Of all the feelings, love is perhaps the most complicated and the least likely to be summarized in a single article. Therefore, I’m not even going to try. What I will do, however, is show you the difference between true love and narcissism.
Finding the perfect guy, having a beautiful woman to show off to your friends: that’s narcissism. Making room for imperfection, that’s love.
Never having a fight, spending time with someone who agrees with you on every little thing, that’s narcissism. When you have a fight and are willing to set aside your opinion, that’s love.
Hearing sweet nothings in your ear, getting spoiled with flowers, candy, dramatic gestures, your favorite dinner, and being told what you’ve always wanted to hear, that’s narcissism. Doing the same for someone who doesn’t deserve it, that could be love. If you’re doing it so you’ll be noticed, then that’s narcissism, too. Doing it to keep someone dependent on you, that’s a collusion of narcissism in yourself with the narcissism of the other.
Do you see the pattern? As it has been said, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Narcissism is the opposite. Narcissism is all about you.
Narcissism is complicated. It’ll also take more than one article to explain. It’s a word you hear a lot these days, it’s a condition I bet you never thought would apply to you.
You should think of narcissism as a continuum. There are extreme cases, what we would call diagnosable narcissism. If you ever want to diagnose narcissism in someone, compare their behavior to a list of specific criteria. If you read that list, I’m certain it would remind you of someone you know. About one out of forty people have narcissism to this extent. Perhaps public figures like politicians, entertainers, and successful business-people are more likely to have it than others. Therefore, you probably know, or know of, many people with the condition.
However, you don’t have to have narcissism that bad for it to be present. A garden variety narcissism plays a part in everyone’s psychology. It’s a condition from which we all start. It should be assumed to be present unless seen otherwise.
It all started when you, as a child, saw yourself in a mirror, and thought to yourself, that’s me. It didn’t have to be an actual mirror. You could have seen yourself in your mother’s eyes, the way she brightened up when you came in the room, the way she watched you when you showed her what you learned, the way she always seemed to know when you need a hug. You thought you found love, and you did; her love. Your love hadn’t shown up, yet. And, if you think an adult relationship will be like the one you had with your mother, it won’t show up there, either.
Love was also there when your mother made you clean your room, take over the laundry, and learn to comfort yourself. If she didn’t, then she liked having a helpless doll around to make her look good. And that, my friend, is the collusion of narcissism I spoke of earlier.
See how tricky it is? Narcissism is like that. It wants all the attention, but it hates being recognized for what it is.
The key to understanding narcissism is in understanding that the object in the mirror wasn’t you. It was an image of you. The mirror’s image of you. Your mother’s image of you. You are more than the image. The totality of you cannot be captured in a mirror or even comprehended by a mother. You don’t even know all of you. You’re unfathomable.
That was the problem Narcissus had. Narcissus, the Greek demigod, did not fall in love with himself. He fell in love with an image of himself reflected in a pond. His error was not in loving himself, but in loving what was only his image. The narcissist is devoted to maintaining his image. He will do everything he can to keep it polished. Reality can go to hell, as far as a narcissist is concerned, so long as their image looks good and meets with approval. This is such a big project, there will be no consideration of anyone else. That’s not love.
Using another person to burnish your image, that’s narcissism. Letting the other see the real, authentic, imperfect, vulnerable you; that’s love.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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