Narcissistic "Flu"

What if you are the narcissist?

Posted Mar 05, 2020

“It’s all about them!” “Run, as fast as you can!” ''How do you know if you’re dating a narcissist?”-- these are just a few of the mediatic ‘witch-haunting’ titles that are populating the web around the problem of narcissism...Yet, what if you are the narcissist?

Although narcissistic behaviors can be highly intoxicating, I believe it is important to maintain a position of compassionate understanding in order to be able to look at the reasons behind its development and to be able to recognize the narcissistic traits that remain hidden in ourselves and sabotage our relational well-being. 

In this post I will use the metaphor of flu to explain, with an image clear to everyone, how it could happen that one  could fall emotionally sick and get stuck in narcissistic patterns. So, the metaphor is limited to a pure mental exercise. Of course, such a flu does not exist, literally, and has nothing to do with the current medical climate.

I’ve got the flu

In my work as a philosophical counselor, I came to the idea that getting stuck in narcissistic patterns is a sort of emotional flu that can affect each one of us to different degrees. This sort of flu, as any flu, is caused by a variety of environmental factors that impact us throughout our daily life. It’s the way in which we respond to these factors that vary. In a normal flu our head would feel congested and our nose would be running without letting us breathe well; similarly, in this other kind of flu the access to our intimacy would congest our emotional breathing. The access to our intimate life, in fact, would get clogged and would leave us with a strong sense of loneliness and powerless rage that reduces the depth of our vital breath. We might, in fact, experience shallow breath or simply feel more tired because drained by this emotional storm.

How do we get this flu?

Sooner or later life challenges us and pushes us out of our comfort zone. Sooner than later, it will happen that external factors will negatively impact important areas of life with which we identify ourselves and through which we feel our intimate self. Our society does not leave us much time and space for self-exploration, so it is easy to identify our sense of self with small fixed areas of our life: the romance with our boyfriend, our job, our family, our physical energy, our country, and so on. What happens when one of these areas gets shaken or threatened? Our sense of self feels in danger. We feel we might disappear at any moment. It’s then that we get the flu! 

Our ego feels so weak that we demand from others what we should be able to provide by ourselves; when we think that the world owes us something and our life is so unfair and miserable, that is the sign that we’ve got the flu. This feeling of self-righteousness is the focus of infection in which our flu can germinate. So, how do we treat this flu? How can we tackle these challenges without experiencing a sense of growing rage, or, feeling abandoned and miserable?

An example

Let’s use a practical case. A couple undergoes an important loss: The father of the husband unexpectedly dies. The wife is supportive and understanding during the first year after the loss.

Then, something changes. She laments that the husband is becoming more and more detached and distant. The safe space of their love feels threatened to her. An important area from which she used to get validation and intimate connection is shaken—maybe in a way that resonates with previous traumas. Without considering that her husband’s mourning is still occurring, her instinctive reaction to this threat is to disconnect even more from her husband (for the fear of being abandoned first) and from herself (for the fear of questioning herself and proving herself wrong).

She finds refuge in an empty and very fragile space within herself from which she demands love and attention without connecting to her deepest needs. Thus, she lacks the groundedness and energy to calmly find an agreement with her partner and understand what’s going on in life. At this moment, her likely dominant feeling is a foggy anxiety triggered by the deepest fear of disappearing, should the demands not be met (which is quite likely when one reaches this space of loneliness)—the whole sense of self would be shattered and scattered everywhere. So, the responsibility of coming to existence as a person connected to others is all put on the shoulders of the husband.

Specifically, the wife feels that she can only continue through her husband’s love; so she demands he show her his love in this particular way or that way—although these are rarely the ways in which the spell can be broken since this emotional flu can be cured only through real connection and warmth. She accuses the husband of being distant, cold, and detached without truly trying to be empathetic and compassionate toward both of them.

Both are stuck because the place in which they are is not real—it is a place of fearful anticipations and anxiety. Consequently, none of their efforts can be fully appreciated because it will be tainted by that pressing fear. In a place like that, she cannot find a way to take care of herself because her sense of self feels under attack. It seems as if there are no ways to truly nurture herself and her husband. She is experiencing a sort of emotional cold. She feels extremely lonely and incapable of being happy with what she has, or to connect with other people, because she is too miserable. The sense of loneliness makes her feel even more abandoned, vulnerable, and in rage. 

This sense of rageful loneliness should be taken as a symptom, as a bad cough or a congested nose. I think that narcissism can be read as a sort of a cold that appears when the roads to our intimate life get clogged by the casualty of life. If the wife happens to be without a job, or sick, or in a foreign country it is possible that the distraction of the husband is felt as more threatening because all the other accesses she had to herself are blocked, and her only way to be is through his warmth and affection. I think that this form of self-righteous frustrating loneliness can be used as the thermometer for this kind of fever and the cure is to re-open the access to intimacy by reconnecting life to the environment

How do you know if you’ve got the flu

If we cannot be alone with ourselves without feeling excruciatingly lonely or unlucky as if the world owes us something, then maybe the narcissistic flu got us and is weakening our immune system by clogging the access to our intimacy. What to do?

How to heal: drink lots of tea

We drink lots of tea. The path to take is the one to our intimate well-being. If we are lost and don’t find it easy, we can start by taking care of others: walking our dog, volunteering for a cause we like, calling a friend in need. Try to care for real without expecting anything in return. Connect with others. Do not lock yourself up in your room and start telling yourself lies to comfort your wounded ego. Go out, face life, care for yourself and others in a real way. If you find difficulties in caring for others focus on something you like doing and maybe put some volunteer work into that. Connect. Don’t lose your curiosity for the good surprises that the world has for you. It might happen that you will fall into such a hole more than once in your life. It happens. Just remember to take care of yourself when it does, and to get yourself out of that dark humid place. The world can surprise only those who have the courage to truly explore it.

Good luck to all of us!