Have you every stubbed your toe really hard?
What do you feel?
You probably remember a few moments of shock, and then, a rush of pain. What’s happening is that the slow pain neurons transmit the injury from the foot to the brain. It takes a moment; but when it hits - it hurts.
Hurt and Narcissism:
Now, imagine a person coming to talk to you at that moment. It could be a patient if you are a doctor or a client if you’re a consultant, or just a friend who needs your attention.
You want to listen, but you just can’t. The pain simply takes up all your conscious energy.
It’s as if your whole world boils down to your throbbing toe.
You may not be a narcissist , but in that moment, it’s all about you.
Most of us are born as social beings. Good relationships involve a mutual back and forth. I listen to you and you listen to me. I help you and you help me.
This is where pain can ruin everything.
There are many kinds of pain. I remember stubbing my toe before a patient walked through the door. And, I remember how hard it was to focus on her treatment. Thank God, toe pain is short lived. I was able to get back on track within a few minutes.
But, what about more severe or chronic pain? For instance, there’s medical pain like chronic migraines; or psychiatric pain like panic attacks.
We even have a unique kind of pain that's found in Personality Disorders. Think about the misery of a Borderline or the emptiness of the Narcissist . Each carries pain – and delivers it as well.
So, how can different kinds of pain affect relationships?
Medical Pain and Relationships:
Whether its chronic bowel pain, or back pain, or arthritic pain, it all boils down to the same problem. If you are preoccupied by enough pain for a long enough period of time, you become narcissistically self involved. You can’t help it.
How can you pay attention to the nuance of your friends, or your spouse or your children, if at any moment your body is DEMANDING attention? You try the best you can, but your mind quickly returns to how you can relieve the pain, if only for a moment.
Psychiatric Pain and Relationships:
If you have a psychiatric problem, you are in pain. It’s not the pain of a medical illness, but it’s still real. Depression is an awful pain. You feel hopeless and helpless and don’t find pleasure in things.
Anxiety is it's own kind of pain. For instance, in Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), there's ALWAYS something to be worried about. GAD is a never ending preoccupation.
While GAD or depression can produce a self centeredness that can push people away, consider the world of Personality Disorders. These folks, by definition, are preoccupied with themselves in unique and, often self destructive ways. They feel pathologically special. Even those who look socially competent, like The Narcissistic Personality Disorder, are really alone.
Their pain pushes them to use people rather than care about them. It's a lonely way to be.
The origins of such pain is often trauma, or a constitutional sensitivity to rejection or anger - or both. Many people with Personality Disorders are easily triggered, and have evolved a set of defensives designed to keep themselves from pain.
It is exhausting; for them and those close to them.
Personality Disorders and Relationships:
Personality Disorders often stem from a need to be special, but in a distorted way. The Narcissist arrogantly asserts his specialness. The Borderline feels special in her unique belief in being unwanted. The Sociopath lives with the notion that no law applies to him. And, the Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder has a special responsibility to keep the world in order by his or her maneuvers.
While psychiatric disorders have genetic and environmental origins, let’s not dismiss the human desire to feel important. Patients with personality disorders may be disturbed, but they do feel unique – if not special - in the world. And, other people come second.
- Most of Us Need Other People: While there are pure introverts, human beings are built to be in relationships. When we love and are loved, our lives are enriched. It’s like food for the soul.
- The Narcissism of Medical Pain: If you have chronic pain, it’s good to be aware of your natural need to self soothe; sometimes at the expense of caring for others. Don’t feel guilty; you already have a lot on your plate. Rather, see if there are moments when you can come out of yourself and be there for people you care about.
- The Narcissism of Psychiatric Pain: If you are depressed or suffer from chronic anxiety, be aware that you may not be nurturing relationships very well. As with medical pain, cut the guilt, you already have too much going on. Instead, see if there are moments when you can shake off your pain for a moment and be there for those that are important to you.
- The Self Centerness of Personality Disorders: The hallmark of a Personality Disorder is the way they construct a dysfunctional universe around themselves. Whether the diagnosis is Narcissistic, Dependent, Obsessive Compulsive, Borderline or Sociopathic Personality Disorder, they all have intense self importance as a central focus. You know treatment is going well when patient begins to seriously consider the needs and hopes of others.
The good news is that medical and psychological pain often fades.
Remember that you're not the only one hurting, and if you're honest, empathize with those around you. Often, it’s possible to be generous and offer a hand or an ear when you're relatively pain free.
All good relationships require mutuality.
And, if you or someone you love has a Personality Disorder, its not going to be easy. Yet, time may heal some of these souls. Narcissists often do poorly with aging and Borderlines can lose their intensity. This can open them for therapy - and perhaps love.
Pain is a Part of Living:
Pain and self centeredness go together. Makes sense. So, what can be done about it?
Consider awareness. You’d be surprised how often you can make a relationship better - everyday. Catch the moment; it’s up to you to grab them.
It could mean being nice to that service person on the phone, or a call to your mother, or a kind comment to your wife or daughter. Or, you may text a friend to find out how she’s doing with her problems. Or, you might call your boyfriend out of the blue, just to let him know that he's important. Such moments count.
As you feel relief, you can even regret the mistakes of the past, while commiting to do better. Its a healing for you and those around you. Remember to love.
To paraphrase the ancient sage, Hillel:
- If I am not for myself, who will be there for me?
- If I am only for myself, what kind of person am I?
- If don’t take immediate steps to make things better, when will I?
I wish all my readers a life of health and happiness.
But, if hurt comes your way, I wish you a life of love – even in the midst of hardship.
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