Two weeks ago something changed.
I finally acknowledged a part of my mind that might have been working in the shadows for the past decade, holding me back every day, in every area of my life.
Trouble is, it’s the same part of me that dreams of achieving great things.
Acknowledging it seems to have loosened the stranglehold of some addictive substances. It seems to have made me more focused and clear. It seems to have opened a source of motivation from… God knows where.
It’s not been a magic-bullet transformation, but something potentially wonderful has happened.
Time will tell.
Summary: Email Column This Week
I’ve been figuring all this out this week with my email column subscribers.
Tuesday: The Beginning, or Another Dead End?
Have I truly turned a corner, or is this just “…another desperate pulling back against the elastic band of my instincts, only to have it inevitably throw me back into old patterns.”
Wednesday: Some Truth About the Temptation of Alcohol
I admitted to a recent battle I’ve had with alcohol. I broke down some of what’s said in this fantastic lofi-mix of Jordan Peterson on why alcohol can be such a problem.
“Alcohol is a great drug. But the problem is… it’s a great drug.”
Biggest takeaway: Any addiction is the substitute for having a meaningful adventure.
Thursday: Dredging Up My Old Obsession: Nature, Commanded
About a decade ago I became fascinated with forms of farming that worked with Nature instead of trying to have her conform to our will. There are some mind-boggling achievements being made in this vein. The point was, my dream to help further these causes was halted, in part, because I didn’t learn how to work with my Nature.
Friday: Demons, Fairies, and Failure
I summarised my journey through personal development and my apparent failure to do what was necessary. My demons were avoidance and sabotage, and the fairy I was chasing was self-improvement. After years of pointless struggle, I seemed utterly incapable of achieving even what was easily within my reach.
Finally, I gave up.
Saturday: Delicious Darkness: Understanding Your Shadow
Delicious Darkness wasn’t easy to write. The takeaway is this: You enjoy the evil within you.
Whether that’s crippling a dirty snitch, harbouring a grudge toward your mother in law, or even indulging in self-pity, negativity has a juice to it that is addictive and perversely pleasurable.
Understanding the attraction of the Bad is a key step to becoming truly Good.
And if you’re committed to the Good, self-sabotage will have trouble finding a toe hold.
Your Friendly Neighbourhood Narcissist
This year I found myself in a desperate holding pattern.
I was wasting time drinking, smoking, and watching YouTube videos on my patio many evenings. My routine went to hell. I avoided responsibilities as much as I could, and I made little effort in almost any area of life. It wasn’t depression, but at times it seemed to be heading in that direction.
I tried to resist, but hopelessness kept rising up to meet my enthusiasm and, before long, overcome it.
Then, I came across an analysis of Sam Raimi’s Spiderman Trilogy.
Several times I felt a slight pressure of tears behind my eyes and a tingle down my spine.
Sometimes that’s how I react to deep epiphany.
The analysis, expertly done, demonstrated how the trilogy explored grandiosity, or the inner narcissism that exists in us all.
Below I’ve clipped three sections that hit me hardest. In an almost uncanny way, this video paralleled a lot of my worst past behaviour and biggest mistakes.
(You can watch the whole thing from any of these clips by clicking on the ‘X’s on the timeline)
Note: I thought myself very humble and even self-effacing. When I describe my grandiosity and narcissism, bear in mind it was mostly unconscious. Thus - if you exhibit similar behaviour, you may also be “secretly grandiose”.
1. The Righteous Break Up
The “righteous break up” is followed by (or motivated by) identifying more deeply with your grandiose self-image.
(4:53 - 6:35)
I’ve broken up with more than one girl while I still loved her, justifying some sort of noble reason to avoid the truth – I was falling in love more with my grandiosity.
2. The Grandiose Retreat
Second, the “grandiose retreat” into isolation.
The feeling that you must do it alone or not at all leads grandiose people to retreat into isolation, usually when they most need help. Nothing has been so destructive to me than my compulsion to “go it alone”.
(8:08 - 9:46)
I’ve never felt like I wanted to be worshiped. But perhaps that’s the problem. Do you believe that you’re very humble, but you have ludicrously high aspirations? I did. The denial of my inner narcissism was why I could identify with my grandiose fantasies so strongly without having to deal with the distasteful side of it.
You might say, “How do you know this is true of you if it was unconscious? Wouldn’t it be impossible to know about, by definition?”
The unconscious leaves clues. One clue I remember was being over the top reactive to specific types of compliments. My secretly big head was desperate to hear something that validated its self-image.
If you’re ever surprised by your reaction to a compliment, make a note of that. It’s a clue.
3. Cycles of Excitement & Hopelessness
A grandiose person, whether they are aware of their grandiosity or not, can react to it on two contrasting ways. One, manic activity. The other, depressed apathy.
Which one do you think you are, if either?
(6:56 - 7:14)
I once was driven by my grandiosity. At least, I was regularly inspired to start things. I would not be able to handle setbacks for very long, however. I now suspect I was sensitive to proof of any insufficiencies or evidence that I could never live up to my insane fantasies.
I would cycle back and forth between these two poles. Not so radically that I appeared bi-polar. I was always calm in my demeanour and activity. But these cycles defined my inner life.
Then, one day, I broke the cycle.
I lost hope and fell into the apathetic pole indefinitely.
Overcome Grandiosity & Open The Floodgates of Effective Action
“My life might not be a success story. It might be a cautionary tale.”
That thought only occurred to me about a year ago.
That seems strange, right. All throughout the decade (or more) of struggle, poor decisions and under-achievement, I was apparently convinced that my fantasies were my destiny and had to happen eventually.
(I say apparently because, again, a lot of this was unconscious, and can be best inferred from my action (or lack thereof), and not by remembering what I was thinking at the time.)
When I watched that essay on Raimi’s Spiderman Trilogy, I was opened for the first time to the possibility that I am, in fact, narcissistic.
Past behaviour of mine that seemed confusing now make perfect sense.
I talked it over with a few close friends. I journaled about it. I began searching within for the stark, ugly truth.
And something subtle but perhaps wonderful started to happen.
- I can now work for hours on end with relative ease.
- Alcohol abuse is not as tempting as it used to be, (at least the temptation seems more “sad” than fun and naughty).
- Most importantly: Realistic goals feel meaningful.
Number 3 is huge. After accepting that I might not succeed after all, I found myself unable to think up a goal that was (a) high enough to be exciting and (b) not so high that I felt it was hopeless to try.
No goal seemed worth the effort.
Now, thank God, that’s starting to change.
I started employing a few practical things:
I repeated a “surrender” prayer or mantra often. Constantly remind yourself to surrender to existence as it is (to God, to Divinity, to Nature, whatever ‘image’ works for you).
I bought Akira the Don’s Genesis album with Jordan Peterson and listen to it every morning. It’s extremely motivational, but not to achieve wealth or even happiness, but to be the best moral example you can be.
Make small changes. No more big declarations of mighty changes I would impose on myself to bring on the transformation of my life! I’m focusing on what’s in front of me.
In addition to the practical, I’m maintaining my awareness of what grandiose thinking looks like.
It can’t hide from me anymore.
How Did Peter Parker overcome His Grandiosity?
“There is such a thing as humility, however, and we must learn the true humility that consists of two things: (a) knowing your limitations and (b) getting the help you need. That is all humility is. It has nothing to do with any ascetic personal style or with being self-effacing. It is simply knowing your limitations.”
“The greatest antidote to pathological narcissism is a relationship with a real person.”
– Robert Moore
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