The narcissist’s focus and interpretation of the world tends to be based on their feelings. The more narcissistic a person is, the more they feel entitled to judge others and to discharge their feelings upon the world. We now understand that the world and its contents are simply products of nature and nurture, therefore judgment as to their inherent goodness or badness is entirely unwarranted.
Narcissists, however, are unable to get past their emotional needs in order to objectively perceive and treat the world. They interpret the world according to their feelings as well as their needs. Further, they tend to expect the world to cater to those needs in order to sustain them emotionally. At times of difficulty, they often malign certain objects and recommend punishment. This maligning may allow them to justify the discharge of their angry feelings upon the world and provide an illusion of their control over it.
We all produce love and hate according to our needs and associate one or the other with an object or person in the outer world. However, a narcissistic person doesn’t stop here. A narcissistic person will project these feelings of love or hate upon the environment and then use these projections to justify their behavior.
Put simply, narcissism interferes with personal integrity because it is characterized by a limited ability to get beyond one’s own emotional needs. A narcissistic default results in a compromised ability to perceive, understand, and deal effectively with reality.
Now, what comes next? Active Understanding and why it is important to understand.
Scientific observation is entirely non-judgmental. According to scientists, the world and its contents are products of nature and nurture and therefore cannot be judged. As we shall see, human beings too, are products of their nature and nurture, and are, therefore unable to be judged. In fact, true understanding precludes judgments of all things, including people.
From this we can conclude that all creatures are just what one would expect given what they are born with and the subsequent conditioning they received from their environment. This also means that human beings are neither “good” nor “bad”; they are just doing what any human being would do with the particular genetic inheritance with which they entered the world and the world’s subsequent effects on that over time.
However, so often we declare something or someone innately “good” or “bad” and when we do, we actually leave the external reality and enter a world of judgment entirely of our own creation. We become immersed in our feelings and leave the reality of the relationship. And our regression from reality doesn’t stop there. We come to believe that the other person is the cause of our unrest instead of our own internal conflict.
Love and hate are also our reactions to a neutral world. They are values of our own creation, like good and bad but more intense, which we project upon the environment. Yet, so often, love and hate determine how we treat this neutral world regardless of its presenting reality. Our love and hate for objects or people are determined by our emotional use of, or response to, these objects or people and are not determined by our understanding of them or of their way in the world.
It is important to recall that all objects and people are simply products of their nature and nurture and are not the cause of our unrest. Judging them has absolutely nothing to do with reality.
Next let’s discuss the fifth and final obstacle of Personal Integrity: Narcissism
There is an obvious thrust to grow in all living things. For example, even when a young plant is stepped upon and flattened, if it survives it will continue to seek the sun albeit with a kink in its stem. In humans there is a thrust to grow both physically and mentally. With respect to the latter, this thrust is both emotional and intellectual and is an ever present aspect of living. I like to call it in statu nascendi: our natural thrust to evolve.
This thrust to evolve is strong in personalities with integrity, perhaps because risking has been reinforced by their previous success in doing so. However, their thrust to evolve may be more subtle and less evident because they do not need to rely so much on another’s comfort level or, at least not as blatantly, as one with a personality that has not yet evolved does.
One example includes:
Let’s look at another example. “Mary” was a single forty-five-year-old government employee who lived alone. She experienced occasional bouts of psychosis which generally lasted only a few days and were not accompanied by much disorganization. She rarely missed work. She was an accomplished artist but had never dared to exhibit her paintings.
One day she found the nerve to hang one on her living room wall, reported that it was too self-aggrandizing, despite the fact that she lived alone and had had no recent visitors, and promptly regressed emotionally with a brief episode of craziness. As her therapist, all I could do was remain comfortable with her perceived self-aggrandizing audacity when she reported hanging her painting on her living room wall and, especially with her reporting that she did not back off and take the painting down.
In short, she risked exposing her essence as never before, reacted with a brief episode of madness, and quickly recovered without backing off . I feel that this was a period of emotional growth for her and hope that she will keep risking and growing.
Coming later we will look at the fourth obstacle: Nature & Nurture.
Frustration and anger are feelings we all have. This is a given. The crucial issue is how skillful we become at handling them. At its core, anger is a signal that our expectations of gratification of our wishes are out of sync with reality and in need of recalibration. Given this, anger offers a clue that there are aspects of reality that we have been unable to accept. Learning to understand anger helps us to develop personal integrity because whenever we begin to comprehend something in the world, we gain a better ability to cope with it and/or control it. Anger is no exception.
The most efficient way to reduce anger is to identify the source of frustration and re-calibrate expectations to agree with what reality will actually provide. This is accomplished by the following sequence:
- First, we need to become aware of our anger. Some people are very skillful at recognizing it and others are not. In general, people who are able to identify and accept their anger tend to have less of it and those less able to do so tend to have more.
- Second, once we are aware of our anger we must search for its source. Invariably, there will be some wishes or expectations we have that the environment is not meeting. These frustrated wishes need to be identified.
- Third, once we have identified the wishes which the environment is not and will not gratify, we must then begin to emotionally accept the reality of this pending lack of gratification. Only then will our anger start to subside.
When you begin to understand the anger that you already have in your life, you will then have less of it. Any time we feel hurt or annoyed by another’s criticism, it suggests that a part of us that is in agreement with them has been mobilized. Understanding this alerts us to one of our internal conflicts and now gives us a chance to come to grips with it.
Next we will explore, The Thrust to Grow or “ In Statu Nascendi”
…how we perceive reality and how we treat it is often determined by our negative feelings.
Our unresolved conflicts stem from our inability to accept certain feelings and aspects of ourselves. Normally we try to avoid our feelings of discomfort by keeping them out of our awareness– out of our reality. This happens all by itself. In psychological terms, we automatically tend to repress uncomfortable feelings by pushing them outside of our awareness and keeping them there.
Effecting a facilitative solution is now out of the question. More important is the fact that we are not entirely in touch with the present reality and are trying to use the environment to meet our emotional needs regardless of how inappropriate the environment may be. In addition, we are confusing our internal conflicts with the external environment. This is a huge price that people without integrity pay.
Reconciling ourselves with reality is accomplished by immersing ourselves in our own anger, feeling it as fully as possible, and then identifying our wishes that are not being gratified and renouncing our expectation that the world will gratify them. If we are unable to accept the fact that reality will not gratify our wishes, we experience anger.
Here are some examples of how various people assess their environment and thereby distort, or completely don’t see, various aspects of reality:
- A person dominated by a strict conscience would fear criticism, become absorbed in how others might view their behavior, and find themselves less sensitive to the adaptive aspects of reality.
- An anxious person’s take on reality would be limited by their focus on how the environment might affect them.
- An angry person might be preoccupied with finding an object to criticize or punish.
Coming next we discuss Anger, a feeling we all have dealt with a time… or two, as a second obstacle.
Before we can learn how to live with personal integrity, it’s important to understand the attributes that people with personal integrity share. First and foremost, people with personal integrity are entirely comfortable with themselves and with their feelings, so much so that they do not require support from the environment. By support from the environment we mean external validation, such as approval or guaranteed acceptance. They can accept criticism, rejection, even hostility. They don’t take things personally or regress emotionally into the sensitivities of their own unresolved emotional conflicts.
Another trait shared by people with personal integrity is their ability to recognize frustration. In moments of potential frustration, they are aware that the world isn’t providing according to their wishes, they accept this, and recalibrate their expectations to line up with reality. Their wish likely will continue to exist but the anger about this wish subsides when the fact that it will not be gratified is accepted. They may subsequently have to deal with the disappointment of the personal loss, but this is a separate problem, involving their degree of emotional investment in the thing that was lost.
Again, there are two parts to this: first, anger over the fact that the wish will not be gratified and the dissipation of this anger when this expectation is renounced and, second, sorrow and disappointment stemming from the lack of gratification of the wish which will not disappear until the wish subsides.
Personalities with integrity help other people by accepting parts of them that they cannot accept which may include anger, conflict, negative self-esteem and even sadness. — The ultimate example of personal integrity occurs in those who are able to comfortably accept any and all of their own and other people’s feelings. They view others just as they are because they have no need to distort their perception of the real world according to their own needs, conflicts or unrelated feelings.
Coming up next, we will dive more deeply into the obstacles faced when working towards a life of Personal Integrity. First up…. Reality. Something we all must learn to accept.
I recall a patient who had sobbed about her sadness throughout a three-year period in therapy. Several years later, toward the end of her sessions with me, she reflected on this time with the remark, “You (doctor) stayed connected to me all those years when I cried and cried!” It was during this time that she came to grips with the grief of her terribly sad childhood, and eventually her depressions disappeared. The important thing here is that as her therapist I stayed absolutely comfortable and connected to her while she sobbed for two or three hours a week for three years. Of course it’s much easier in my role as a therapist to avoid taking anything personally or distorting reality, but the principle is the same.
The ultimate example of personal integrity occurs in those who are able to comfortably accept any and all of their own and other people’s feelings. They view others just as they are because they have no need to distort their perception of the real world according to their own needs, conflicts or unrelated feelings. In short, they do not need to use others or the environment to maintain their equanimity. People without personal integrity are frequently engulfed by their feelings stemming from unresolved conflicts and, as a result, leave the here-and-now external reality and lose that sense of calm and self-control.