Our National Narcissism

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Genuine empowerment is threatened by nothing. Narcissism, Toddlers and AdolescentsIn last week’s blog, I wrote about narcissism as a developmental arrest in the ego-development stage of life. But what if an entire culture functioned like a Narcissist? What if a country was founded on toddler-think

and then later behaved like an adolescent: “Mine Mine Mine not yours, the “I” over the “We,” …lest I risk perceived annihilation:”

What if, like a Narcissist, an entire culture wrapped itself around:

  • What feels good right now
  • Fear driven, “either-or” decisions that push its people into categories of Us and Them
  • An imagined hierarchy of humans where how much money, or stuff, or letters after your name determined your perceived worth as a human?
  • A constant competition for an imagined supremacy (based on benchmarks narrowly determined by that culture and assumed to be “the only way”?)
  • Fierce adherence to that kind of competition, regardless of the impact on other people, other states, other regions, other countries, the environment, the planet, the solar system, the galaxy and beyond?
  • Defining itself in perpetual superlatives, (“the best,” “the greatest,”) shamingly labeling anyone who challenges the sentiment as “unpatriotic.”
  • Inflexibly defending a centuries-old habit of trying to erase or hide the damage it’s done from recorded history and from daily life? (You can’t own up to ugly in a shame-based, all-or-none, angels-or-demons paradigm.)
  • Exalting historical heroes who are expected to be flawless, lest they become demons?
  • Limiting access to power to people who support the above, marginalizing, disempowering or silencing any who would challenge it?

Please tell me these things sound familiar. This, friends, is what I’m talking about when I refer to “Colonizer-Think” in this space.

Nuance We have been trained to oversimplify complex problems. This too is an outplay of a national narcissistic wound. There is no room for nuance or important shades of gray in an adolescent mind. That lack of nuance does tremendous harm to those whose experiences exist in between the polarities. You know — most human beings?

Example Take for example, the term “Political Correctness.” Those of you who were grown or at least grown enough to be aware of political movements in the late 80’s and into the 90’s, might recall the emergence of the term “Politically Correct.” The intention of Political Correctness was not, as it has been mischaracterized, designed to shame people into swallowing their honest thoughts. (We’ve seen how well

turns out.) It was intended to help humans notice when their assumptions harmed other humans.

I don’t remember much about Kindergarten, but I do remember Mrs. Wright at University Park Elementary School teaching us to treat each other the way we wanted to be treated. Why is that a bad thing? More importantly, when did become a bad thing to be told that what we are doing hurts someone, so that we can stop, or at least consider our choices from the other person’s perspective?

The Shame Factor For clarity’s sake, I’m defining “guilt” here as the feeling that tells us we have done something wrong, and “shame” as the feeling that we are something wrong because we’ve done something wrong. Whenever shame enters into a human equation, the entire dialogue flies off the rails. When we feel judged, even by the voices in our own heads, we shrink into survival/defense mode.

If we’re being defensive, we defend against hearing that our behavior is not ok, assuming it means we are being characterized as terrible, awful humans. Sure, sometimes people do shame us for our harmful behaviors. Buying into that shame is entirely counterproductive. We stop being able to hear, to be humble and to grow in healthy ways when we are reduced to defending ego. If we are shameless, we are free to feel the necessary guilt that lets us know that changed behavior would be a healthier choice.

Don’t Be Fooled In much of the community dialogue, particularly among marginalized people, I hear the majority representatives of the Colonizer Culture identified as “the enemy.” Don’t trust “those people over there!”

It would be so easy if we could say “All people who look like this are bad. All people who look like this are good.” It wouldn't be at all helpful or accurate. Colonizer Think pops up in every human wrapper imaginable. Look for it — oversimplification, “Us v. Them,” fear-driven decision-making, worth defined by consumer achievement, a hierarchy of humans —- there is not a single broad people group in the US that does not host Colonizer Think in some form or fashion.

Learning from the Microcosm One thing I’ve learned as a therapist all of these years is that the microcosm is the macrocosm and the macrocosm is the microcosm. Meaning, what we do on the individual level is the same thing we do in coupledom, in families, in communities, in the broader culture, etc. That being the case, we would do well to learn from families that don’t foster narcissism.

In families that are ego-stable enough to not promote or make room for narcissism:

  • There is plenty of room for each member to be seen and celebrated.
  • Unhealthy behavior is constructively addressed without shame. (Separating personhood and behavior.)
  • It’s safe enough to feel guilt and make healthy changes, knowing your worth and connection aren’t predicated on performance.
  • Each person’s unique perspective is valued. Diversity is not a threat, but rather, an opportunity for each person’s view to expand.
  • Learning delayed gratification is more easily learned because members aren’t living in deficit.

The Macrocosm What if we dared to believe that there was room in our nation for all who are able to live in mutuality and respect?

What if the first question we asked people after their name wasn’t, “What do you do for a living?” What if we didn’t need an external marker like that to determine in our minds where someone was on the Invisible Hierarchy of Humans?

What if we thought of each person as a cousin instead of as unconscious competition?

What if we set policies in a way that considers their effect on all of the people and on the other things on and around the planet?

What if we remained consciously aware of our interdependence: That all people affect all people and that all things affect all things? What if we took only what we needed and gave whatever we could so that everyone might have what they need without fearfully clutching to a perceived scarcity?

What if we imagined that every single person has something important and unique to share with all?

What if we stopped treating history as the tales of the victor, and instead considered the events from the perspective of each people group that was involved? What if we viewed history as the story of actual human beings with all of the flaws, foibles and fabulousness that we have? What if we considered what we can learn from all that has happened, especially if it makes us uncomfortable?

What if we looked boldly at the unhealthy, destructive choices we have made, and figured out how to do things in a way that heals and empowers everyone?

What if we thought of ourselves as a really good country, among a whole bunch of really good countries that each defines their goodness according to their own values?

What if we let ourselves grow past our National Narcissism and let the contributions and considerations of all feed our growth, vibrancy and understanding?

What If ?


Are you struggling with the fallout of our National Narcissism? Would you like help getting onto a more healing path? Contact Tiffany today. Let’s figure it out.