Knowing thyself is not a form of narcissism

This all started with a recent comment on the blog, which I will repeat here so you know what I’m referring to…

“There is an excessive introspection and self-absorption, called narcissism, which is enfeebling and detrimental to one’s well being. Prolonged and obsessive reflection about issues of identity and health can drag one into this morass and become consuming, eclipsing joy and breadth of vision, and preventing one from seizing with gusto the wealth of wonderful pursuits and experiences available to us regardless of our sex, race, appearance or gender-identity. A lot of dialogue about valid issues of fairness and justice has deteriorated into a narcissism – characterized by feverish self-labeling into ever more recondite categories and sub-categories – which then shields itself from due criticism by waving the banner of Political Correctness.”

I imagine (but I do not know) that it is relatively easy to grow up as someone who is normal within their cultural context, and live your life as a reasonable match with the people around you. There’s not a lot of soul searching or angst in recognising that you have the same needs and inclinations as the people around you. So, for example to grow up in the UK white, straight, inclined to have children, with no learning disabilities or mental health problems, no major bodily health issues, getting a job, wanting a house and wanting all the things everyone else seems to want is, I imagine, relatively easy. Everything you see reflected back affirms your sense of who you are and tells you that who you are is ok. Not all of us have that. For those who do it may be hard to imagine what it feels like to be missing that basic and dependable affirmation of fitting in.

It wasn’t until some way into my teens that I even knew bisexuality existed as an idea. It’s a lonely thing to feel something you don’t have a word for, and as a consequence never to be able to speak of it or find someone who understands. This is the case for many people who seek labels, as far as I can make out. It’s not narcissism, but the need to have a common language that enables you to find someone who knows how you feel, understands what you mean, can swap notes with you about how to live life as the kind of person you are. How many bisexual Druid women are there? And it’s not just about big difference, and the differences you can’t choose. It is such a joy to know that I’m not the only Pagan Steampunk folk enthusiast out there. I’m not the only Druid reading comics. I’m not the only Pagan involved with politics. I’m not the only person walking the land as a spiritual practice. I am not alone. There are places I belong and people I make sense to.

There is a terrible, terrible loneliness that comes from not knowing another living soul to whom you make sense. At 12, I had crushes on guys and girls pretty evenly. I knew about straight and gay people. I could not tell if I should be in the straight camp or the lesbian camp and that was frightening. Not knowing who or what I was. I never talked about it, because I had no words. Somewhere later, 14 perhaps, the missing word entered my vocabulary and I knew who I was.

There is joy and relief in those most blessed words ‘me too’. Whether we’re talking about pain, or the difficulty of touching people, or how we talk to the divine, humans measure their sanity by not being alone. To do something, think or feel something when no one else does is to be alienated and possibly crazy. When you can ask ‘how does that work for you?’ ‘how do you manage that?’ life is better, easier. Depressed people and anxious people, people of complicated heritage, tribes with wounds in common, tribes of aspirations shared… they all matter.

Without opening up those other stories of difference, without finding other ways of belonging and participating, those of us who do not belong in the mid ground can either accept being other, or can pretend to conform, but there’s precious little comfort to be had from either. It is not narcissism to need to understand exactly who you are, and it is the first step to figuring out who your people are and where on Earth you might possibly be able to find them.

Advertisements

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “Knowing thyself is not a form of narcissism

  • angharadlois

    Absolutely. Feminism gets a lot of that, too – “why do women always have to talk about their experiences of sexism?” <– actual twitter response. Because we can't solve a problem without being able to talk about it, and sometimes that means finding a new language, and sometimes it just means treating it as something worth talking about. There is nothing enfeebling or detrimental to one's wellbeing about that.

  • Usacotts

    Ahh, I’ve encountered this type of person many times before, criticizing efforts against everything from racism to pain: “well, you’d be happier if you just stopped OBSESSING over [x]”. From their perspective, nothing is wrong, so the problem must be with the people who do think something’s wrong.
    One wonders what alternative these people wish for, what it is that they want — no concept of individual identities, with everyone as one great undifferentiated mass a la the Instrumentality from Evangelion, because any form of introspection about oneself is narcissism? Or, more likely, everyone outside the mainstream, privileged “default” shutting up and letting the real people talk about the really important stuff…
    (I recently made a script so that Firefox filters the words “political correctness” into “treating people with respect”; it’s been a bit of an eye-opener.)

  • potiapitchford

    “Without opening up those other stories of difference, without finding other ways of belonging and participating, those of us who do not belong in the mid ground can either accept being other, or can pretend to conform, but there’s precious little comfort to be had from either. It is not narcissism to need to understand exactly who you are, and it is the first step to figuring out who your people are and where on Earth you might possibly be able to find them.”

    YES!!

  • eberis

    Hi . First of all .,. yes We cannabis .. often applies to non-tokers who are working on the cause . Secondly , look up wikipedia.org/en schizo-affective and you should find with some surfing . . a list of Type A B and C conditions including narcissism and women’s sensual disorder .. if you find it .. you will know more about the want of cannabis for mental health at the Midwest united states health policy . Third and finally , Narcissism of egoism and the same naming of bi-sensual are different and can be a problem with modern pharmacopeia . Thank you .. good luck to your choice of “natural” sense of who you aspire to be with in a sense of a Manna of Earth and the associate choice of your preferences . Peace .

  • Faemon

    Reblogged this on The Codex of Poesy and commented:
    “…for example to grow up in the UK white, straight, inclined to have children, with no learning disabilities or mental health problems, no major bodily health issues, getting a job, wanting a house and wanting all the things everyone else seems to want is, I imagine, relatively easy. Everything you see reflected back affirms your sense of who you are and tells you that who you are is ok. Not all of us have that. For those who do it may be hard to imagine what it feels like to be missing that basic and dependable affirmation”

    World of WORD.

  • River Stone

    Well said, Nimue. Thank you.

  • helenjnoble

    It’s my understanding that behaviour arising out of narcissism usually impacts negatively on others – that seems to be more of an accurate marker (for me)

  • Cadno Ddraig

    Here’s where I stand on this: narcissism is a real thing; it isn’t good. Maybe you don’t suffer from it. You have my congratulations. However, the idea that you need to find other people who are just like you in order to be comfy and understood is a fallacy. Because the people who aren’t at all like you are also just like you. See? Your people are everyone. 🙂 Maybe by understanding them, you will come better to understand (and love) yourself.

    • Nimue Brown

      It is possible to find commonality with people, and it is nigh on impossible to find someone who is identical – I’ve never really sought the latter, there’s a reason dopplegangers turn up in horror fiction more than anywhere else… I start from a place of trying to see what I can like, be interested in and empathise with in everyone I encounter. Results vary, and for me there is no correlation between how I feel about other people, and how I feel about myself. Narcissism is real, and I have enough experience of it to use the term cautiously and to be exceedingly wary of accusing people who need to explore their heritage, physicality, desire, and mental frameworks, of being narcissists.

  • Cadno Ddraig

    I guess what I was probably too clumsy to convey clearly is my sense that not all impatience with political correctness is mere insensitivity. People do themselves a real disservice in self-identifying too completely with disabilities, so-called; with diagnosable conditions; with characteristics which make them outsiders. Because that’s not who we are. And if we make that who we are, in our own minds, we are really just internalizing the way others see us – not finding ourselves.

    The oracular injunction, “Know Thyself”, is about stripping away identification with such externals, and rediscovering ourselves as Divine Beings. The road to such liberating awareness surely must pass through acknowledgement of our feelings of brokenness and loneliness, but we must pass through it as wayfarers. Let’s not encourage each other to take up permanent residence there.

    Anyway….bottom line? I like your blog. I think you’re funny and perceptive. That poem you wrote a little while back was absolutely marvelous and in every way admirable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: