant future. I couldn’t really say it was about that. That’s been my attitude through healing. Okay, it seems to be this, but it might not be. It might be something else. Just an openmindedness to ideas.
I suddenly started to connect that up (a friend sad with me, virtually, while I did that–thanks). I did something or said something or appeared in some way that wasn’t exactly the way my parents wanted, and they responded to, “I don’t like that,” by punishing me. But also, there was no opposing feeling inside them caused by imagining my emotions. They might imagine themselves in my place, but not my feelings. So they didn’t look at me and think, “Okay, I don’t like bubble gum ice cream and when I imagine eating it, I get a kind of grossed-out feeling, but she sure is happy and her happiness makes me happy.” They just verbally and emotionally assaulted me for eating ice cream they didn’t like.
I don’t know how that huge gap in imagining others happened, but it somehow did.
The thing is my parents weren’t like me in so many ways, so nearly everything I did was not to their taste. I was met with disdain, contempt, and disgust nearly all the time for nearly everything.
It created in me a sense of being bad, defective, and wrong that was pervasive. I don’t really think they thought of me at all: I mean, if you asked them, “Do you think Ash is bad, defective and wrong?” I am not sure they would say yes. I have no idea what they would actually say. But their behaviour did communicate that viewpoint.
And i am not stupid and also not lacking the ability to empathize. I did imagine their feelings within me. I felt disgust, contempt and disdain for myself. Basically, because i am not broken. My mind works the way it is supposed to.
The hard part about this (aside from the obvious shittyness of it all) is that without other people to discuss this with and piece this together, it made no sense at all. Just these little fragments of crappy feelings–someone described having parts as being like bubbles of feelings. Yeah, like that. Because I didn’t know how they fit together or how to understand them.
The other thing about it is that my sense of how I appear to others is drawn largely from my parents. So I look at myself, and that kind of “observing ego” acts like a narcissist. It’s not exactly what it wants–I fell short at something, I don’t like something I did, I failed in some major or minor way–and I expect punishment to follow. I did have an attachment to them. I did learn to construct how they saw the world and can imagine their view even in their absence. And it’s totally miserable. I can only look at myself with the same disgust, contempt and disdain they felt for me.
I don’t think I can get rid of that necessarily. But I think I can step away from it. Seeing myself as defective, wrong and bad is one view. Other views are possible. A negative view of myself may not be the most important view or the one I want to linger on the longest.
There is a grief involved in this. It’s how my parents saw me. They will probably always see me like that. They aren’t ever going to like me. To put it another way, I will never have parents who like me or are proud of me or feel joy at my joy. I will never have parents who celebrate my successes or feel wonder at my uniqueness.
And that’s just how it is. The world is round, gravity makes things fall, and my parents don’t like me for the person I am.