Sunday, March 15, 2015

Unintentional narcissism

The human experience is largely a narcissistic one, whether we want it to be or not. We come into the world alone and leave alone and our internal worlds are completely inaccessible by anyone outside ourselves unless we invite them in. And even then, they cannot know us completely.

I think this is why it's so easy to make the mistake of assuming that the experience we're having is also the same as another. This is easy to internalize for occasions and ventures but the same thing can happen in relationships and maybe why people can feel so blindsided by an ending or discovery in their relationships. Signs are there. Signs are always there. We ignore them because our needs overshadow our senses. We want to believe so badly that we ignore what actually exists.

I watched a friend try to interact with her adult son one weekend. He was peacefully reading on the couch, completely absorbed in a book. She came barreling into the room, oblivious to his intense focus and began chatting away, narrating her dizzying path through the kitchen. ("Hmmm, where did I put the trash bags? Maybe they're under here? I should get more paper towels, we're almost out. Boo, can you put out the recyclables? We need them done immediately and oh what is your schedule for tomorrow morning?")

He tried to gently fend her off with unenthusiastic grunts so he could continue reading. But she was persistent and continued interrupting him with both miniscule chatter and hard commands until they both lost their tempers.

Later she confided in me. "I think my relationship with my son is strained. He doesn't ever seem to want to talk."

She noticed his signs but didn't recognize they meant he wanted to be left alone. Because she hadn't paid attention to his more subtle cues, he had to amp it up.

I could see the dynamic from afar. Her need to connect with him emotionally overrode her ability to sense whether he was there too.

Unfortunately, in a conflict, the person with the strongest emotions usually "wins."  Driven by their unmet needs, they persist until the situation erupts or the infringed party further recedes. It's easy to see when someone else mines for a connection that cannot exist; lovelorn friends in squelched relationships abound but the myopic view from our own driver's seats impedes cognizance.

One of the biggest precursors to heartache is not paying enough attention to reality. The other is noticing it and hoping that the sheer intensity of desire is enough to transform it. A third is how we interpret our experiences. All can be abated by inviting in awareness and acceptance of reality. (Plus you can't change what you won't acknowledge!)

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