Narcissistic: All I Can Think About is Myself, or is it?

I was talking with somebody who is close to me a few weeks ago when I realized that they weren’t really listening to what I was saying. Or rather they inferred or interpreted what I was saying differently from how I meant it. I noticed that this happens often between us and is something I used to think was a narcissistic quality. In fact, it happens all the time. And not just with this person either. It’s been happening with many of the people I’ve been close with. Especially those from when I was a child.

At first I though that the person was being self-absorbed or narcissistic. Not listen to me because what they were thinking about was more important. Or rather they assumed they knew what I was saying and made a judgement about what my intentions were. This is and was a frustrating place to be. To feel as though someone is telling you how you feel or what your intentions are because they would rather use their own interpretation of what is being told them instead of asking clarifying questions.

Narcissistic or Self Absorbed, Is There a Difference?

When I was a child, I had caregivers that were, well the only way to describe it was vein, narcissistic. They talked mostly about other people and things with a condescending tone often. One was also a model when they were a young adult and had a shopping habit that was borderline unhealthy. I remember their home was filled with caches of clothing and make-up. As though they were stock piling for an surreal type of emergency.

This trait was something that was passed down through the generations in my family. It seemed as though they were constantly buying new things to feel some sense of belonging or to look a certain part. I’m not entirely sure what the drive was behind the urge to shop. Mostly because we never spoke about it. They just shopped. But the primping and need to buy new things, mixed with the condescending demeanor towards others for the ways they looked, led me to believe that it had something to do with how they were being seen. Which leads me to believe they had narcissistic tendencies. It also may have been a way to bond as well.

But regardless, this way of being was slightly different from the latest conversation I had. The one I referenced about the person inferring what I meant and not being more open minded. The result was, nobody was being heard. We were just guessing at what the other person was thinking and feeling, instead of asking them directly. It was a giant game of mind reading. Where no one was the winner and the result was, there were an awful lot of feelings going unrecognized, neglected and unheard.

Mind Reading to Fit in, Not being Narcissistic

When I realized we weren’t not listening to each other and that we weren’t being narcissistic, but instead we were hyper focused on what the other person’s intent was behind what they were saying, without asking directly, this made sense to me. This was something I had been doing for years. I was searching out hidden meanings in the conversations I had with those closest to me, to find out what they wanted from me. I thought, “maybe if I can figure out what they like and be that, I’ll be liked and accepted by them.” This however did not work.

I spent a lot of time, as I’ve said above, trying to read between the lines to infer what the other wanted from me. Because if I ask directly, I was afraid of being torn apart by the other. We were mean in my family. But everything I tried to do to garner acceptance, I was rejected for time and again. It didn’t seem as though there was anything I could do to gain their favor.

An example of me trying to fit in is, at the mere suggestion that my family showed some positive regard towards something or someone, I clung to that like a life jacket. Hoping I could resemble something they liked, however small. That’s how I came to live like Jim Morrison. After being scolded by my family when I made fun of “The Doors”, because I thought it would make me look cool. Jim sounded like someone my family collectively disliked, would have liked. Again, this did not work well for me.

Not Feeling Accepted Leads to Making Poor Decisions

So when all of my “hustling for approval” as Brené Brown so aptly put it, didn’t work, what was there left for me to try? By the time I realized that no matter what I did, I was never going to be good, cool or desirable enough to win the affections of my caregivers, I had already done some serious damage to my life and my relationships.

I left my wife for a woman two thirds my age and reverted back to a version of my former self, from my early twenties. It wasn’t pretty. After the woman I left my wife for, left me because I left my wife for her, I moved back in with my father and stepmom. Or else I would have become homeless. This was an easy choice to make.

I needed the time to sort out an entire battery of emotions. A life’s time worth of experiences that led me to where I ended up. I was making poor decisions based on the unhealthy lessons from my past. I wasn’t going to change until I had the chance to examine where I was, what got me there and find new ways of being that were healthy and sustainable.

What got Me Here

The short answer, on how I got to a place in my life where I had done a considerable amount of damage to my relationships is, fear. I was scared to death that I was missing something. Something I should have learned by now that would grant me access to those who were supposed to show me love. I was missing their affection. Only there was nobody there to teach me what it was that I was missing.

So I was left alone with my fear. Never quite knowing what to do or where I was headed. Hitching myself to any relationship that showed me even the smallest amount of acceptance. Afraid and lonely was the way I spent a majority of my life. It’s difficult to build healthy and lasting connections when you don’t feel as though you are connected to anyone in the first place. You need a role model, a grounding point. Some foundation to build a felt sense of healthy, unconditional acceptance.

Fear of Connection

And unfortunately, these types of relationships aren’t taught at school if you don’t learn them from your family. Or those close to you. Add being an introvert, as I am, and a healthy dose of fear from the trauma I’ve experienced and you have a recipe for isolation from others. For fear of being hurt again. No bueno.

And it was this fear of connecting to others again that was holding me back from making any connections. I was so busy nursing my wounds, that I didn’t realize I couldn’t heal them alone. Something Tara Brach has said often in her talks comes to mind, “we were wounded in relationship and we heal in relationship.” And I couldn’t agree more. If it wasn’t for the love and support of those closest to me now, I couldn’t have come through what I have.

Where Do I Go From the Fear?

When I began to defrost my emotions, having froze them when I had been hurt one too many times in my youth, I felt a great amount of fear. It seems as though everybody I have a relationship with currently, reminds me of someone I knew in my past. Someone who had done me harm in some way. This is a vulnerable place to be.

But what’s getting me through is, coming to terms with what’s happened to me in the past with those I should have been able to trust. I can’t change the past. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to play God and create some sterile version of what “could have been”. I like the person that I’ve become, now that I can feel again.

I’ve grown quite a bit from the person I once was. I can now see the situations that my caregivers were going through and the stress that they were under and be empathetic to them. It may not make it right, what they did, but at least it’s relatable. I don’t know how I would have reacted to the situations my caregivers went through. It wasn’t easy for any of us, that’s for sure.

Growing into Kindness

So how am I moving forward from the wreckage of my past? I wish I could say it was as easy as forgive and forget. Forgive, for sure. It may take a while to fully understand what that means to me, but it’s something that’s long over due. I’ve tried forgetting. And for me that meant a lot of covering over what I was trying to feel. This is how I froze my emotions. But what I do know is, that I’ve got to start with being kind.

Kind first to myself, and then to others. Especially those that remind me of the people I’ve known from my past. Because this is where I feel the most vulnerable and therefore, what needs the most love. And I’m doing it with a lot of help from others.

For those interested, this talk from Tara Brach goes into detail of the effects trauma has on an individual. It’s one that was immensely helpful for me when I was defrosting. It talks about how in shamanistic cultures, they believe when a person is greatly traumatized, their soul leaves their body. The person is then surrounded by loving and caring community to invite the soul to come back. And this invitation is really one of being ready to heal.

Heal from the wounds of our past while learning to love ourselves and others as we heal. It’s really an amazing concept and a process I’ve come to understand as I come to terms with the events in my life that have left a mark. This is where we begin to realize what our full potential really is. And what we’re really capable of.

And Don’t Forget, Be Patient

This whole process takes time. And especially patience with ourselves. It’s difficult to sit in the emotions that are painful. Ones that we have to experience in order to go through them and come out more whole on the other side. Just like the lyrics from Peter, Bjorn & John’s “Objects of my Affections” suggest, after we begin to heal, “I am more me”. And that’s a good feeling : ) Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Related reading: Fitting in or Desperate for Attention

Image Credits: “Self Absorbed” by judy_and_ed is licensed under

Updated: 12/11/22

Author: nolabelsliving

Social worker by day, blogger by night. I have a lot of lived experience which is why I started my blog. I was not given any direction when I started out on my journey, but have been blessed with some amazing support and guidance along the way. Just want to give back a little of what I've received : )

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