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Narcissism and the Narcissistic Society
By Peter Bloch
The narcissistic person, despite an outer presentation of high self-esteem, values themselves and others relatively little. This is because they do not have a strong connection with their own inner meanings and values, nor with those of other people. And, because of this disability, they suffer from a lack of fellow-feeling (empathy) and are frequently obsessed by the outer form of things, such as how people and things appear to be and what things they possess.
How they appear to other people is of great importance to the narcissistic person, and they may depend upon gaining the approval of others for their outer presentation of themselves. They can experience the needs and interests of other people as being quite separate from their own, and may even come to see others as objects for their own use, rather than as full people in their own right. In order to bend others to their wishes, they are not above deploying charm, manipulation, and sometimes even dishonesty or bullying.
It has often been observed that those values that might be termed "narcissistic" are strongly encouraged in modern Western Society. One of the reasons for this may be that we have extended the mechanistic, deterministic, reductionist, quantitative and materialist models of learning, that have been so successful in our technological advancement, to our relationships with everything and everyone in our lives. Facts may come to matter more than meanings, quantity more than quality, functionality more than beauty, competition more than co-operation, getting more than giving, and the usefulness of other people more than the Meeting of other people. The gaining of ends may be considered of more significance than the way in which they were gained. People come to be valued more for what things they possess or how they appear to be rather than for what they can give of themselves and for whom they really are. It is for this reason that some have called ours the "Narcissistic Society".
Such ways of thinking and perceiving may leave us feeling isolated from ourselves and others, and may even cause us to give up hope for the happiness that can come only from Healthy pursuits, seeking instead a life of consolation in the pursuit of things that are of little real value to us.
A powerful way to reverse this direction of thought and perception is through the experience of a Meeting, a genuine encounter with another person, and this is the primary goal of a professional Healing relationship, whatever the therapeutic model. Such a relationship allows us an opportunity to appreciate our own intrinsic nature, and that of others, and the essential connection that exists between us.
In conclusion, it could be said that narcissism, as a practical philosophy for life, is the very opposite of rationality and health. The person with some narcissistic tendencies, perhaps most of us nowadays, as well as those who have lived in close relationships with people or institutions with narcissistic values, may be much in need of Healing, and are likely to benefit from it if they can allow for the time needed, while they come to learn to trust both the Healer and themselves.