A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about a movie I personally didn’t much care for….along with my reasons why.
I felt my points were valid – although I certainly didn’t expect them to speak for everyone. After all, there are plenty of people who like things I don’t like – movies included.
In this, I also expected to hear from folks in defense of the film (which I did).
What I didn’t expect was to hear from folks who perceived my positive identification with the perseverance and eventual triumph of the film’s main character to be narcissistic.
One reader in particular commented:
I found this [post] highly narcissistic to be honest. I ‘made it out alive’ so why can’t (oh I mean won’t) you mentality. I hope you didn’t hurt yourself patting yourself on the back.
I didn’t mind her honesty one bit, and I commented back to that effect.
But I did mind being told that congratulating myself publicly for a hard-won personal victory was narcissistic. That stung.
So first I looked at whether it stung because some part of me thought she might be right. Am I narcissistic?
These days, that seems like a particularly loaded word to choose – sort of like saying that someone with mood swings “must be bipolar,” or someone who has trouble reading “must be dyslexic.”
Often it feels like there is far too much generalization – and stigma – around these highly defined words.
It was also right at this point that I realized I wasn’t quite sure what “narcissistic” actually means, so I decided to look it up.
Dictionary.com defined “narcissism” as
Yeep. I may be many things, but “excessively self-loving” has never been one of them….at least until (possibly) now.
Mayo Clinic had this to add:
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
Well, I definitely felt vulnerable to this reader’s criticism – and I was disappointed she had what seemed like a particularly strong negative reaction to my insights, which perhaps pointed to an inflated sense of my own importance and a deep need for admiration. Perhaps it also could point to a lack of empathy with some of the movie characters who were less personally likable to me.
So I sat with all of this for awhile. Am I narcissistic? Am I?
Then I thought back to all of the many years, practically since birth actually, when I really and truly disliked myself. I was very self-critical. I didn’t think I was worth much. I didn’t share anything about myself with anyone because I didn’t think they would care (so I was very lonely and very quiet). I had a really hard time asking for help or feedback.
Today, I am very different. Today, I actually like myself (most of the time, anyway). Most importantly, today I have a small hand-picked circle of mentors and friends I trust to help me stay on that all-too-narrow path between self-hate and what now sounds suspiciously like narcissism.
Today, I don’t hesitate to give myself a “high five” when I feel it is deserved. And sometimes, to be honest – since I both live and work alone – there just isn’t anyone else around to do it.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is, after lots of pondering, I have finally decided I am not on board with this reader’s diagnosis of “narcissism” when it comes to the few self-congratulory lines in that particular post.
Instead, I find myself feeling sad, and also wondering when it is okay – permitted, encouraged, even – to celebrate oneself?
When is it the right time to give oneself a genuine “pat on the back,” as this reader states, and even in public, without risk of being tarred and feathered in print or elsewhere?
If I had simply praised the film’s protagonist for his achievement, leaving myself and my own identification with his achievement out of the picture, would the reader still have seen the post as narcissistic?
It all feels very confusing right at this particular moment.
One of the books I’ve been reading lately talks about the kindness and love present in the afterlife, and contrasts that with the often palpable lack of kindness here on earth. In other words, at times it can be awfully hard here in this world, in this culture, to find a kind face or a kind word. So maybe sometimes the only other option left is to be that kind face for ourselves and say that kind word to ourselves.
After so very many years of loathing the ground I stood on and not even wanting to look at my own shadow or my reflection in the mirror, to go from that to having the confidence and self-worth to share who I am with others and even pat myself on the back in public upon occasion – well, to me, that is worth celebrating AND sharing.
But that is just me. And like my taste in movies, I am learning fast that not everyone will agree with me.
Today’s Takeaway: What do you think? Is it ever okay to congratulate yourself? Is it okay only in private, or also in public? Is it okay if others are also congratulating you, or only when no one else can or will do it and you are the only one available for the job? What do you think?
Joyful woman photo available from Shutterstock