To transcend narcissism, it is crucial to understand how we derive a sense of identity, which goes well beyond our social standing. It is also important to see that narcissism is a subset of a far larger psychological dynamic.
We begin by going beyond the mind and into the True Self, where you find both emptiness and fullness. The Self has no form, yet overflows with an abundance of emotions, such as love, hate, shame, fear, guilt, joy, and even sexual libido. The chaotic nature of the True Self can be terrifying. In an uncertain world, our mind needs a container within which to feel safe and empowered. Note that this need goes beyond physical protection. Lying underneath a warm blanket at home and feeling safe is one thing. But in any situation, we need an understanding of how things work and a structure we are confident in navigating. We can call this invisible, psychological construct an ‘ego bubble’.
An ego bubble is a construct that both represents and contains our sense of self within the context of a certain reality. This construct guards the True Self, delegating the decision making and understanding of the outside world to our ego. Our consciousness becomes contained within this ego bubble, and we ‘lose’ ourselves in it. When we engage completely with an ego bubble, it consumes and ‘becomes’ us. For example, we can become engrossed in:
- A thought pattern: The mind is the easiest way to create an ego bubble. We just connect a train of thoughts, often in an anxious or future-focused manner. Our thoughts become us.
- Imagination: We fantasise about different possibilities to feel empowered and in control.
- Productivity: Focusing on a set of tasks gives us a sense of achievement, and the dopamine hit can become engrossing, addictive even.
- Story: This includes anything from a movie, a TV show, a song or a book. We identify completely with the people in the narrative and lose our sense of self. We live out a virtual reality.
- The false self: This is where narcissism lies. Creating a construct of our perfect self allows us to present an image to the outside world. The false self includes our appearance, behaviours, actions and belief patterns. Having this self validated by others reinforces it and allows us to have our needs met. The ‘false’ label does not make it necessarily wrong; it merely indicates that it is a product of the real thing.
All ego bubbles corrupt when left unchecked. Overthinking can be crippling and lead to anxiety. Overindulging in fantasy can cause us to lose our grip on reality. Overworking can distance us from our loved ones and affect our relationships. This danger also applies to the false self. Our emotions can be intense, and our ‘true’ state can be difficult to process, especially if we have a history of abuse. Trauma is hard to manage in the simplest of times.
The false self is toxic when it becomes neurotic and manipulative. Controlling people is about consuming them in our ego construct and devouring their life energy. A narcissist creates a flurry of ego bubbles and uses another person’s emotions against them to consume their reality. The same way a person can become lost in their own ego bubbles, so too can they become engrossed in the false self of a narcissist. A person shifts to the narcissistic side of the continuum when they refuse to embrace their True Self, i.e. their genuine experience. After an abusive upbringing, trauma becomes stored in the body and is kept at bay by a neverending series of ego bubbles. We numb our wounds by binge-watching television, creating a victim narrative in our thoughts, overworking, and in the case of narcissism, becoming obsessed with our false self and using it to control our environment and the people in it.
The essence of spirituality is to be conscious of our ego bubbles and to use them sparingly. A spiritual practice is about establishing an identity in the present moment. This includes feeling our bodies completely and disengaging from our ego bubbles, as well as the ego bubbles of others. When we do this, our True Self comes to life, and our emotions and sexual libido begin to flourish. Also, our trauma rises to the surface. The spiritual life is one of both growth and hardship. Adapting to and accepting a more emotionally complex reality is difficult. We all deserve grace and support during our difficult journey through life.
We need to be anchored in something at all times, and ego bubbles are useful for this. Nobody can doubt that. But being open to a wider truth has its advantages. There is a lot more going on beneath the surface than we might realise, and the only way we can experience this is by looking past our ego bubbles. This is easier said than done. The spiritual life gives us two options: we can keep our heads in the sand (ego bubble), or we can let the universe flow through us (True Self). Either way, the truth will always be there, and as free human beings, so will our choice to embrace it.
To better understand the dynamics of narcissism and recover from narcissistic abuse, check out the following books: