Narcissism, at least in the psycho-spiritual realm, is not about beauty or appearance, it’s about immobility. When we imagine someone thinking about themselves too much we imagine someone losing weight or wearing pretty things or someone staring at themselves in a mirror thinking, look at me, look at me, but the damaging part of self-centeredness isn’t the part that says look at me, it’s that by doing so it says: do not pay attention to others. What’s painful in the life of the narcissist is their lack of true connection to others.
I met a nice young woman a few years back. Smart, funny, very creative. She wanted to talk to me about feeling fulfilled. She had a tremendous amount of trouble motivating herself and she wondered how that could be improved. She had way above-average skills and the time to use them, but she was stuck in her home office endlessly wondering why more wasn’t happening. She had been immobile for a few years trying to figure it out.
So what was she doing? She was spending her time thinking about how to make her own life great. That was her version of Narcissus and the reflecting pool; she sat and stared all day at her own life and wondered why she couldn’t figure out how to make it more impressive. That was the action of her life, that was its verb: wondering. Instead of doing things, she wondered. She was trying to wonder her way to a better life.
Meanwhile everyone has Maslow’s Pyramid to deal with. We need food and shelter before we can do anything else. So does someone like me want to take a hard-won client and lose them by telling them something I know they really don’t want to hear? No, but I always do anyway. I do pay for it in lost clients, but that’s still an easy trade compared to my success rate. Because if people make it through the responsibility part, they do fine every single time. And if they bailed they weren’t ready yet anyway and they need to go suffer some more.
In a healthy person the inspiration isn’t some magical bolt of lightning that tells someone how they’ll feel fulfilled. Inspiration is created when we feel connected to others, just as narcissism is thinking about ourselves instead of others. So she was thinking about herself, endlessly looking for some motivation that was truly hers, and I was suggesting she think of her spouse and that her motivation could be how she could make his life easier. If she loved him didn’t she want him to have a good life? Wasn’t he missing out on holidays and things for himself if he was paying her to be idle?
In short, instead of wanting even more for herself she could appreciate what she was already getting from her spouse. That gratitude could then be the valuable inspiration she needed to change that situation. But she couldn’t see that because she was too busy thinking about herself and her troubles all the time even though those troubles were all brought on by her lack of action and contribution.
Once she realised that her spouse was actually struggling and sacrificing his life for hers to be idle, she suddenly found motivation. His life could be improved significantly with her help. Suddenly she was motivated to get any job that would take that pressure off him. She no longer needed the job to be fulfilling to her soul in some abstract way, what was fulfilling to her soul was that she was actually contributing to improving the life of someone she loved.
There’s plenty of spouses running hobbies as businesses with little effort toward profitability, even though their entire life is being supported by a hard-working partner. There are plenty of children idly dreaming while their hard-working parents pay their bills because to the child, just earning a living seems unspiritual and uninspiring. But that’s only because the child has turned the work into money, instead of into a mechanism for benefiting a loved one.
The money isn’t what counts, it’s the respect. Respect is a kind of connection. It says, I care about what you go through every day. So sitting around idly while someone else works for you ends up as a lack of respect, which is a breaking of the bond between one person and another; a spiritual bond. We’re all in this together. They’re there for you, but you’re not there for them.
If you spend all your time thinking, I don’t know what to do, then I would suggest looking around to see what others around you are doing for you and start with that. If your life seems bogged down then someone somewhere is making up for your inactivity because we all need food and shelter as our spirits take our bodies along this journey called life. So who’s doing what and how can you help?
A spouse or child could gain great personal satisfaction by simply caring more actively about the people supporting them. The same goes for any other scenario where someone isn’t carrying their own weight, from benefits from relatives, to friends to even our societies. Everyone has empathy for those in genuine need, but if someone can recover from a spinal injury in a year or two and go on to a fulfilling life in a wheelchair, then surely an able-bodied person can do it in the same amount of time if they care enough. The question is, who are you caring about?
Stop living for yourself and start living for others. What’s wrong with society is the same thing that’s wrong with individuals: a lack of cohesion, a lack of attraction, a lack of responsibility to one another. You don’t need inspiration you need connection. Respect and awareness is all the inspiration and motivation a healthy soul needs.
Whether you’re a street person or a wealthy idle spouse, you will be in pain if you do not connect to and contribute meaningfully to the lives of others. Love is what love does. So you are never far from salvation no matter how bad it seems. All you need to do is stop thinking so much about yourself and start to think more about others.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.