Has Narcissism become an epidemic?

It is all about the “i”; the “me.”  Nothing else matters.  Wherever one turns, this behavior is becoming more and more prevalent.  This is at the individual level, organizational level, and even national and international levels.  Where is this narcissism taking us?

Here is how narcissism goes.  It starts with what I want.  Then I justify these wants, because I want them.  Not because they are right, not because they are good, but because I want them.  After wanting them, I have to find a way to justify this want by having an excuse for it.  Since I want it then it has to be right.  Right?  So, if I step on others, hurt them, it does not matter.  It is about what I need and want and let everybody else suffer; family, children, friends, neighbors, and everyone else in the world.  Actually the more people I can suppress and surpass to get what I want only shows how powerful I am.  And that feeds the “me” in me even more.  It is all about me after all.

The dangerous thing is that the ones plagued with this narcissistic mentality are the ones most driven to get what they want, and because they will use anything and everything to get what they want, they usually get it.  So, the world ends up with managers, leaders, parents, teachers, that are narcissists.  And we are seeing the results everywhere.

When countries live lavishly at the expense of nations in dire poverty.  This is narcissism.  When top executives get bonuses when fired from their corporate executive positions, and get bonuses and golden parachutes, when their employees are being laid off in masses, this is narcissism.  When personal image, wealth, convenience, power, of leaders becomes more important than the people who voted for them, this is narcissism.

I am an optimist.  I believe fairness, love, selflessness, kindness, and everything we love in humanity will prevail.  Have you noticed that some look at these virtues as too “theoretical?”  As if they are definitions that belong in a textbook, not a way of life?

There are people out there.  Making a difference.  Contributing positively.  But one cannot help but be saddened by the level of narcissism that is out there in the world.

I am still optimistic and hopeful.  But even hope, for some, has become a textbook definition.

Look who’s talking – Part 1: The awareness

It is amazing how much of daily conversation is taken over by ego.  Ego is the background noise from the brain that tries to interpret the world to us, with the goal of protecting us from ourselves and the world: “Be careful, it might rain today, take the umbrella,” is an innocent example of what the ego is telling you.  In the very old days, the ego had a bigger role to play by warning us of lurking dangers, like beasts, bandits, floods, etc.  However, today it has to deal mostly with less mundane tasks like reminding you of the umbrella.  So far so good and things look fine on the surface.  However, that which is supposed to help us dodge danger is becoming the danger itself.

[Side note: The last line sounds like one from the script of a horror movie, and it is meant to be, as my ego wants to draw your attention.  Ego loves attention.  It makes it feel alive.  It assumes that attention is needed to be alive. Deep inside, each of us knows that to be untrue.  Back to the dangers of the ego.]  

Let us look at things from another perspective: Stress.  Most of us if not all suffer from it to one degree or another, but few pay attention to what it really is and where it comes from.  Many just dismiss it as just “feeling tired,” or “having a headache,” or even feeling sad, angry, or afraid. In reality that is most probably caused by stress.  Stress always comes from the ego, not from any outside effects.  Here is the proof: Take a toddler who is sitting close to a very venomous snake.   He has no worry in the world.  Probably you the reader imagining the situation have more stress about it than the child does.  Why? He has no ego interpreting the observation into a stressful thought.  In other words he does not “think” he is in danger. Put an adult in the situation, and he or she might have trauma from it for the rest of their lives.  What is the difference? The THOUGHT of being in danger.

Before this turns philosophical, the point here is that the THOUGHT is what causes the stress, not the outside effects.  We think of outside effects and interpret them as dangerous, scary, threatening, uncomfortable, etc.  It is a judgment.  Here is the trick: Sometimes the ego, in its zealous attempt to keep us safe, takes its job too seriously and starts interfering with every observation in our lives and finds the danger in it, no matter how silly it is.  Thus comes most of the stress in people’s lives.  The ego trying to show you the pain in any situation: “He is trying to put you down,” “she is very annoying.” “I do not like this person,” “What if this bad thing happens?” etc.  Your ego is trying to be smart to protect you, while in reality it is “spooking” you out of your wits and causing you stress.  It is like an overly protective mother who drives her daughter or son to stay confined at home in fear of what playing with the neighbors’ kids could cause; a fall, a fight, etc.  So instead of helping the child, the child is fearful and traumatized and not willing to go out there and just live.

Sometimes we get so used to our ego telling us what to do that we start losing touch of who we are and associate ourselves with our ego.  We think we are the protective voice in our brains.  So, we succumb to it, listen to it, and obey.  The ego becomes more confident, if you will, and builds mastery in how to manipulate you and your feelings to do what it dictates.

To test this, listen carefully to your thoughts throughout a given day.  When you get an uncomfortable emotion, ask yourself what caused it.  You will find it is caused by a though that interpreted a situation.  Not the situation, no matter how tough it is.  This point of realization can mark the beginning one’s journey of dissociating from the ego.  The journey of awareness, acceptance, and surrender.

Four themes to remember when dealing with difficult people

“He gets on my nerves just by looking at him.  It is amazing how different I feel he is from me; his views, values, demeanor, outlook, and almost everything else.  When I sit with him, my breathing pattern alters.  It becomes disrupted and short.  I cannot wait for him or me to leave.  I am blessed that my encounters with him do not take much time, even though they have a lingering uneasy effect that extend beyond our brief encounters.” These are common thoughts and statements we all experience when dealing with difficult people, especially those who are not casual passer-by’s but consistently are part of our daily lives and routines.

No one enjoys the negative feelings from interactging with difficult people.  So how can we change these feelings? Where is the problem? It cannot be the difficult person.  Even if he or she has lots of things that are wrong in them and their morales, behaviors, and demeanor.  All of these things cannot be the issue.  The issue is with “me;” the person having the feelings and the reactions.  Afterall, the feelings are inside.  Created not by the difficult person, but by “my” mind’s interpretation of what the difficult person stands for, and how “I” decide to react to this interpretation.

From my personal experience, remembering the following four themes can help with this positively and help manage the negative feelings and reactions.

First theme: Deepak Chopra once replied to a tweet from a follower on “how do I stop thinking negatively?” by saying “observe how you feel when you have these thoughts.”

Second theme: A good friend tells me that I need to be more accepting and that would help.  I agree.  I need to accept that people are not all the same, and they cannot be “good” from my perspective.  My perspective itself can be flawed, so maybe I need to stop judging and start accepting.  Accepting the facts that I do not know everything, I cannot force people to change, and that I have no control over anything except maybe my choices.

Third theme: Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was caring even to those who hurt him.  He used to pray for them.  He had empathy.  While he never accepted unfairness or injustice, but he was tolerant of those who were ignorant even if they hurt him.  “Oh Lord Forgive my people because they do not know,” was what he sad when the people of Mecca hurt him.  He did not pray for their distruction or to take vengeance, but he prayed for tolerance and forgiveness.

Fourth theme: Dr Rateb Nabilsi in his talks often reminds us of the importance of our faith in God and that all he chooses for us is for our own good, growth, learning, and salvation.  Even these encounters with difficult people are there for a reason.  We are learning from them even if the learning is in the form of a “bitter medicine” so to speak.  This does not make the hurt go away, but helps one put things somewhat in perspective.

Sometimes I struggle with my negative feelings and reactions for days.  Other times, I find refuge in these four themes.  What works for me is to stop analyzing why I feel the way I feel or over analyze how these ideas can help me.  I just accept how I feel and respect the fact that the feelings are arising.  I remember these themes.  Some of them click more often than others, but they do work quite often, if not to eliminate but at least manage the reaction.

Then, I am in peace again, until the next encounter with a difficult person.  If and when it happens, will I remember these themes? Will I be able to manage my reactions positively? I do not know, and that is OK too…Peace.

Eleven ways to feel better after being hurt by others

Many of us are taught, since we were children, that it is a sign of weakness to show emotions.  In school, in recess, by teachers, and almost everybody, we are taught “to hold it together” or be a “real man,” as many boys are told.  As if a man is supposed to be bigger than life.  Everyone does this with good intent; a child to be raised strong.  But the child is taught not to express emotions.  Not to vent anger, and thus stress builds.

Throughout our careers, we are also taught to keep emotions to ourselves and away from business and business associates.  If someone hurts our feelings, it is a sign of strength to pretend like we are not hurt, and that whatever someone says, it does not hurt us: “Sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words never hurt me,” said a colleague of mine whenever someone was rude to her.  This is so untrue.  Sticks and stones can hurt, and so can words.  They do hurt, and it is foolish to pretend otherwise.

Here are the two scenarios to ponder when you are on the receiving end of hurtful words:

Scenario 1: You are hurt by the words.

So your reaction can be:

a) Ignore and proceed with the conversation.

b) Ignore and avoid the hostile person where possible.

c) Express how you feel and tell the other person to stop.

d) Have a tantrum and let the other person have it.

I think these are basically all the possible reactions.

Scenario 2: You know the words can be hurtful and could be intentional but you are not hurt by them

So your reaction can be what? What are the choices.  Aren’t they still the same as in scenario 1 above?  So what does that tell us?Regardless of whether you are hurt or not, all reactions are possible and can be used occasionally at your discretion, and as you find necessary.  So maybe our focus should be on the” hurt” part. So what determines if we are hurt or not?

What determines how much or whether we are hurt is how we “take” what has been said.  It is not the words, but the  interpretation that our mind does for us.  For example, if the hurtful words were spoken in a foreign language, then one would not be hurt at all.  Even though the words carry the same meaning.  So, the words themselves carry no strength or weight.  It is our minds that put meaning and “hurt” into the words.  Then the mind chooses to linger on the idea of being angry, humiliated, and hurt for as long as the mind holds on to this choice.

So our mind is what we need to re-condition.  How we take things.  How we react to them.  The million dollar (or even more) question is how can we do that? How do we condition our minds not to be hurt by what others say? I wish I knew for sure.  I am working on this challenge and do not have an answer yet.  IF YOU DO PLEASE DO SHARE.

However, when hurt, there are a few things one can do to reduce the pain intensity and length of the agony.  Try these proven techniques:

1. Breathing deeply, purposefully, and slowly

2. Observing the pain, not attaching meaning to it or analyzing it

3. Accepting the fact that one is hurt and forgiving self for being hurt

4. Observing the thoughts as they come and not reacting to them

5. Accepting the fact that these things can happen and they are part of life

6. Finding refuge in those who pick us up and make us feel good

7. Confiding how you feel with a friend

8. Taking the mind into something else

9. Yoga

10. Cardio exercise

11.  Laughing, even if faking it

I am working on finding a proactive way to prevent the hurt altogether, instead of having to deal with it after the fact.  If anyone has any leads, please share.

Approving of self, our faulty self image, and emotional vampires

One of the toughest challenges for anyone is to not take things personally.  It is so difficult.  Of course It is easy to claim: “I never take things personally; whatever people say or do it does not affect me personally,”  but that would be a lie.

Everyone, to different degrees, take work and what others do personally.  The more passionate one is about the work at hand and about the people involved, the more vulnerable one to signs of disapproval or lack of grattitude.  “I am trying so hard because I really care about them getting the best possible service and this is what I get in return?”  This is usually followed by feelings of sorrow, disgust, and anger.  Then comes the self pitty:”This is what you get for staying here and putting up with this.  I should have left to a place where Iget some appreciation.” More pain and agony.  This goes on and on in the head in what I like to call the”self pitty party.”

Another wrinkle to this is that sometimes we beat ourselves on the head for taking things so personally.  Then we get even more frustrated and emotional. Here is an example of a line that goes through my head when I take things personally: “Come on Ammar; you of all people.  You teach others to be objective, professional, and deal with things in a cool manner, then you get frustrated over something so silly? shame on you…” Then I remember how people usually commend me on my subtle and poised demeanor in dealing with work or personal related issues.  Then I get angy over being angry.  It is so funny when I write about it, but to feel it is a totally different matter.

I think people should not take things personally ever.  However, that is impossible.  Otherwise one would not be human.  I think what causes all this anguish is the lack of self approval, which is the self portrait that defines in one’s eyes: “who I am.”  That portrait can change and vary depending on the mood.  For examnple, when “I” approve of who “I am”; the imperfect, erring, yet beautiful creation of God, “I am” in peace with self and accept self as is.  Then, nothing anyone does or say is taken personally at all.  However, this state of mind does not last, under the pressures of the day.  As this state of mind shifts, one gets prone to disapprove of self, or parts of self (because I want me better, stronger, richer, more perfect, etc.) In that state of mind, it is easy to disapprove of self and hence take things personally.

Some see in the disapproval of self a way to encourage self to be better.  I think that would be fooling ourselves.  Nothing good can come from beating ourselves on the head.  We need to bravely accept who we are first, then improve on self, not out of disgust and disapproval of who we are, but out of love, compassion, and forgiveness of our imperfection.

Here is a word of caution: Emotional vampires out there can sense your area of weakness and attack you from that specific area.  Here is a funny but sad story.  A friend of mine had a theory that many of us were raised to take orders from our teachers and elderly in a demeaning fasion:”pick up that book,” or “go to sleep,” or “stop whining,” etc.  So, he believes that giving orders to others in the same tone of voice as their abusive teachers or parents will result in the person doing the command you give him without thinking about it, having the same feelings of intimidation he had as a child when these commands were given to him.  He showed me examples where he did that and it worked.  He of course does not do it with anyone.  He selects the “right” person to do this with.  I do not approve of what he did, and it was very sad to see his demonstration and it seemed totally inhumane.  However, in real life many do this and they will take advantage of your weakness to manipulate you.

Our negative self portrait, highlighting parts of ourselves that we disapprove, are never accurate.  Usually they are far from the truth.  So where do these negative ideas about who we are come from?  I do not know but one thing I did notice: Most things that you disapprove of yourself are things someone in the past disapproved of you. Like a father who always told you that you are lazy, or an uncle who always teased you about being thin, etc.

Another way we build our disapproval of self is from disapproval of others from our past.  For example, if a relative was too harsh on his kids and that affected you when you were a child, part of you might say “I will never be like that person” then you will be very careful not to be harsh on your kids, and maybe too critical or disapproving of yourself for the slightest harshness in dealing with your own children.

Our mind plays tricks and games on us where we are oblivious to our worst weaknesses while we convince ourselves that we have problems in our personality that we do not even have.  Many people who say “I am too tough,” when they are very lenient.  Others say “I am fat” when they are really very thin.  All are games our minds play on us.  When we tell ourselves that we are a certain way, we need to remember that most probably that perception is false.  It is a figment of our imagination.   We are who we are, and the best that we can do is accept, then improvement can come to us as human beings.

Vin-Dic-Tive

I wrote it the way it sounds to me.  Choppy and aggressive like the people who are stuck with it.  Some people are vindictive chronically and they cannot help but be that way.  Some people are vindictive occasionally.  Some play are vindictive to make gains in negotiations.  Regardless of the reason, if  you are vindictive,  Please stop it.  It does not work.  If you are pretending, it is easy to stop, but if you are like that, you probably do not know that you are.  So, I will help you in this article identify vindictive behavior whether you are the sender or the receiver of it.

Vindictive in Merriam Webster online is defined as “vengeful, who tries to cause hurt or anguish.”  But there is more.  I felt the definition does not do the word justice and can easily cause it to be confused with other behaviors.  So I went into to the online thesaurus to find its antonym (opposite).  The antonym for vindictive is “Forgiving”.  I think between the definition and the antonym it is easy to understand the meaning of the word.

To remove any ambiguity, I would like to use an example I went through yesterday.  I will use words of a relative of mine, bless his heart.  This person has good intent and wants what is better for me, but he was very vindictive.  Here is where it gets complicated.  I do not think he is vindictive because he wants what is good for me.  He is vindictive because it is his nature, the poor guy.  So, something inside makes him want to be vindictive.  And so, he will dish out his vindictiveness whenever he gets a chance; when he loves someone he is vindictive:”You know I love you and I want what is best for you, this is why I might say things that make you angry.  But really, how come you are not a multi millionnaire yet? after years of working hard, and still you do not have anything to show for it?  Someone like you would have been a tycoon by now.” See? vindictive big time.  He loves you and he uses this loving opportunity to be vindictive and satisfy himself.  Ahh the beauty of the complex human psyche.  I just love it (I dont love vindictive, but I love the design of the psyche).  So everything gets twisted to help the vindictive be vindictive.  Let us give another example.  Someone made a minor mistake in the car in front of him: “Idiot.  Does not know how to drive.  The country is full of idiots driving.  How do they give them license?  This country is full of worthless bums.  Animals.”  Sorry for the harsh words but I wanted to choose excerpts from actual lines I have heard during vindictive behavior.  I bet you heard these lines too.  This does not mean that whoever uses them is vindictive.  It means that at that moment his behavior is that of a vindictive.  Now if he is like that all the time, he is a vindictive fella.  If this happens once in a blue moon, is one thing.  But if this is a pattern of behavior then this is definitely a vinedictive person.

I cannot but draw attention to a related personality disorder when talking about vindictiveness.  Which is narcissism.  Usually vindictive behavior can be seen from narcissists.  I do not have scientific proof, but this is from my observation.

Vindictiveness can be very disguised.  Even harsh blame is vindictiveness.  “Didnt I tell you to do this properly? when will you learn to do better? Why are you like that all the time?”  See? very easy to fall into vindictiveness mode.  Sometimes, it is not even words.  It is a look that you give your child or a sigh of disapproval, or a smurk on your face.  All vindictive.

How not to be vindictive? the antonym I mentioned above gives it away easily: Be a forgiving person.  Be a loving person.  Be tolerant.  This does not mean you let people walk all over you.  And it does not mean that you do not ask people to stop when they bother you, or prevent people from hurting you.  It means that you do not do it with vindictiveness.

Aikido is an antonym to vindictiveness, in my opinion.  Aikido is a japanese martial art.  It only starts with defensive moves.  Meaning, if the person in front of you does not initiate attack, you cannot use it.  So it starts by disarming the person in front of you, then applying some pain just to show him that his aggressiveness has consequences.  But you do it in the utmost respect to the humanity of your opponent.  I believe Aikido summarizes how we need to behave and react without vindictiveness.

If you are surrounded by vindictive people, try to stay away from them and not pay attention too much to what they say.  They can hurt you.  Remember they usually make wrong assumptions and give false proofs to prove to you that you deserve to be hurt.  For example:”Look at Ahmed.  He sold a land for hundred percent profit in a year.  So, why can’t you be like him?” The vindictive person is making the assumption that everyone is making money by the millions except you.  False assumption.  If you fall for it you start hurting “Oh yeah.  He is right! how come I am not like Ahmed.” Please.  Spare yourself andthe people around you the drama.  You are beautiful the way you are and have excellent strengths.  Let us start with that and improve upon it.  Remember? Love and forgiveness? Start with loving and forgiving self and do not pay attention to the Vin-Dic-Tives.