When We May Not Be the Heroes We Dreamed We Were: What’s Our Hidden Story That Is Powering Us?
Updated: Jul 1, 2018
It is oftentimes more easy to judge and label other people than to take an honest look at ourselves. In this episode, Amee presents her non-TEDx Seattle talk about how superheroes & do-gooders may be hurting themselves and not even know it. Reference Links: http://www.drcraigmalkin.com/the-narcissism-test
Listen to the Episode Here >> http://podcast.ameequiriconi.com/109574/712109-1-3-when-you-might-not-be-the-hero-you-thought
I am here because I always felt like I was bigger than this world. That I was destined to do something heroic and amazing.
Yet, after a few failed business relationships highlighted with real, genuine but unsustainable success, I came to believe that my endurance was hindered by always running into certain kinds of people, in particular, the dreaded Narcissist.
So, I searched for ways to cure the narcissists around me so that they’d stop getting in my way. Because I thought I knew everything there was to know about what was holding me back.
Until one day when I broke someone’s heart.
Someone I loved. And I did not just have a romantic relationship with him – he was my business partner. And this was supposed to be the relationship that ended all others. And so, I worked hard at it. And I always knew that when I was speaking my mind or pushing my ideas, I was doing it for him – to make him better. To make us better.
And so, it was only until I lost everything all at once – the love of my life and my businesses - that it finally resonated in me that perhaps it was time to reassess everything I knew.
Because a funny thing happens when you’re destroyed. You have no choice but to rebuild.
And there I was, sitting across from him, with this sincere and aching want to fix the problem we had in front of us. But I could see my arguments weren’t working.
So, I sat there for a moment and said in my head “What if I listen now and instead of fighting back, consider that everything he is saying is absolutely true. What does this situation look like then?”
And as each criticism he had of me was volleyed in my direction – instead of batting them down with my arguments – I remained quiet and let each ball hit me and land. And once he was done, and I went home, and calmly reassessed what I’d heard, to see which comments were true and which ones missed the mark.
And that’s when I discovered that it was possible that I wasn’t the hero I thought I was. Because the narcissist I needed to fear was me.
YOUR BLIND SPOT
What was working against me my whole life, up until that heartbreaking afternoon, was my brain and its primitive tendencies to protect me from everything, including the truth.
See, what happens is that as our brains develop during childhood, all of our experiences are stored into scripts or schemas in our memories. And the collection of these scripts help us form not only our identity but also the basis for how our brain perceives future settings. And that, in turn, lets the brain quickly assess a situation and provide an immediate, automatic response.
In the case of life-threatening situations, I think we can agree that we are grateful that we don’t have to think every time we encounter danger – or else it’s likely we’d be killed. But in our modern life, we don’t think about life and death as often. Unfortunately, however, what we breed into our brains are other threats – trauma, abandonment, neglect – and those still become a script for the brain to follow later in life.
And so, where schemas are the short cuts the brain uses to help you respond as you need to, cognitive dissonance is the part of the brain that tells you “Hey – this person is saying something about you that we don’t believe is true. Don’t worry. I got this.” And your brain accesses these scripts that serve to protect this self-identity you have. It puts the words into your mouth that allows you defend your actions without even thinking sometimes. But it also is why two people can look at one situation and see two completely different sides – because they each have their own scripts & self-identities that they are protecting.
Cognitive dissonance, with the misguided belief that all narcissists are uncaring, evil-doers is why some people never realize that they are their own worst enemy. Especially people like many of you in this room – the superheroes – the ones who are here to learn about filling tall orders.
THE TRUTH ABOUT NARCISSISM
And so, I’m here to tell you that what you know about narcissism is probably not entirely true.
For one, you might not be aware that not all narcissists are grand-standers who suck the air out of the room and have double-jointed shoulders so that they can pat themselves on the back all the time.
In fact, some narcissists are covert – subtle and introverted. And these are the kind that many superheroes actually are. They are fueled by approval they receive from helping others, not hurting them.
Narcissism, psychologically-speaking, originally meant “vanity” but then in the early 1900’s thanks to Freud, expanded to be a natural part of the human psyche rooted in our brains self-protection modes. But whether “narcissism” is a force for good or evil has been debated in the psychology community for over some 100 years.
The definition that persists today in pop psychology is the provocative idea that narcissists are untreatable, callous and ego-maniacal. And why is that? Well, I think it’s because articles about narcissism that can get your hackles all up and reinforces your feelings you have about a jerky ex-boss, co-worker or boyfriend gets you to share it over and over again – which, in the digital world – means money.
But therapists realize that narcissism is actually far more complex than what a 3-minute article or even a 15-minute speech can touch on. In fact, Dr. Craig Malkin from Harvard University didn’t feel the dark view of narcissism fit reality so he developed the Narcissism Spectrum Model. Which led to a deeper understanding of how narcissism and narcissistic behavior can change over time or during certain experiences – because stress makes narcissists of us all.
The spectrum also didn’t change the base idea that a narcissistic person has a need to be recognized and acknowledged for their actions but it does allow us to see that the gasbag who can’t stop talking about themselves and the person who loves being regarded as the Queen of Volunteering are both both narcissists.
Further, the spectrum assessment helps you understand that when a narcissist “manipulates” another person in order to receive positive affirmation they need, there isn’t always a ruined victim left behind. In fact, some narcissists might actually make other people feel good or better about themselves.
But despite the debates over its exact origin or ultimate purpose in our lives, the urging to move along the spectrum towards extreme narcissism is accepted to be the result of negative childhood experiences and not the result of being loved too much by parents or given too many participation awards – another fallacy that perpetuates social media today. It's about what a child didn't get.
Children need their parents to help them form a robust self-identity and sense of security. And if supplied in a caring, loving environment, children do form a capacity to dream big dreams, go after Tall Orders and be shouldered with healthy levels of confidence to achieve them without a need to be manipulative. This is healthy narcissism and it’s good for society.
Unhealthy Narcissism, on the other hand, arises out of a lack and evolves when there is emotional neglect, abuse or trauma that leaves a child feeling alone and unheard or unseen. Because security is necessary for emotional development, the child will naturally search for this recognition in any way from surrogates. And you now have the possibility of a child becoming an adult with the same compulsion to constantly seek approval from others.
Unhealthy narcissism only becomes pathological when a person’s need to feel special consumes them to the point of cutting them off from the “real world” by forming insincere relationships with others with the only intent of using them for self-gratification. And this form of narcissism is actually extremely rare, despite what blogs say.
CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES DO MATTER
Now, despite recognizing that I was a functioning narcissist, I was still missing something important.
Because, in my own misguided grandiosity, I believed as many people do - that your past has no bearing on you and your actions today as an adult. Just forget them and move on. And I was right.
Until one morning, when I was reading about schema’s and something happened. I read two words that changed me.
“Child-like” and “Powerless.”
I was literally stunned and stopped reading immediately because at that very moment those two words pushed forward one memory I had “put behind me.” A memory so painful that forty years later it could still bring tears to my eyes. But I truly believed it had no connections to anything I was doing today as an adult. Because that was then and this was now.
But I was wrong. And it was finally apparent that morning that it was the beginning of understanding everything. I was sitting on my couch and feeling overwhelming grief for this little girl- me- who I now saw had been profoundly changed in an instant. And not just changed but she was broken. And then as a result, over the course of her life, would be molded and shaped into the woman I am today.
Moments later, it was like the pins in the lock of a safe all started to work – once the combination was put in, everything lined up. And my life marched before my eyes. And I now began to understand not only what my real story was. But how it had been written. And I finally knew how I needed to change it.
NARCISSISM ATTRACTS NARCISSISM
Now, here’s a final misunderstanding I want to clear up – people think narcissism works like a magnet – that only opposites attract to each other.
But if we’re going to apply the laws of physics to psychology, it’s better to think of narcissism and its power more like gravity – it is the pull towards a bigger object – an idea or vision – that draws people towards it. And the bigger the vision – the taller the order - the greater the likelihood that it has attracted more than one narcissist to it. And one of them could be you.
My own success was never sustainable because I would learn in the last year that I was not the hero I dreamed I was because of a hidden story in me. My real story - my power that motivated me in many ways to seek challenges and solve them, no matter what they were - while altruistic - was always grounded in needing to prove myself. To be seen. To be heard. This drive brought out the best in me as well as the worst.
And that’s why I want you to listen to me here. Because there is a slippery slope along this spectrum of narcissism that people like us – the ones with fire in our souls & ice in our veins who LOVE to go after big ideas and fill tall orders, can fall victim to if we don’t know who we really are.
Narcissism influences your abilities to accept failure. Which is great for building resilience but terrible when it comes to accepting responsibility for your actions.
And if you’re secretly propelled by the idea of “proving yourself to the world” the reality is that the gratification you receive when someone finally acknowledges won’t be enough. And you’ll need more.
So, your tall order might not be tall enough and you can unintentionally sabotage it by building it bigger and better – pushing the horizon out further and further beyond what you may be presently capable of reaching.
Or the success will go to your head and instead of repeating the steps that got you where you are, you become controlling & egotistical.
Or the next tall order will look more appealing and you’ll abandon what you’re doing now to move on, leaving whatever success you’ve had to wither before it can fully blossom.
But some of you might have to come to terms with that fact that you might be masters of influence but not on the follow through. And that you have been getting your narcissistic fixes by leveraging your charisma to inspire other people to follow you on your quest of conquering tall orders, when you don’t really want to do the work involved.
While I am not a person who believes we live at the whim of some omniscient force, I do hold space for miracles. And one in particular was the fact that I loved writing, even as a child, and so some of the most important times for me in my personal & emotional development were written down in my diaries.
This meant is that as I searched for the root causes of the “Why”, I didn’t have to rely solely on memories – I could literally read exactly what happened and how I felt in the words of the child I was at the time.
But the real miracle was not that I chronicled everything but that in the course of 30 plus years – they were all saved and I was able to read them. To me, this is a sign that Universe knew all along I’d need the road map to find my way back and conspired to make it so.
As I began to see the origins of my narcissistic personality, everything became less anxious. But then, as you’d expect when you pull the thread on a knit sweater, everything I knew began to fall apart.
I began to doubt who I really was. Had I developed a figment of my childhood imagination – a superhero that did not in fact exist at all? Was this belief that I had something important to do in this world real or merely compensation for emotional neglect and feelings of abandonment?
Is it possible that I’m not the Hero I dreamed I was?
That’s when life slowed down and I spent some time thinking. Really thinking. I decided that I needed to let up on my demanding deadlines and let myself take this journey through every step I was guided to.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling deep in core of who I am. So, I decided that no matter what, I refuse to ever accept that I don’t have something important to do for this world.
Instead, I’ll bring balance to my life and rewrite the scripts in my brain without losing my passion to do something of purpose. Which is why I’m doing this.
Nothing amazing ever happened by committee. Tall Orders start as sparks in one person’s mind who has the audacity to think that they were meant for bigger things. Narcissistic? Yes, it is.
And through the painful trips my ex and I took together revisiting over and over again the reasons our relationship was poisoning us, I slowly started to change. Not at first. And not even during the 10th conversation which felt like the 100th. It came in short bursts like clumps of dirt falling away from different parts of the same dirty window, letting a little daylight through each time.
I began to see that I am devoted to helping people. And yet I am also capable of being extremely selfish and insensitive at times.
And while I hold gracious space for different ideas and opinions so that problems can be solved, I had also been stubbornly aggressive at pushing my own agenda.
I live by the moral code that holds honesty and directness in high regard. And yet, too many, many times, I acted with subversion and passive aggression.
I moved people. Inspired them. Nurtured them. I led them.
But I also pushed them. Coerced them. Persuaded them to go places that were not necessarily in their best interest but in what I thought was their best interest.
My nature to lead. My love of purpose. My passion to be a change agent in people’s lives has been powerful and positive. But it has also been my greatest weakness. It has formed an Ameé-sized blind spot that has filtered not only my view of myself but also my view of others around me at times.
That’s why I figured that what I had to share in this post wasn’t just any old self-help psychobabble. For one, I’m not a therapist.
I just felt that today I have a special message for special people: Superheroes. Mentors. Gurus. Leaders. People fueled by a passion for helping others and as a result, who we look up to and expect actions of fearless altruism. People we regard as perfect because we recognize our own imperfections and want them to show us the path – show us its possible. People we admire and love.
The same people that if they fail – when they fail - break our hearts in unspeakable ways and shake our confidence in them as well as ourselves for trusting them.
And so the dilemma is that heroes know you feel that way about them and it’s also how they see themselves. This self-view makes them incapable of perceiving their own errors right away. Why when confronted, they apply thin apologies laced with defensive excuses. And then you hate them even more for not just what they did but that they seem to be shirking their responsibility for their actions. And they are no longer our heroes in our lives but instead plucked from their pedestal and thrown away in disgrace.
So how did I come about to a point in my life where I wanted to share this with you? It’s because, while I didn’t break any laws of man, I am guilty of breaking spirits – including my own. And I had never meant to. Nor did I realize I had for quite some time. And so, I felt that others like me – who really do care about other people – would want to know if they were doing the same things.
Therefore, I decided that the best thing to do would be to confess my sins and walk you through how I came to the realization that I had committed them in the first place.
And because we are all unintentionally corrupted in our brains by our commitment to do good, I felt it is important to help you understand what our brains do when it comes to protecting our self-identity that makes it challenging for recognizing our own faults and mistakes.
I also felt like you can’t talk about the tremendous influence of heroic personalities without touching on that intricate balance that is required between dominating confidence and the dark-sides of ego, control, and authority. I feel that knowing where that line of intrepid audacity to believe you have something important to share creeps into the shadows of self-righteousness and the unrelenting expectation of complete obedience.
I want to show you how to develop greater self-awareness so that you can undo the bad habits you may have created and to move forward with a mastery of your emotions and actions.
So, this post is for those of you who wear a cape. Who are daring. Courageous. Willful. Independent and full of confidence.
This is for those of you who demand a lot from yourself and people around you. Those who are leaders. Those of you who are no less than passionate about your work, ideas and your personal relationships.
Those of you who rise and fall but always rise again.
This is for those of you out to change the world in deep and profound ways.
But more importantly, this is for those you still searching in earnest for the success you can’t seem to find because you thought other people have been holding you back.
This knowledge is not for the faint of heart or weak. This is not for victims of their circumstances. I did not just provide you a handbook of excuses.
This knowledge is only for superheroes.