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In relationships with our family, lovers, or friends, there is a game that is very often played. This game is ‘Who’s the Parasite?‘. In order for someone to determine if they are involved in playing this game, one can simply ask themselves, “Do I ever avoid looking bad?” and, “Do I ever accuse others of…anything?” Games can be very helpful, or very damaging. This happens to be quite a destructive game, which psychologists refer to as “Narcissism”. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “You can be right, or you can be happy”, this is speaking directly to narcissistic tendencies.
In reality, it isn’t helpful to label someone a “Narcissist” because this rules out the possibility of that person also being other things. That same “narcissist” can also be a caring parent or creative artist. Nobody is any one thing. Therefore, let’s talk about Narcissism as a tendency rather than an all-encompassing label.
Narcissistic tendencies appear in people because of the specific way in which their childhood wounds have developed self-protective mechanisms. The literal “Narcissistic Phase” of childhood development is from birth to four years of age, when we are the center of our awareness and conclude that everything which happens is a direct result of our needs and feelings. If we don’t grow beyond that phase, we stay partially in the unmet needs of child consciousness. This is often referred to as the King or Queen Baby phase. Because we are consciously dependent on our parents for having all of our needs met while in this phase, and we take it as a personal fault of our own when our parents do not meet our needs in some way. Because of this very human “cause and effect” phenomenon, a part of our subconscious mind gets stuck in this phase and will stay stuck in this phase unless we learn to later fully evolve these parts into true adult consciousness. This means, unfortunately, that most people who are stuck in the narcissistic phase are unlikely to ever move out of this phase throughout their entire lives.
Through the help of a professional or with intentional personal growth practices, we might become aware that our immature thoughts and decisions create further unwanted consequences for ourselves, our spouses, and our children. In order to resolve this, we must go through the process of growing out of the reality in which our parents are responsible for meeting our needs, to an adult consciousness in which we can trust ourselves and our conscious interdependence with others in order to meet our needs. Many people may believe that they are no longer dependent on their parents, yet this is the primary subconscious cause of most sexual attraction that we feel every day.
This maturity transition is often very painful because our parents tend to become uncomfortable with our newfound sense of freedom from them. Narcissism is not “Bad”: it is simply one of many ways that our brains try to protect us from being a social outcast, which is the ‘adult’ version of any rejection we felt as a child. These tendencies themselves are side effects, and identifying someone by the side effects of their pain is like saying that exhaust powers a car.
For the person asking someone with Narcissistic tendencies to take responsibility for their actions, they can likely expect to encounter resistance to their questions. People experiencing these tendencies can easily turn on anyone questioning their trustworthiness and is always ready to identify new people to play the role of the abuser. Emotional abuse is generally responsible for the original onset of narcissistic ways of thinking. The concept that a child can be emotionally punished for ‘being bad’, in which they are essentially threatened with losing love as a result of certain behaviors, has simply developed into an immense fear of disappointment – both in themselves and in others. We can shift out of this ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ way of dealing with destructive behavior by simply calling it ‘Good’ and ‘Better’ (thank you to Dan Brulé for this concept). It is impossible for a child to ‘be bad’, simply based on the fact that they have learned all of their behaviors after birth – they weren’t born with any destructive tendencies whatsoever. Additionally, the meaning of ‘bad’ is very much culturally defined and completely subjective.
Narcissism can be Overt (obvious) or Covert (sneaky). Because Narcissism is caused by a child’s actions being categorized as ‘good’ and ‘bad‘, Overt Narcissism is putting extra effort into “being good” and judging others who are “Not Good”. With a subtle but important difference, Covert Narcissism focuses efforts on “Not Being bad” and as a result tries to make others feel guilty when they are judged as “Bad”.
Overt narcissism is what people typically think of when they say someone has a ‘big ego’: Rude, Show Off, Condescending. While someone experiencing Covert Narcissistic tendencies believes they are ‘right’, they also believe that expressing themselves authentically is ‘wrong’ because it could be ‘bad’. Because of this, they generally act more innocently, as if they are victims. They are less often caught acting as if they are superior and generally can’t admit it to others or likely even themselves, though “acting” is the key word, because they truly believe that they are ‘right’ (or good, or smart, or moral) and ‘not wrong’, then they are simply a victim of everyone else who is ‘wrong’ (or bad, or stupid, or evil). In the case of the Covert Narcissistic manipulations, thoughts of superiority are often self-judged and blocked out, and therefore kept in what is referred to as the subconscious (though it can easily become conscious with a simple decision to recognize it). These thoughts are most obvious in the real world when Covert Narcissistic feelings come up around feeling accused of ‘being bad’ and they have deemed it as time to ‘defend themselves’ by pointing out that they are in fact the ones who were ’right’ all along.
Narcissistic tendencies generally appear as manipulative toward others by attempting to make people feel stupid (inferior), or by making people feel sorry (pity) for them. This may come across as “You are being a Parasite on my life!” or “You should shift your attention off of me and onto someone else, because they are a Parasite!”.
People experiencing Narcissistic tendencies are so accustomed to accusing others that they are often found misinterpreting their own (seemingly straightforward) responsibilities as evidence of Parasitic victimizations, which they may even turn around and label as implied accusations – where someone else is asking them to take responsibility and they are afraid that they themselves may appear to be the Parasite because they haven’t yet stepped up to the task. For example, if we ask someone experiencing Narcissistic tendencies to take out the garbage, they may feel emotionally triggered by this seemingly small request because they may see it as an accusation of childlike behavior, in their lacking initiative without intervention. They may think or say something to the effect of, ‘You’re accusing me of never helping around the house! You don’t appreciate me!’
In theory, everyone has narcissistic tendencies, and these are intimately tied to the victim mentality currently plaguing humanity. By simply acknowledging that these old wounds exist within us, it gives us the power to recognize that the resulting thoughts are not true – while the emotions are of course still valid and real. Taking responsibility and naming our emotions, while it may be uncomfortable, is always the path to personal empowerment.
If we can consider the question of “Who’s the Parasite?” to be Good, perhaps a Better question would be “Who needs a hug?”.
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