I had a very interesting and enlightening conversation with my sister last week and I have been thinking about it quite a bit ever since. We had a lengthy conversation about a number of things, but she commented on the fact that we (my family) all have our own form of narcissistic traits. I found that curious, mentioning that I didn't consider myself narcissistic because I tend to always put others first. She gave me a sideways grin and said the fact that I always had to fix things for other people, whether they ask me to or not, is my narcississtic trait; the fact that I regarded myself more capable to do so than anyone else. I had never thought of it that way before.
I've always been a caregiver by nature. I've spent my entire life feeling responsible for the well-being of others. I've always thought that love meant putting other people before yourself and taking care of their needs before your own. I spent a ridiculous amount of time worrying about other people and not nearly enough time focusing on my own life.
People have always told me that I make them feel loved. I've always had this ability to make people feel comfortable around me almost instantly. People open up to me pretty easily and I make them feel at home. I've always considered helping and taking care of people a gift of mine, but it has become an addiction of sorts over the years. I started to feel like the only way I could show people that I loved and cared for them was by sacrificing my own needs and wants to put theirs first.
And as I sat silently staring into my beer glass, I realized that my sister makes a good point. There's a part of me that enjoys swooping in and saving the day. There's a part of me that has always believed that one of my purposes in life is to help those around me. These are not necessarily bad things, but somewhere along the line it became a feeling of obligation; a responsibility for me to insert myself into others' lives. Over time, it has also turned into a self-destructive mindset.
New York psychologist Jeffrey Young has identified self-sacrifice as a psychological disorder that displays a pattern of compulsive overdoing, excessive empathy, and hidden issues with anger. He says that self-sacrificers trap themselves in a self-denying way of life by projecting their own issues and emotional deprivation onto others.
I constantly feel the weight of responsibility hanging over my head, obsessing how every choice of my own affects those around me. I constantly feel guilty putting myself first as though I don't have a right to. As I look back, I realize that I gave up on my own dreams to take care of others and became resentful of it, even though I was never asked to or expected to. At some point, my view of love changed, turning into a neverending chain of sacrifice.
My life over the course of the past six months or so has revolved around one focal point -- self reflection and insight. I find that the more self-aware I become, the happier I am. I am realizing things about myself that I never understood before. I am open to feedback from others and actually hearing what they have to say with an open heart and mind without taking offense to it. And all of it is helping me to understand who I am and who I am becoming.
I openly admit that I have a lot of vices. Most people do, but are afraid to confront them. I'm trying not to be afraid by working on mine and taking action with new behavior. One of the keys to overcoming narcissistics tendencies is by training yourself to take others' perspectives seriously. Sometimes it takes an outside voice to help us see or hear things we otherwise wouldn't notice.
It took my sister's comment for me to take a step back and recognize the reasons behind my own behavior, and from there, I can work on changing the behavior itself.