Causes of Narcissism: Why it’s Getting Worse & What We Can Do
Our Narcissistic/Codependent Society
What is narcissism? In today’s show we continue our discussion on how narcissism develops what pressures are making it worse in our society and some ideas of what we can do.
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Steve: Hi and welcome to Our Narcissistic/Codependent Society I am Steve Cooper and Kim is here with me today looking very excited to talk to us . . .
Kim: Ha ha ha – Yeah!!! I hope we have a lot of couples listening to this show together and if you are on your own you might want to see if your partner wants to join you in listening to this one. Narcissism isn’t something we should be scared of talking about. It’s something that’s in all of us and it’s something we need to look at if we want more love and understanding in our homes.
Steve: We had some great comments again on the last show – do you think we should start the show there?
Kim: Yes we will get to them in a moment, but first I want everyone to stop and get a pen and a piece of paper. Stop right now and find something to write with, because I am about to do an exercise that I think is probably going to help you understand yourself and your marriage maybe better than anything you’ve ever experienced before.
Steve: Okay, wow Kim, so that is why you have this paper and pen here ready for me? (Laughing)
Kim: Yeah. You don’t get to sit this one out NO.
Steve: Ok cool. I’m ready!
Kim: Okay – First for the comments. As most of them were about codependence I’m going to save them for our show in a couple of days on what codependence is all about. But there was one very good comment on narcissism and I’m going to get to that a little later in the show as it really gave such a clear description of the dynamic that I would like to do the exercise I have got for everyone first.
Steve: Ohh you mean so we gotta get in the picture and ready to see the narcissism in ourselves then?
Kim: Yes sure, so if you’re doing this together NO PEEKING at each others answers. Because this is about you and no one else. If you fib to yourself and try and make yourself look better, you’re really just going to miss out on all the great stuff you can gain from this exercise.
Steve: And you know Kim I’m really learning it’s ugly too. Lying and trying to make yourself look better – usually just ends up making you look a goose. People are a lot warmer when you can admit your mistakes.
Kim: So have you got the courage to be honest? Here’s the test . . .
I want you to write down your answers to these questions and you too Steve.
Steve: I’m ready I got my pen and paper!
Kim: But we don’t want you writing about each other OK? This is not about starting fights! Just answer the questions for yourself and then leave your partner out of it.
Okay so here we go . .
Question Number 1. Is “How has life been unfair to you?”
Kim : This should be an easy one right?
Steve: Yeah . . .
Inequality is certainly rampant in our world, but I think just about everyone has their own injustices to bear. I’ve known plenty of rich people who’ve still been dealt a pretty rough hand. So Steve have you got any ideas that might help people really put their deepest inner truth into their answers to this one?
What do you think some of the major themes will be?
Steve: Well you know I just always go back to a very important moment in my life when my mum told me that she was divorcing my dad and I was pretty young at the time, I was only 9 years old and at that stage people weren’t divorcing very much. None of my friends parents were divorced. So I really felt this whole shattering of my world around me when she told me that it was going to happen.
Steve: And things did get bad after that. I had an abusive step father and dad’s whole emotional world got dragged into the sunshine for everyone to see how badly he was managing his own emotional world and that affected me and anyway . . .
Kim: Okay . . .
Steve: Crazy stuff.
Kim: So your getting right into this
Kim: And your even jumping ahead on to some of the later questions.
Steve: Ha ha, can’t help it!
Kim: But like, maybe you can just give some ideas to people about the kind of things in general in society that we might feel that life has been unfair to us. Just give people some inspiration.
Steve: I got some other things too like I was covered in acne when I was a teenager.
Kim: Ahhh ha ha
Steve: And all my friends weren’t and they ate really garbage food and I tried not to eat garbage food but I was still covered in acne.
Steve: Also I only have to look at a piece of cake and I put weight on.
Kim: Aww you and me!
Steve: Yeah both of us. So it like
Kim: It’s not fair.
Steve: You see other people, people I work with, eat two whole chickens for lunch and their just skinny and their fine and I just put on weight so easily and I think that’s pretty unfair.
Kim: Yeah, so this is a pretty easy one right? You know we can think of a lot of ways that life has been unfair to us?
Steve: Yeah, yeah, yeah that’s all just like bad luck,
Steve: Unfair Yeah, okay
Kim: So your going to
Steve: So I should write all this down today?
Kim: Yeah yeah have you got some stuff written down there?
Steve: Okay, acne, yeah . . .
Kim: Okay so hopefully everyone else has some answers that they have written down.
So Question 2. Is “What unrealistic expectations has society put on you?”
Again maybe you can give us some ideas? Some inspiration?
Steve: Sure well I think umm, you know from my perspective we are expected to work way too hard, way to much.
Kim: hmmm . . .
Steve: I think two days a week off, five days on is crazy. It should be more like three and four.
Steve: I also think that society doesn’t allow us to explore ourselves too much creatively.
Steve: I think all of us, men as much as women, all have some creative flair. Whether it is tactile or performance or fine arts – whatever.
Kim: Mmmm . . .
Steve: We’ve all got a creative seed in us that needs nurturing.
Kim: Ah huh.
Steve: And I don’t think society allows us to do that much. Society expects us to work way too much, I think to our own detriment.
Kim: And what about women? What are the unrealistic expectations society has on women that might be different from men?
Steve: Ahhh I think they are numerous but I think women are expected to do all of the unpaid crappy labor
Kim: Mmm huh.
Steve: Which is sort of domestic stuff, nursing, teaching, caring. All the real hard low paid stuff. Cleaning.
Kim: It’s nice your aware of that.
Kim: I mean it is good to share that stuff.
Steve: Share the low paid work?
Kim: And yeah the unpaid labor too.
Steve: Yeah I think we should be sharing it much more and think men would be happier if they did more of it too.
Kim: Okay so hopefully everyone’s has had a chance to answer that for themselves, what unrealistic expectations do you feel society has put on you?
Okay so Question 3. What Unrealistic expectations did your parents or teachers put on you as a kid?
Steve: Ohhh??? Well let me ask you that Kim? What happened to you in that situation?
Kim: Aww hang on that’s not fair. I wasn’t expecting that
Steve: Okay, so you want me to keep talking and write it down?
Kim: Ummm what do you reckon?
Steve: Well okay. Well I had to grow up really fast when I was about 15 years old when I became the man of the household after my mum’s marriage failed and it was pretty weird because I was 15 and didn’t have a clue. But I started learning, it was okay in the end, but it was pretty unrealistic.
And also my teachers, I was always a bright kid in school, and I was always somebody that had some answers so all the teachers thought I was really confident but actually wasn’t and they thought I was a great student but I really wasn’t, like I really struggled with handwriting and spelling and everything but just because I liked to talked a lot they thought I was bright.
Steve: So it was just a simple thing you know.
Steve: Unrealistic expectations. They thought, aww great student.
And of course I failed my high school leaving certificate.
That was pretty embarrassing to admit.
Kim: You went back and you did it again though.
Steve: Yeah that was embarrassing going back to do it.
Kim: Yeah but it was good that you did.
Steve: Yeah that’s true I’m glad I did.
Kim: Hmmm So I guess for me it was kind of similar but you know where I went to school they streamed off all the high intelligence kids and my dad decided that he didn’t want me sorta of getting any elitist idea about myself (laughing) and so I should just go to the normal school, I shouldn’t actually go to the school for the high intelligence kids, but I don’t think he’d factored in that all the other high intelligence kids had actually gone to the other school and so I was a bit of a sitting duck target at the school I had been left at and that led to a whole bunch of unrealistic expectations on me because all of the teachers at the school knew that I had a higher IQ than most of the other kids in the class and so did my parents and so even though I was getting pretty much straight A’s they were telling me that wasn’t enough, because I was different and better than everyone else and I still should be working harder, which was just weird really.
Steve: There’s a lot of crazy thinking out there like that I’ve found in society.
Kim: (Laughing) It was really crazy thinking.
Steve: You’ve gotta be careful.
Kim: Because I didn’t feel like I was better than anybody else or superior to anybody else, I actually felt like a complete social misfit and a fish out of water. And also like they were all being terribly unfair.
Steve: Well you are pretty intelligent Kim I can’t believe how fast you can read books and how much of it you can remember.
Kim: Ha ha ha . . . thanks!
Steve: It’s kind of a crazy gift you have,
Kim: Well . . .
Steve: It freaks me out a little bit.
Kim: Ha ha, hey you know intelligence isn’t everything. It just means you’ve got more ways of solving problems really. It doesn’t necessarily mean your going to choose the right solution.
Steve: Yeah right.
Kim: Okay, so hopefully everybody has had a chance to answer that for themselves. What unrealistic expectations did your parents or teachers put on you as a kid.
Okay so how did you learn to deal with it back then when you felt you couldn’t cut it?
Okay so we are talking about the past.
Kim: So that one is really easy for me to answer.
Steve: Yeah, so why don’t you answer it?
Kim: Okay but I hope everyone continues answering this one for themselves.
I just got sick.
Steve: Ahh, ha ha ha right!
Kim: I got sick. I hid in the library or I got sick. And then when the teacher started calling me a hypochondriac, I was smart enough to know them calling me a big long name in a sort of nasty tone of voice wasn’t very nice of them, when really me being sick was the only way for me to escape the, the pressure and the social ostracisation that I was feeling from being a fish out of water at school. So yeah . . .
Steve: Did you used to drink milk and lemon juice? That’s pretty good at making you vomit.
Kim: Haaa Ohh, that’s terrible! ha ha!
Steve: Well you know it’s just one of the tricks I picked up.
Kim: No I didn’t have any friends like you to tell me any of the tricks.
Steve: Oh okay.
Kim: I was really hopeless at it.
Steve: Oh sorry about . . .
Kim: I was hopeless at pretending I was sick. The best I did was maybe spin around and make myself dizzy. But um nah I just used to tell them that I felt sick and they’d just say they didn’t believe me.
Steve: Aww if I was at your school I would have sat and talked to you Kim.
Kim: Awwww that’s so nice :)
So I hope everybody else is working at getting answers for this one, of when you felt overwhelmed by other people’s expectations as a child and how did you respond?
Steve: Yeah umm, I used to cry.
Kim: Did you?
Steve: Yeah a lot. . . I used to – I still cry a lot.
Kim: No you don’t!
Steve: Huh ha ha ha ha . . . I do!
Kim: You’re such a fibber!
Steve: Hah ha ha ha. No I get I get, you know I used to, no I, I‘d get . . . and you know our daughter cries a lot too.
Kim: Yeah, she does . . .
Steve: And um I think she got that a bit from me, I don’t cry so much now but as a kid I did, I’d get so overwhelmed and I don’t know maybe that worked.
Kim: Ha ha ha ha ha – I’ve seen you do a lot of things but I haven’t seen you cry. Ha ha ha
Steve: Well okay I’m going back to my childhood now.
Kim: awww okay.
Steve: So no I did I used to get very – I would find it very hard to find the right words at the right time always as a kid. I’d always walk away from situations where I felt like there was too much happening. That I’d walk away and not feel like I represented myself well.
Steve: So you know if I’d cry at least I’m crying, I’m saying something, you know I’m sad, I’m stressed, I’m freaked out, I’m anxious, whatever you know tears say . . .
Kim: Okay so now here’s the really tough one I want you to be honest about this everyone. Is I want you to write down what you do now when you feel you can’t cut it?
So this might be hard to be honest about? None of it is really pretty.
Steve: I usually like puff myself up and act like I’m better than everyone else. It’s true!
Kim: Ha ha ha – At least you can be honest about that now!
Steve: Ha ha ha — Now that I am an adult and I’m working in a work environment with other work mates we often tell stories about prior supreme successes in order to ha ha ha make ourselves feel better. “Ah yeah I did all that once before yeah years ago . . .”
Steve: “Yeah, we just smashed that out – it was all good.”
Kim: Ha ha ha. Well you’re very intuitive ha ha ha – we are going to get to that in a moment actually.
This list is sorta pretty long and ugly for most of us I think.
Steve: I think puffing yourself up though I think that’s the answer.
Kim: There’s a long list of what people can do when they feel they’re not cutting it isn’t there?
Steve: Mmmm yeah sure . . .
Kim: They can drink too much, blame somebody else.
Steve: Ohh right yeah the actual remedies.
Kim: Go on a drug bender. They can blame somebody else,
Steve: They can
Kim: Blame somebody else
Kim: Blame somebody else
Steve: Ah ha!
And you can get caught up in a consumer sorta lifestyle as well – people like to act as though buying things sort of creates some meaning for themselves like they are better than others.
Kim: Or they might start blaming sensory stuff, the musics too loud in here, the lights are too bright.
Steve: I always think the music is too loud in places.
Kim: Ha ha, but you may actually even believe all that stuff because you are just not used to being really emotionally intelligent about your own responses, so when you start feeling bad instead of saying to yourself maybe I’m not cutting it, maybe I’m feeling insecure. I think it can even become a habit can’t it? That we just look around for something to blame, “ Ohh — I hate the colour of those curtains it’s making me sick.”
Steve: This wall papers terrible . . . one of us has to go!
Kim: Ha ha ha ha ha
Steve: That’s an Oscar Wilde joke, not mine, I wish it was mine.
Kim: Ha ha ha ha, so you know there is a long list and so I guess this is really about how HONEST we can be about that long and ugly list of the things we can fall into doing when we are feeling we are not making it and we are feeling sorry for ourselves that life is too tough.
Steve: And we are taking the pressure off ourselves and placing it elsewhere to distract ourselves from the actual discomfort we’re feeling.
Kim: Thats right! So one last question!
Steve: Mmmm interesting.
Kim: You were sort of hinting and leading to this before, maybe you were peeking and reading ahead, but I think it just . . .
Steve: Ahhh — I am a bit of a cheat.
Kim: Ha ha ha — It is “What image do you hold of yourself in your head. Do you pretend that you are still the person you were when you reached the highest level of success in your life? Or do you take all your successes and failures into account when you think about who you are today?
Steve: I can answer straight away.
Steve: Yeah I skip over the failure bit.
Kim: Ha ha ha ha he he
Kim: And you think a lot of guys do that?
Steve: Yeah – yeah
Kim: Like you were saying before they just tell each other stories all day about when they were the greatest?
Steve: Sure ha ha we do. Hey guilty as charged.
Kim: Ha ha ha
Totally – okay so if there has been a massive failure in our life, we would tend to — as you just described before — put our discomfort into that failure as it was some kind of misfortune against us.
Steve: Or something else or some circumstance.
Kim: And you’d feel sorry for yourself?
Steve: Yeah thats right. Or circumstances led me to this failure and I was innocent and I can feel sorry for myself rather than evaluate the success and failure of my actions and my responses to life
Steve: And my progress in life . . . yeah I think very much so that ahhh we don’t examine those failure honestly enough.
Kim: Because really the way that champions work is the opposite of avoiding looking at your failures isn’t it?
Steve: Mmmm, Mmmm . . .
Kim: Because really if someone wants to become successful and wants to become a champion they are constantly honing in on and trying to find their failures, trying to find their weak spots,
Kim: trying to find the areas that they can improve.
Kim: And you know I’m probably not as good at it now, the way I was a few years ago – but I know you can get yourself into a mind set where you get really excited when you find something you can really improve in yourself. Because you go WOW you know, and the bigger the problem is you go WOW the progress I’m going to make when I get through this! That’s what Olympic champions do, they are just constantly honing in on something that they can improve about their own performance, they know that they can’t rest on their past win. That it’s all about being open enough and brave enough to look at where they are going wrong, not just look at where they are going right.
So now I just want you to lastly think about how you can maybe be nicer to yourself and nicer to your family, as the last part of this exercise, by dealing with your stress better, and maybe even think about some things you could study or improve on that might make life a little easier for you and take the pressure off. I am not talking about jumping on yourself and criticising yourself. But what is it in your life at the moment that you could just decide, hey maybe I’ll go and do some remedial reading or I’ll learn to type. Or
Kim: You know, I’ll do some parent training or – I don’t know.
Steve: Yeah, nobody has enough time to do everything in one lifetime so there is always something.
Kim: Yeah that’s right!
Steve: There’s always something you can do to add
Kim: But something that you can actually just take on yourself that is actually not going to put pressure on you, its actually going to take pressure off you, it’s going to help you feel less insecure. It’s going to help you feel like you are able to keep up with the expectations around you a little bit better, without you maybe being so harsh on the people around you and also just writing down how you can be nice to yourself and nicer to your family, because I think we all end up falling into the blame game from time to time. If you are guilty of it and your are feeling a bit embarrassed about that, don’t worry because you are certainly not the first person to have ever felt that way.
Steve: Well I can say from first hand experience that you encouraging me to go and do parent training was probably one of the best things that ever happened. I didn’t think I had the time to do it. I thought ahh I don’t want to do this every Tuesday this is crazy, but I was wrong because the skills I learned from there actually did make my life easier in many ways, and it wasn’t really a complicated set of guidelines that I learned from parent training it was really more about just being more comfortable about who I am in many ways.
Kim: Because us hanging on to an outdated idea of ourselves and making each other the enemy it just really doesn’t work in a marriage does it?
Steve: Thats right Kim, we need to help each other and admit where we might need to do some work on ourselves.
Kim: And thats why some of the first steps in our introductory tutorial are teaching couples that they need to stop demanding so much from each other and they need to stop criticising and complaining so much.
Steve: But we also have to stop blaming our wife and treating her that she is to blame when life gets tough and we get scared. Because You know she’s probably just having a tough time herself
Kim: And so that gets us back to the comment I promised. Maybe you can read this one Steve.
Steve: T is commenting on an exchange of ours from our last show and she says it was one of the clearest things she has ever heard from us and was very helpful in understanding her spouse:
She quotes Kim and I from the last show where we said – Kim will you help me with this?
Kim: Sure, I said . . .
“Narcissism develops when a person feels they cannot meet the expectations that are placed on them, and that because they also feel those expectations are in some way unfair, this ends up allowing them to rationalise cheating and other things to get ahead, or other vices to soothe themselves.
I think that the really ugly part is that once this pattern starts, they need to keep someone in the role of persecutor in their life, because if their situation stopped being unfair, they would actually have to start competing fairly again.
Steve: And I said . . . Right. You mean they need to feel like they are a victim just to justify their own behavior to themselves.
Kim: And then I said, That’s right. This is why they can be very oversensitive to anything they can grab hold of that maybe makes them feel like they have been victimized. ”
Steve: Okay that was the quote but then T goes on to say . . .
This explains why narcissists are usually men, since it is generally boys we expect a lot out of. Superman and all.
And so narcissists are generally not concerned with developing understanding and sympathy with someone else, because that would lead to their needing to be kind to the other person. Instead they are concerned with obfuscating and accusing, so that they can justify selfishness. Clarity and understanding and sympathy are the enemies of selfishness and, so narcissists don’t seek after those things. Also, clarity and understanding might expose the fact that the narcissist doesn’t measure up, a fear that was instilled by someone expecting too much from them at some time. It’s better to treat someone as the enemy than to face the fact that you might not measure up as far as they are concerned. So as soon as a wife has a complaint against her husband, no matter how small, he will make her the enemy rather than understand her needs and own up to his faults. So initially, he might act like a decent guy if he’s a mild case, but as soon as she expresses a complaint, the narcissistic machinery will start up, and things will go from bad to worse.
Is this how it is?
Kim: Well T, I would say that is exactly how I see it. What do you think Steve?
Steve: Yeah over the years I have witnessed so many men who use feeling sorry for themselves about how their wife treats them to justify all kinds of things that really they know deep down are wrong and inappropriate.
Kim: Mmmm, blame their wives for how they are behaving so bad in the first place
Steve: Yeah and why their life is so ruined. Or dreary or whatever it is they are complaining about.
Kim: But then they are even blaming their wife for what they are doing in response to that, it’s their wife’s fault they are at the pub and it’s their wife’s fault that they are out cheating on them.
Steve: Yeah it’s their wife’s fault that they take a job thats on the other side of the country and all that kinda stuff.
Kim: Ha ha ha – easy to blame it on the wife.
Steve: That’s right.
Kim: But I’ve also seen a lot of women who really have no idea why men do this and instead of seeing the pressures that they’re under and seeing this pattern for what it is. And learning how to break this cycle, they just put pressure on their husband to make them feel better and to do more to take care of their feelings.
Steve: Mmmm and that doesn’t ever really work. Because men don’t really respond well to those kind of demands. Especially when there is no flow happening between each other.
So really it doesn’t make any inroads, it doesn’t break the cycle like you say Kim.
But you know hopefully this exercise brings a little more understanding and you know maybe there is a road to a little more sympathy for each other with this. And maybe if you agree after this show you might show each other your answers and see if you can’t show a little more understanding to each other and a few less demands of each other.
Kim: I think that is a great idea Steve. And so this is why I see narcissism getting worse in our society. Because with the pressure that rising debt has put on the system – really there is just more and more pressure on everyone.
Steve: And we need to remember that when we got married we were making a commitment to play on the same team!
Kim: Yeah because team work is really what it is all about isn’t it? And to you guys out there I know that your wives want to help you with the pressures that you’re facing and they want to be part of the solution, because if I know one thing about women it is that they really don’t like being left on the bench.
Steve: Yeah it’s not a nice feeling being left on the bench is it? Everyone know that!
So if you have enjoyed this audio you may enjoy our Reconnect series and that’s designed for couples to listen to together. Theres an accompanying PDF worksheet that comes with it. It’s available on CD or MP3 download . . .
Steve: There’s a link below and it’s a nice way for you to just talk to each other and share a little bit and get closer.
Kim: And it encourages talking points for couples to listen to the audio and then really encourage them into some positive talking points that are really going to help your relationship move forward.
Steve: And don’t forget guys go and give your wife a really nice big hug right now!