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.
Before we begin, we must delve in deeper than the mind and into the true self. The true self is both emptiness and wholeness. It is our spirituality and conscious experience with the world, which has nothing to do with the mind. The true self overflows with love, hate, shame, fear, sexual libido and an array of other emotions. The varied experience of the true self in any situation can be a frightening thing. 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 in our lives, we need an understanding of how things work and a structure within which we are confident to act and feel. 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 our entire experience 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 use our imagination to fantasise about different possibilities and to feel empowered and in control.
- Tasks: Focusing on the future and being productive in the process can become engrossing and even addictive.
- Media: 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 to relate to. 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 and to relate to people within a manageable structure. The ‘false’ label does not make it necessarily wrong; it rather states that it is a construct.
All ego bubbles become destructive when they take over our lives. Overthinking can be crippling, fantasising too much can cause us to lose our grip on reality, overworking can distance us from our loved ones and affect our relationships, and so on. 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 kind of intimacy required to share our true experience is usually reserved for our closest relationships. Our true state can also be distracting when we are working with others toward common goals. The false self can be a useful ally in all facets of life outside of our intimate relationships. We all know there is more beneath the surface, but in challenging situations, we value the structure and restraint of a false self.
The false self becomes toxic when it becomes neurotic and manipulative. Controlling people is about consuming them in our ego construct and using them like we use our own bodies. 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 to 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 flurry of ego bubbles. We numb these wounds with 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 begins to bubble 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 to learn more about the 7 practices for narcissistic abuse recovery, check out How To Kill A Narcissist.