6 Keys for Narcissists to Change Toward the Higher Self

Self-aware narcissists have the potential to change

Posted Oct 12, 2014

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“Once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

The Mayo Clinic research group defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

The causes of pathological narcissism are complex and deep-seated. Many narcissists are oblivious to their negative and often self-destructive behavioral patterns, which typically result in them experiencing life lessons the hard way. Negative consequences as the result of chronic narcissism may include some of the following:

  • Loneliness and isolation. Few healthy, close, and lasting relationships.
  • Family estrangement.
  • Divorce.
  • Relationship cut-offs from others feeling let down, disappointed, lied to, used, manipulated, violated, exploited, betrayed, ripped-off, demeaned, invalidated, or ignored.
  • Missed opportunities from a lack of true substance and/or connectedness.
  • Financial, career, or legal trouble from rule breaking, gross irresponsibility, careless indulgence, or other indiscretions.
  • Damaged personal and/or professional reputation.  

However, for narcissists who have a degree of self-awareness, there are ways to liberate oneself from the illusion of falsehood, begin the process of inner healing, and progressively move towards manifesting the real, Higher Self.

For the purpose of this writing, elements of realizing the Higher Self include self-acceptance, substantive success, and the capacity to feel and engage in truly healthy, loving, and lasting relationships.

Below are six keys for narcissists to progressively attain toward the Higher Self, excerpted from my books (click on titles): "How to Successfully Handle Narcissists" and "A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self". This information is general and introductory only. One should consult with a qualified mental health professional for individualized guidance and support. For the purpose of conveying immediacy, the following passages are written as if they’re reaching out directly to a narcissist, even if the present reader may not be one.

1.    Be Aware of Boundaries and Practice Consideration

Benefits: Reduce work and personal relationship fallouts due to boundary violation. Normalize and improve relationships.

Perhaps the single most important idea to keep in mind for a recovering narcissist is to be cognizant of where the self ends, and another human being begins. Exercise greater consideration for other people’s existence, thoughts, and feelings. Practical tips on how to achieve this include:

  • Address people by their names, both in speaking and in writing.
  • Listen at least as much as you talk.
  • Express genuine interest in and curiosity about people in your life. Ask appropriate questions to learn more about what’s new and important to them.
  • Be careful not to thoughtlessly intrude upon others’ personal space, use their personal property, or take up their personal time without permission. When making requests, ask instead of giving orders or presuming that you know best. Awareness and vigilance are necessary here, for narcissists are often good at asking manipulatively to get what they want. Ask not with leading but open questions. Give space for the other person to exercise free choice. Respect the choice, even if it’s not what you want every time.

2.    Develop and Deliver Substance

Benefits: Reduce the stress, anxiety, and moral conflict (“inner nagging”) that may come with having to pretend, lie, cheat, manipulate, exaggerate, demean, malign, cut corners, take short cuts, or break promises, knowing deep down that you are not whom you make yourself out to be. Increase the possibility of enjoying genuine, more durable personal as well as professional relationships. Enhance your reputation as a person who is solid, reliable, and dependable. Build trust from which many long-term personal and professional connections, opportunities, and successes emerge.

“In all things - substance! substance! substance!” is an excellent mantra for many recovering narcissists, to repeat daily during decision points. Practical tips on how to achieve this include:

  • Do what you say you’re going to do. Keep promises, agreements, and appointments.
  • Conversely, avoid making any promises you can’t keep.
  • When not able to follow through, be accountable and take responsibility. Importantly, be pro-active and identify what you will do to rectify the situation going forward. Build trust with your honor and integrity. 
  • Focus on making a measurable difference in your work and relationships. Avoid actions and decisions that will cause others to feel short-changed, cheated, used, belittled, manipulated, and correspondingly disappointed. A good way to measure is whether people are as happy after receiving what you deliver as when you initially promised, and whether they like your substance enough to repeat the interaction again.

3.    Use Your Observer Self to Increase Mindfulness

Benefits: Reduce friction, conflict, and misunderstandings. Increase positive and constructive social interactions.

The Observer Self is a useful psychological resource that helps increase awareness in many situations. It is the part of your consciousness that exercises mindfulness, and helps you make intelligent, considerate decisions. For example, if you’re speeding on the freeway in heavy rain, you can either do so obliviously, or you can “observe” your driving, make a mental note that you’re driving way too fast in bad weather, and consider whether it would be safer to slow down. This mindful process is your Observer Self in action. 

In your relationships with people, when you suspect that your narcissistic tendencies could get the best of you, elicit the help of your Observer Self by asking one or more of the following questions:

“How is what I’m about to say or do going to come off?”

“How might someone feel on the receiving end of my communication and behavior?”

“Could the other person feel used, slighted, looked down upon, or ignored on the receiving end of my conduct?”

“Are my words and actions intended to show how ‘great,’ ‘unique,’ ‘special,’ and ‘superior’ I am?

Whenever we elicit the help of our Observer Self, we’re taking a healthy look in the mirror, which may help us come across as more authentic human beings.

4.    Seek Help and Support

Benefits: Increase awareness. Increase belongingness. Begin healing. Reduce struggles in isolation.

Being a pathological narcissist is often a lonely experience with few genuinely close relationships. It may be harder still to discuss inner struggles and insecurities with people in your life. As you expand in your awareness and develop, seriously consider eliciting the guidance of a qualified therapist to work with you along the way, as well as appropriate support groups facilitated by an experienced mental health professional. These brave steps require self-honesty and courage, will have ups and downs, but can ultimately be gratifying and rewarding. You’re on a wondrous journey of self-discovery, and you certainly don’t have to do it alone.

5.    Permit Self-Forgiveness

Benefits: Facilitate the process of self-acceptance and healing.

As a narcissist increases in self-awareness, there may be an accompanying sense of regret or remorse at the damage she or he has done in life, both to herself and to others. One may think of oneself as a “bad” person and wallow in guilt. During these moments, it’s extremely important to be gentle with yourself, knowing that you did what you did in order to cope and survive, that it wasn’t easy going through what you had to go through when your own humanity was denied earlier in your life. Now that you’re more aware, you have a chance to avoid repeating past mistakes, and to create heathier relationships with yourself and others. Discuss your experience with your therapist to further your growth and healing.

For information on reducing or eliminating over fifteen types of negative attitudes and feelings, see my book (click on title): "How to Let Go of Negative Thoughts and Emotions.”

6.    Return to Humanity

Benefits: Greater authenticity. Genuine relationships. More durable success.

The upshot of all of the work above in self-discovery is that you may begin a steady process of returning to humanity as a more authentic person, with the ability to create healthier and genuinely loving relationships. Your personal and professional accomplishments, grounded in substance, may achieve bigger and longer lasting success. Most importantly, you’re more comfortable under your own skin, knowing that as you continue to learn and grow, you’re progressively realizing your Higher Self.

We conclude this article with another passage from “The Velveteen Rabbit”:

"What is REAL?” “Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."


― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

For more in-depth tools on how to effectively handle narcissism, see my books (click on titles): "How to Successfully Handle Narcissists" and "A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self".

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Preston Ni, M.S.B.A. is available as a presenter, workshop facilitator, and private coach. For more information, write to commsuccess@nipreston.com, or visit www.nipreston.com.

© 2014 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.

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