Tag Archives: self-love

I AM A NARCISSIST

According to the Washington Post, a 40-question psychological survey used to determine whether an individual is a narcissist was recently replaced by a single question. I’m going to spoil it for you. The question is, “Are you a narcissist?”

“It’s pretty cool actually, because narcissists aren’t afraid to tell you they’re narcissistic,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University. “If you ask people whether they have casual sex or take drugs, they’re not likely to be honest with you. But narcissists just aren’t ashamed of their narcissism,” he said, “And they’ll tell you so.”

My first impulse was to think about myself, so I was off to a great start. I thought about my self-confidence, which is rapidly approaching excess. I remembered that I’m often criticized for arrogance and told that I’m hard to work with. I have high expectations and a sense of entitlement. I recognize, shamelessly, the excellence in what I do. I boast about my achievements and I love attention. Look at me! Look at me!

Am I a narcissist? Well, sure. And, true to the Brad Bushman’s assessment, I don’t see it as a problem, either. At least, I don’t see it as being any more of a problem than anyone else’s worst personality trait, though perhaps that is my own deluded rationalization, or I am using uncommonly lousy people as a basis for comparison.

I haven’t always been this way. For the first 20+ years of my life, I felt crippled by self-loathing. Even the slightest hint of negativity against my work or my character left me paralyzed, incapable of functioning. I felt worthless, like a burden, a waste of space. Also, during my sophomore and junior years in college, I was very depressed. I treated myself and other people horrendously. It was the rigorous demands of my professors which began to shake me out of that funk, an effort that endured through my chains of command in the Navy. They deliberately set me up for failure through unreasonable expectations and made me deal with it. I saw that falling short wasn’t a big deal – I looked around and no one besides me even cared that much – especially when I began to understand that these failures tended to be out of my control.  Messing up wasn’t the end of the world. I could be decent without being perfect. So I failed and embarrassed myself and bumbled along through my last years of college and then my first years of the military. It would seem like this might turn someone bitter and complacent, but, for a Type-A asshole like me, it made me persistent and resilient and, in time, proud.

It makes sense that, with the swinging of the pendulum, I’ve found myself on the other side of the self-esteem spectrum. I have faith that time, experience, and maturity will eventually slow me down to a respectable median of jaded adult complacency balanced out by nagging Catholic guilt.

But I think there are a few important ways in which I depart from the standard DSM definition of a narcissist. For one, I am very empathetic. I care deeply about the wellbeing and happiness of others, especially those close to me. I am thoughtful and find a lot of joy in making other people feel good about themselves, sometimes to the point of being annoying and overbearing. In that vein, I’m also a pretty positive person. I try to make complaints into jokes. I’m still terrified of being a burden to someone else, especially professionally, which I think is the source of my need to over-achieve. I learned some hard lessons in two decades of being way too critical of myself and others. Now I do my best to withhold judgement and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I want others to do the same for me, but it would be pretty naive to expect them to.

So whatever qualms you have with my personality – and most are totally valid and not at all lost on me – consider this: self-esteem is not a zero-sum game. I don’t take away from your own self-confidence by having confidence in myself. I see this a lot when someone compliments me and I agree with them. I get accused of being full of myself. First of all, thank you for being nice – really! It makes me happy, but I don’t need another person to be the arbiter of my self-worth, and if I don’t respond to a compliment in a way that meets your expectations, maybe you should take some time to think about your true motivation behind giving a compliment. Was it to make me feel good, or to make yourself feel good about making me feel good? Second, I think people assume that recognizing a positive trait in yourself is a comparative assessment. But it’s not! If I say that I look cute today, I’m not saying that I’m cuter than everyone else. You’re putting words in my mouth. My head is so far up my own ass that I’m not even thinking about anyone else’s cuteness. I can be cute and they can be cute at the same time. Great! But right now I’m talking about me, not them, so stop making it about someone else! Me me me!

Am I really hurting anyone by being such an insufferable narcissist? I don’t think so. It seems like most criticisms of my personality are actually reflections of other people’s own insecurities. There will always be those who hate me simply because I don’t hate myself. I can’t change what they think about me. I can only change how I think about myself, and for now, I’m doing more or less okay with being frustratingly, obnoxiously confident.

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THREE FEARS

I used to have the world’s worst self-esteem. No matter what I did or said, there was that mocking, derisive voice in the back of my head telling me that I was pathetic, I was a burden, and why did I even bother to try? I was obsessed with perfection and I hated myself for each slip-up. Now, when I open up and express my insecurities, people seem surprised. I’ve become so much stronger and more confident. But it happened very slowly. Over the past few years, my life experiences have allowed me to overcome three essential fears – ones that I think everyone deals with, to different extents.

FEAR OF BEING UNATTRACTIVE

I cut off all my hair a little over a year ago. I did it because I thought it would look fierce and it would make my daily routine easier (and I was right on both counts). I’ll be honest, though: when I saw my hair being hacked off, I was struck with terror. What if I look horrible? What will people say about me? Will they make assumptions about my sexuality? Luckily, once you start lopping off inches of hair, there’s no going back, otherwise I would have stopped my stylist right there.

Women in particular are taught from a very young age to amount their self-worth to their beauty. I see a lot of girls, especially ones who are new to the Navy, relishing the attention they get from guys. They love being desired and feeling attractive, and, actually, there’s nothing wrong with that. Once you let it dictate your self-worth and your behavior, however, is when things get tricky. What if I had stuck with my long hair just because some guys didn’t think I was cute anymore? What if I had continued to have a bun constantly affixed to the back of my head just to fulfill some parochial understanding of what a girl should look like?

Cutting my hair taught me three things:

  1. My opinion of how good I look is the most accurate and useful.
  2. Sometimes I do things for myself without any regard for what others think.
  3. I have qualities that are vastly more interesting than traditional beauty.

The last point was especially freeing. There is so much more to you than even your worst insecurity. You can have three arms and still have a razor-sharp wit that leaves everyone reeling. You can have birthmarks or scarring and still create art, music, or writing. No matter what you look like, you’re always going to be someone’s favorite person, and I think that is worth a lot more than being physically appealing to many people who, in turn, only see you as the sum of your attractive features.

It’s okay to be attractive. It’s also okay to be unattractive. But, if you’re very concerned with your attractiveness to others, please also concern yourself with your other wonderful qualities as well. I think a well-rounded, interesting person is the most attractive of all.

FEAR OF BEING UNLIKEABLE

I was never important enough for anyone to waste their time disliking me. Growing up, I usually kept to myself and was friendly even to those I didn’t care for. People might have thought I was weird or boring, but those struck me as pretty neutral assessments. It wasn’t until I joined that Navy that people began to dislike me for no reason.

This has happened a few times: someone will confide in me, “So-and-so says you’re a bitch.” And, each time, I’ve had to ask, “Who is so-and-so again?”

I wasn’t being petty or dismissive; I hadn’t interacted with these people enough to remember who they are, never mind to make any judgments about their character. That they had already formed negative opinions about me was a new and alarming experience. My first reaction was to be as pleasant as possible at all times to all people. But that was very exhausting and, sorry to say, dishonest. I experimented with different temperaments, sometimes deliberately and sometimes due to other circumstances, and found that people continued to say mean things about me no matter what I did or how I acted. So I gave up. Now I just act like myself.

Here’s an example: I stopped smiling for no reason. Being warm and ebullient makes someone instantly charming and likeable, but it never felt authentic to me. I felt like I was tricking people into liking me. I don’t consider myself cold or mean – not in general – but I’m definitely reserved and introverted, and trying to pretend otherwise was very difficult for me. It is so much more relaxing for me to maintain a neutral or “serious” expression on my face than to be cheerful and pleasant. It might make others a little less comfortable around me or more reluctant to interact with me, but the peace that I feel when I’m not putting on an act is worth it. I’m not often bubbly, but I’m almost always happy, precisely because I’m being true to myself.

There is a distinction I want to make, though. There is a huge difference between, “I’m going to do what I want and if people don’t like it, it’s not my problem,” and, “I’m going to do what is authentic to me because I recognize that I can’t be liked by everyone all the time.” The first attitude rejects any personal responsibility for the effect your words and deeds have on others, which is immature. The second attitude, I think, allows space to accept social consequences without affecting your self-esteem.

FEAR OF FAILURE

The Navy made this one very easy. I fail every day, in big and small ways. I say the wrong thing and get in trouble. I try to perform my job independently and get corrected, publicly, and have an example made of me. I put a lot of time and effort into a project only to be told that it’s garbage. Three years ago, the slightest expression of displeasure would have left me paralyzed and unable to function. Now I’ve been yelled at so many times that it doesn’t affect me anymore.

The only way to get better at accepting failure is to keep failing. I think this is inevitable as life goes on. What once terrified me is now a source of amusement; instead of hiding my shortcomings due to embarrassment, I openly share them with others in a way that I hope is both amusing and instructive. Talking about how I messed up usually makes it seem pretty trivial. And, usually, that’s because it is!

Getting over a fear of failure not only boosted my self-esteem, but it made me much more willing to pursue opportunities for which I don’t feel completely ready. The Navy loves trial under fire, and some of the best learning experiences I’ve had were from jumping in head-first, doing what I could, and hoping for the best. I’ve become more eager for new experiences and responsibilities, even if I don’t expect to be any good at them, and I’m often surprised by how well I end up doing. I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try. No one expects perfection, and trying my best is almost always good enough.

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WEIGHT LOSS

I used to be heavy. Not obese, but big. I was in my third year of college; I was “working out,” and by that I mean going on the elliptical once in a while and working up a sweat; I was eating and sleeping like garbage; I was also stressed and miserable and treating everyone around me poorly. Of all those things, I thought my weight was the one thing over which I had the most control. It’s been a roller coaster ride – a lot of ups and downs – since then, but overall I’ve dropped 30lbs and almost 15% body fat. I’m still a work in progress, but I’m happy with how far I’ve come!

Disclaimer: I’m not a nutritionist, coach, or doctor. I can’t tell you what to do and what not to do. I’m just someone who likes to eat healthy and lift some weights. But I see so many people in whom I see the person I was when I first got started – nervous, insecure, motivated, just in need of a little direction, guidance, and support – and I want to share my story with you in the hopes that you find it helpful in working toward your own goals. All I know is what I did and what worked for me. I think it’ll work for you, too, if you try (and try, and try, and try).

This is four years (!) of work, making mistakes, and learning. So, if you get anything at all out of this post at all, please be patient with yourself and look at things in a larger perspective. You didn’t gain the weight overnight, and you’re not going to lose it overnight, either. Nothing worthwhile happens immediately or without a struggle. A few positive decisions every day is what makes big changes in the long run!

four years

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