Every now and then, I get a kind of itch around statements I read or hear about so-called ‘narcissists’. I realise that I am not comfortable with the accumulation of perceptions and comments on social media and on You Tube that effectively say – those people over there (narcissists) are not good; neither am I one of them and here’s how to deal with them.
Of course, we sometimes label in order to describe and communicate – where would we be without our MBTI ‘labels’? (Another story, another time..!) But there is always a problem when we label people, no matter how benign our intention; labels fix people in time and leave little room for imagination, change or development. They also restrict our relationship with someone for just as long as that person is boxed inside a label that inevitably colours our perception, thinking and feeling. Deeming someone a ‘narcissist’ for example, means that we talk to and about them, in a certain way and from a slightly superior position.
Using labels that dis people – and which can make us feel a little better because we may imagine that we are not one of them – is miles away from the ‘I-Thou’ of meeting espoused by Martin Buber:
“The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being. The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being”.
When we treat someone as an ‘It’, we create separation and take the heart out of our conversation with them. Coaches cannot afford to do this. It is one of the forms of othering that we are advised to be aware of:
‘Othering is a process that identifies those that are thought to be different from oneself or the mainstream and it can reinforce and reproduce positions of domination and subordination’.
Some years ago I wrote a short piece about Recognising and Working with the Narcissistic Personality. I reproduce it here:
It’s far from perfect and there are even a couple of times I use the words ‘narcissist’ – them! But I offer it here for information and for reflection. I’m also aware as I re-read it, that there have been times in my own life and career, when I too have pushed and pushed for achievement, while being ignorant of how I was affecting those around me. In those moments I have probably been unbearable! Just a glance at social media tells you that there are probably quite a few of us who from time to time have been tarnished by the narcissistic brush. Who would like to cast the first stone??
Here Are The 5 New Words/Terms I Learned in Midlife That Revived Me
A wailing siren and a soft, reassuring hand. That is all I remember from my ambulance trip in suburban St. Louis on August 19, 2008. My heart had stopped just as the paramedic team arrived right after my giving a speech. “Break a leg,” is what they tell you before going on stage. Well, I’d broken my ankle a month earlier, had a serious bacterial infection in my leg, and was on strong antibiotics (as it turned out, the heart failure was likely an allergic reaction to the medication). What the heck was I doing on stage half a continent away from home in my condition?! While my memories of that day are opaque, I can still see in my mind’s eye the dream-like image that was swirling around my brain when I awoke in the Emergency Room: thick, sweet, fragrant oil dripping down a set of beautiful, dark wooden stairs in slow motion – I believe this was my experience of “seeing the light” when death was at my doorstep.
Today’s literature is replete with myth-busting advice for the next generation of women leaders.
Several development themes are emerging such as: the need to behave more confidently; the fact that you may be stuck at your current organisational level because you are “too good” at every detail of your current job. Another common problem is that women expect others to notice and reward their excellent contributions and often fail to claim their own achievements, as this is viewed as “too self-serving”. Two other common themes for female leadership development are: the need to let go of perfectionism; and to stop our collective habit of putting ourselves last. This theme “women eat last” has amazed me in its constancy over the last number of years; within all levels of society.