Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

George S, modified 3 Years ago at 1/16/20 10:04 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 1/16/20 9:54 AM

Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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I'm starting to think that I might have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I've been reading Sam Vaknin's Malignant Self-love and almost every page produces an "aha" moment, the insight "yes, that's exactly me". It's eerie, I feel like the author is reading my mind.

Does anyone have any advice or experience with having NPD or being in a relationship with someone having NPD on the spiritual path?

I'm interested in knowing from a longer-term perspective whether spiritual practice has helped with NPD or merely provided another source of "narcissistic supply" (source of attention and feeling special).

In my case I've been hard on the path for 12 months and am starting to wonder whether it's not all just another outlet for my narcissistic tendencies.
Ben V, modified 3 Years ago at 1/16/20 12:21 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 1/16/20 12:21 PM

RE: Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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My very few experiences with Narcissit clients as a therapist (very few, because most do not come to therapy) is that when they read a description of Narcissism, they will tend to read stuff like :Grandiosity" and then say: "well,  it's not that I have a grandiose vision of myself, it's that I AM GREAT".

If you are a narcissist, it must be mild (in the healthy to neurotic range in psychoanalytic terms), because you are able to ask for advice on a public forum, which for a Narcissist would feel like an admitance of inferiority (because you admit needing the help of another), as well as an admitance of needing others. All these are big no no's for a Narcissist. It would be sheer torture for a true Narcissist to do that.

There is no way I (and probably many professionals out there) can assess through written posts whether one is Narcissist or not.

My advice is to take a big step back before diagnosing yourself like this. We all have narcissism in us, but that does not make all Narcissist in the sense of the personality disorder. 

A Narcissist uses others to boost their own self-esteem. They are capable of relating to another human being almost exclusively as objects to be used to boost self-esteem, which is why empathy for others is not a common mind state for them.

In the meditative path, a Narcissist may typically use their teacher (if they even have one, which would be an admitance of neediness...see above) to try to boost their self-esteem, and therefore not give accurate reports of their experience, but rather exaggerated reports. We may all do that from time to time but if we are not Narcissistically organized in our personality structure, we will also have the ability to step back and give better, down to earth report.

A report like, "when I focus on the breath I can clearly feel the warmth of the outbreath but the in-breath doesn't feel very clear" is unlikely or painfully boring for a Narcissist. A report like "I can merged with the divine" would be more appealing to them. 

I knew a guy (outside any meditation community I've related to) who told me he was enlightened and he opened an online Temple. When I asked him to describe his practice and the experience of enlightenment, he was chronically incapable of giving a phenomenological report even though I tried to get one from him. He could only use grandiose terms like the one above. When I mentioned mindfulness of breathing, he said he was beyond that. Hum...even the Buddha continued mindfulness of breathing after his awakening...

If the Narcissist on the spiritual path becomes a teacher, this is scary. He or she will use students to feed his or her own grandiose self-image. We all know where this leads...
George S, modified 3 Years ago at 1/17/20 9:20 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 1/17/20 8:29 AM

RE: Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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Hi Ben, thanks for your detailed reply.

The reason I am able to acknowledge and talk about being a narcissist is that I went through such a deep mid-life crisis that I was literally forced to acknowledge it or kill myself. But narcissistis are driven by self-preservation; in retrospect I didn't actually want to kill myself. I mostly fantasized about how killing myself would inflict pain on various people I rightly or wrongly imagined had hurt me. When the time came to do the act I had very little resolve to go through with it. But it was enough to shock me into thinking "wow I could have been a gonner there, something needs to change".

About the same time I realized that paying a therapist to listen to my problems was selfish (avoiding investing in real friends and family relationships). So I quit therapy and started meditating in order to "listen to myself" and "be my own best therapist" (ever the narcissist). The fact that I can acknowledge being a narcissist doesn't mean that I am no longer a narcissist. Look at Sam Vaknin, he is still a self-admitted narcissist and his work publicising the issue and helping other narcissists is ironically itself a new source of narcissistic supply for him.

Spirituality is very appealing to a narcissist, it can be a more powerful source of attention than even money or power (hey people, give up your addiction to money and power).

Meditation is also very appealing to a narcissist - finally someone is willing to listen to me and give me their undivided attention and unconditional love! Of course with my phenomenological hat on I tell myself that it is just attention giving attention to itself and the true source of unconditional love. But that's just in meditation, the rest of my life and personality is still conditioned by the deep patterns of narcissism.

Even if I can't properly empathise with the feelings of others (being conditioned not to recognize my own), I can still see that my narcissism has created a lot of problems in the life of those closest to me. And since it's also perpetual torment being a narcissist, I would like to address it. Hence I am interested to hear about the experiences of other narcissists on the spiritual path - advice, tips, pitfalls etc.

The psychotherapeutic model of narcissism I've seen says that normal healthy people have a "true self" (their world of sensations and feelings) whereas narcissists had to deny their true self early on and create a false self in order to survive. Buddhism says that even the "true self" is fabricated and conditioned, and if you can see through that then you are free. But this is where it gets tricky for the narcissist, since they don't have the same access to a robust true self in the first place. On the one hand they can intellectually see that dissolving the true self should be easy, since their false self is so malleable (they are constantly adapting it to secure new sources of narcissistic supply). But since they are not really dealing with their true self, they might just end up creating a new spiritual false self which creates even more suffering. Optimistically I would like to believe that in meditation I am really getting in touch with my true self (sensations and feelings) and this will somehow extend out into my life and put the false selves out of business. But given the poor prognosis for narcissists, maybe that's naive. Maybe what I really need to do first in order to suffer less is create a more robust true self. But it's kind of hard to hard to put up a house when you are also engaged in tearing it down. I guess I should also bear in the mind that narcissists tend to view things in very binary terms, so the reality is probably somewhere in between ...
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 3 Years ago at 1/17/20 12:37 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 1/17/20 12:34 PM

RE: Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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I'm kind of selfishly hoping that you really are a narcissist, because I want to believe that it is possible for at least some narcissists to admit their difficulties, show some vulnerability and be motivated to work on causing others less harm. More than one of my friends have been severely abused by people with what I would say are obvious narcissistic traits. None of them were diagnosed as far as I know, and none of them would ever willingly undergo any investigation that would possibly point out any problems with them, so they will probably never know whether or not they should have a diagnosis, let alone work with themselves. I do know of one highfunctioning sociopath who is a decent guy although he can sometimes behave like an asshat without realizing it. 

I'm no therapist, like Ben, and I'm no narcissist either (they actually check for that when diagnosing other stuff, so I know that for sure), so you should take anything I say with a huge grain of salt, or maybe a cup or two. I do have some experience of needing to build up the stuff that others struggle to tear down because they (humans in general) are trapped by it. I know that it can be very seductive to think that one has advanced more than one actually has, because one never had that thing to begin with. Being autistic with ADHD and Tourette's syndrome, I sometimes come from a very different direction than the majority. There can be some advantages to, just to take an example, already feeling that there are no real boundaries between my body and the world. That's a little less resistance in some limited respect. I think some insights and some states may have appeared earlier to me for that reason, compared to if I would have had more of that particular resistance. Still, it doesn't mean that I get to just skip parts. Just like you describe, I also need to pragmatically build up the very things that I'm also supposed to get rid of. It can seem very counterproductive sometimes. I don't think it really is, though. I'm thinking that there's a difference between building up something pragmatically for specific purposes on the one hand, and, on the other hand, believing that the construction is something more than a pragmatic construction. It's probably wise to clearly distinguish those two processes from each other, though, and keep in mind that they have very different premises - perhaps not unlike how Daniel describes separating between the underlying assumptions of morality work and of insight work in MCTB2.

I'm wondering - when you say that you were going to be your own best therapist, you also acknowledge that there is something ironic and problematic about that. Would you be willing to take the step to actually seek professional help? Both a therapist and a meditation teacher? Would you be okay with making the effort to find ones that wouldn't too easily buy into some lingo that you have learned, but who could really expose your vulnerability behind the defenses? I think that could be beneficial both for your wellbeing and for your practice. I also think it could be very tough and triggering. I guess it could backlash, if the need to escape from it would get too strong. In order to get through it, you would probably need to keep acknowledging your own vulnerability and admit that you depend on others, and reach out for help and support without therefore feeling entitled to support no matter what. You would have to bear with setbacks and keep going even if it would make you feel like a failure, and even if people around you were to lose hope. I'd like to think that you can do it. If you want to, then go for it, I'd say. Just make sure to have proper feedback channels, people around you who can point out to you when are deluding yourself or being an ass - and from whom you could actually take that information without having your defenses triggered too much. 

I don't think it's selfish to pay someone to listen to your problems. I think it can be selfish not to do that, because without proper support, you are more likely to cause harm to people around you. 

Part of me wants to applaude you for being brave enough to ask this on a public forum. Another part of me worries that applauding would only reinforce unhealthy patterns of building up favorable images of yourself. Hence I feel a bit awkward and don't know how to conclude this. It is good that you ask, though, because these are important questions. I hope it goes well. 
George S, modified 3 Years ago at 1/19/20 9:38 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 1/18/20 1:43 AM

RE: Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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Hi Linda, thanks for your feedback. No applause needed, for a narcissist attention itself is the main thing and whether it's good or bad is secondary! I don't feel particularly "brave", actually I feel a little thrilled that I am outing myself in public (albeit anonymously). Am I sincere? I would like to think so, but looking back I can see many things I have done which I thought were sincere at the time but in retrospect seem to have been motivated by narcissistic self-interest.

I intend to seek a diagnosis. Actually I have been working with a spiritually oriented therapist for several months now but he hasn't diagnosed me with NPD. I had been reading Vaknin's book early in our acquaintance and said I thought I might be a narcissist, but he suggested that I avoid categorizing myself in fixed terms. But in our last session he mentioned narcissism which prompted me to start reading Vaknin again which led to this bout of introspection, so I will definitely be talking with him about it in our next session.

Vaknin says it is hard even for professionals to diagnose NPD. I am on my sixth therapist in 15 years now. My first therapist was a great listener and helped me to see all sorts of things about myself which I had no idea about. But our acquaintance ended weirdly and it seems like she might have developed feelings for me (I'm not just being a narcissist here!). In retrospect she was playing the role of non-judgmental mother. Since then I kept trying different therapists when I was depressed but found them all to be lacking in some way. This is the problem with a narcissist, they need your undivided attention and admiration, otherwise they get bored and move on. Maybe some of those therapists did suspect narcissism but clearly it's a risk telling a depressed patient "I don't think you are really depressed, I think you are putting it on for attention and are actually a narcissist". Narcissists are also experts at getting sympathy and most therapists want to help people so it's easy to see how narcissism could go undetected unless the therapist is an expert on narcissists.

Admitting I depend on others (other than for attention) is the hardest thing. My whole formative years (5 onwards) were about proving that I didn't need anyone else so my defense mechanisms are deeply entrenched. Still, it feels like a relief to finally know what's wrong with me (assuming it is NPD) and I'm curious to see how it works out and if there is anything more to my spiritual journey than narcissism.

Actually there probably are people around me who are willing to point out I'm an ass, my in-laws for example. But my tendency has been to interpret their perceived criticism as a deeply personal attack and look for all sorts of deep reasons why they might me motivated to attack me. It's a much simpler and more realisit explanation that their daughter is married to an a**hole, but it's kind of hard to accept that about yourself. When I was dating I was an expert at getting women to fall in love with me (or at least a certain kind of woman to fall in love with a certain version of me). I would present this facade of brilliance and vulnerability which can be quite attractive, at least initially. As for my wife, after 15 years together and 2 kids and being the breadwinner to worry about, I suspect that her capacity for narcissistic supply has been exhausted. I've thought about "coming clean", but telling her that I tricked her into falling in love with me and I don't know who I really am anyway ... might not be the best strategy. Hopefully with help I can navigate a middle path through all this.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 3 Years ago at 1/18/20 5:40 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 1/18/20 5:40 AM

RE: Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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Are you sure that just any attention would suffice for you, or is that something that you are telling yourself because it strengthens the view of yourself as not being dependent on others, or at least doesn't challenge it as much as acknowledging the need for positive attention? I don't know the correct answer, just asking. 

I imagine that it might be rather common for a narcissist to have people either "charmed" or very reluctant to interact. That is why I think it can be tricky to find a therapist that is both willing to do the journey and remain clearheaded throughout the process. You wouldn't want the therapist to become your narcissistic supply, as I think you are well aware of, and as it is very uncommon for narcissists to willingly seek and stayin in therapy and really do the work, I suspect that there are very few therapists who have much experience with successful therapeutic work with narcissists. Can you stay strong and vulnerable enough (not a contradiction) to clearly see if your therapist is starting to buy into your most clever defenses? And strong and vulnerable enough to stay with the process if your therapist does not buy into them when they get triggered to the extent that makes you feel like you are being misunderstood and attacked or bored to death or whatever (that is, when the false ground you are standing on is breaking apart)?

About coming clean, maybe it is wise to think about what part of it would be helpful to those to whom you come clean and what part of it would be for your own relief. Yeah, talking over it with your therapist is probably wise. 
Andrew Daniel, modified 3 Years ago at 1/19/20 5:42 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 1/19/20 5:42 AM

RE: Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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Yes, including myself.

A major challenge is 'narcissistic supply' - what the narcissist uses to fuel his narcissism aka his separation and suffering. Notice I didn't say "whom", because the supply is not seen as a person, but rather an object.

Another thing has been how narcissism is about trying to satisfy all our needs alone by ourselves, thinking we're superior to others and don't need them. Letting others in to help, truly letting them in, not ore ego-tripping, is instrumental.

I worked a lot with Dr. Karl Wolfe on this issue with tremendous success. Feel free to reach out.
Ra Mi Uuun, modified 1 Year ago at 5/8/21 7:16 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 5/8/21 7:16 AM

RE: Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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This is very much related to what I recently was thinking about, after reading the book and listening to S.Vaknins vlogs. And because of your post I made an account here - so there is your n-supply ;)

I see N paterns in myself and in other people I had to interact with and around me.  

Is there a way to somehow carefully deflate the Narc False-Self, like deflating a hot-air baloon - and at the same time develop and grow a True Ego?

Is it possible to concentrate on the actual feeling of getting the n-supply - lets call it the n-feeling, or the n-perception. Maybe it is similar to other mental phenomena - like thoughts and emotions and 5 senses.

So - whenever I am about to get, or I have the n-feeling - I notice it, and let it go, and do not follow its 'commanding' - the same way I observe thoughts or breath.

Is the n-feeling somewhat related to - what the astral esoterics call - the 'silver ropes' - they claim to see these 'ropes' or 'strings' between them or between other people?

So in more esoteric language - Narcs are a kind of 'spiritual vampyres'?

The catch22 of this post is - that naturaly as a narc - part of me made it to get coments or likes - to feed my n-supply, to get the sweet n-feling, call this Narc22. I am so smart, I am so wise - Saruman the Tehnicolor ;)
Stefan Stefan, modified 1 Year ago at 5/8/21 8:04 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 5/8/21 8:04 PM

RE: Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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Psych in training here. I'll weigh in on a few things of note.
  1. Narcissistic PD is a severe diagnosis. Don't go internalising things just because you've read them. There's a host of things that can cause this. The obvious case being "medical student syndrome". Where you read symptomology and then start thinking you have it. Go see a qualified psychologist and get a diagnosis. The mind is a labyrinth and navigating it takes training. The DSM-V takes years to master. 
  2. There are narcissistic traits that one can have without making someone clinically suffering from NPD. Traits are normal parts of healthy ego development and sometimes go out of whack, becoming maladaptive. Consider this as a possibility. If you think of yourself as a "narcissist" it may be unhelpful for your long-term development. 
  3. There are other disorders that can cause some people to exhibit narcissistic defence mechanisms, such as depression, anxiety, and manic states. Keep that in mind. There's no simple one-to-one correlation here with symptoms. 
  4. Also, narcissistic traits tend to lessen at old age. Trait expression peaks from 18 to about 45, drastically falls off and then peters out around 55-60. This is something shown in research. So, if you're older, this may be starting to happen to you now. If this were a personality disorder, no such "fall off" would be happening, as personality disorders are ingrained unchangeable maladaptive patterns of personality trait expression in thought, behaviour, and emotional functioning. 
Assuming you have a very large batch of narcissistic traits that have been relatively stable for some time. Also, trying to combine psychological principles with the spiritual. I'd say keep in mind the following to try and break maladaptive emotional-thought patterns: 
  • You're not special. Meditation and psycho-spiritual development aren't "for" you. You will not be gaining anything, just losing things. Be prepared. 
  • Drive all blames into one direction: you. It is your mind that creates your reality, and as such, must be understood as the source of the pain caused by reactivity to events. 
  • If you feel resistance when questioning something, work on that first. 
  • If meditation is giving you an excuse to avoid responsibility, it is not working and you are not really meditating. 
  • If you're doubting yourself, that is progress. If you're worried about your self-esteem, that is probably progress too. 
  • Whatever feels unwelcome, unsettling, or upsetting, is probably progress. 
But most importantly. Please, for the love of all things beautiful and precious on this Earth, see a psychologist and get a proper review for whatever it is that is troubling you. You're not doing yourself any favours by internalising a label of "narcissistic personality disorder" without due diligence. And random internet forums are not therapy or sound psychological advice. This is the best I can do, and I hope it helps. 
George S, modified 1 Year ago at 5/8/21 11:32 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 5/8/21 10:29 PM

RE: Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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(I’m ‘agnostic’ by the way, but I started using my real name!)

I would second everything Stefan said.

There is no clear line demarcating narcissists from non-narcissists. Many people have some narcissistic traits and it’s a question of degree and circumstances – whether it affects your ability to live, love and work healthily. That having been said, if you’ve read Vaknin’s book and recognize some of those patterns in yourself, then you probably have stronger than average narcissistic traits.

Vaknin’s book is brilliant on the symptomology of narcissism, but he’s very categorical (typical narcissist!) and his prognosis is pessimistic. Also he doesn’t explore the way narcissism develops in any detail. For more sympathetic and constructive treatments I would recommend the subsequent books I read which were much more helpful – The Drama of The Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller and Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child by John Bradshaw.

I agree that internalizing a label of NPD isn’t helpful, but if you suspect that you have narcissistic traits then you should take it seriously and learn as much about it as possible. What made the biggest difference for me was understanding how narcissism develops from emotional neglect/abuse/trauma in childhood and narcissistic parenting. I don’t think you can necessarily change the underlying personality structure much, but being aware of it makes a world of difference. I’m much more aware of my narcissistic thought patterns and can usually avoid speaking or acting out on them like I used to.

Spirituality is a very attractive arena for the narcissist, offering as it does visions of omnipotence, omniscience and the possibility to attract the adulation of others. When I started out on the path I was harboring narcissistic fantasies of what it would be like to be enlightened. I would say that a large part of the awakening process was about systematically dismantling those fantasies lol (and I’m by no means fully awakened).

The narcissistic “false self” is the image which the narcissist tries to present to the outside world to compensate for their deep inner feelings of inferiority, guilt/shame, anger, sadness, self-loathing etc. The “true self” is the inner world of sensations and emotions (how you feel about yourself when you’re alone focusing on your body and not thinking about anyone else). The problem that the narcissist has is twofold. First, an excessive amount of anger and sadness due to the early traumatic experiences. Second, an inability to recognize their own emotions because they were systematically invalidated by caregivers. Anger and sadness were totally normal emotional reactions to early mistreatment, but because they couldn’t be felt and expressed healthily, they got repressed and turned in on themselves, which led to chronic guilt/shame, self-hatred and inevitable acting out which just intensified and “legitimized” them (‘I’m a terrible person therefore I do terrible things, which makes me a terrible person’).

It sounds strange, but the route out of this vicious circle is to really allow yourself to feel those original “unpleasant” feelings of anger, shame and sadness. Actually what is unpleasant is the repression and resistance. Feeling the feelings is actually cathartic and liberating! The two books I mentioned above explain how to do this. Of course therapy is a good idea too to help you understand the particulars of your own development and situation.

​​​​​​​To answer your other questions specifically, I would say that deflating the narcissistic false self is relatively easy. Narcissists know only too well what a fragile construction it is, constantly crumbling and needing to be shored up and extended. The hard part is getting in touch with the true self – learning to feel your own feelings without being re-traumatized and engaging the habitual patterns of judgement, guilt, blame etc. You have to go through a sort of limbo phase where you recognize that the false self is unsustainable and you start to abandon parts of the old external identity, but it takes time to put in place elements of a new identity based on your real feelings and experience. You also have to be careful that you are not just constructing a new spiritual false self! The eighth fetter is variously translated as conceit, pride or arrogance – the sense of being superior, better, special or even just different from other people – and this is clearly related to narcissism, so it’s something that is a recognized part of the path.

It’s also tricky to do this in the context of insight meditation and the 3Cs, because even your “real feelings” and “true self” are impermanent, not-self and ultimately unsatisfying (even although the true self is much more stable, authentic and satisfying than the false self!) I have a suspicion that narcissists might sometimes find it easy to make progress initially in insight meditation, because it’s so obvious to them that their false self is a fabrication and they don’t have a solid sense of their own feelings! This can lead to bypassing and dissociation/DPDR (happened to me).

It’s definitely possible to identify the feeling of getting narcissist supply. For me it’s a feeling of nervous excitement that I get when an opportunity presents itself to do or say something shocking, surprising or reactive (anything which will get attention basically). I try to treat it as a warning sign to pause and reconsider. If I miss the warning then it’s much more obvious to me what I’ve done and I’m more likely to back down or apologize instead of defending or doubling down.

I hope this is helpful but please feel free to ask more questions.
Ni Nurta, modified 1 Year ago at 5/9/21 4:19 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 5/9/21 4:19 PM

RE: Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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How does your narciscism looks like?
George S, modified 1 Year ago at 5/9/21 7:59 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 5/9/21 7:58 PM

RE: Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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My practice logs contain a lot of details.
Jim Smith, modified 1 Year ago at 5/10/21 3:18 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 5/10/21 3:18 PM

RE: Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

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Any advice for narcissists on the spiritual path?

The right type of meditation will tend to make someone more humble, less egotistical. That ought to help a narcissist. Watching the activity of the mind helps you to see what is really going on, it helps you see through cognitive distortions etc.