What’s Love Have to Do with It
Why People Stay in Angry Relationships
Author: Lynne Namka, Ed. D.
Narcissistic behavior and psychopathology are being outed! What is the best reason to change selfish behaviors? In two words: your happiness. True happiness is having loving relationships and having meaning in your life. Happiness is not gaining possessions, being beautiful or handsome, chasing addictions and shallow pursuits. Happiness is not manipulating others for your own gain. Happiness is being content with what you have and knowing that there are people who love you, giving to others and finding meaning in life.
What’s love? Getting your needs exclusively met by others has nothing to do with love. Learning to be a loving person cognizant of the needs of others and getting a healthy balance is necessary if you want to love and be loved.
There is an explosion of narcissism information out there. People are leaving selfish partners after giving and giving for years with their needs not being met. As people are learning more about narcissism and psychopathology through internet articles and books, they are no longer willing to accommodate a controlling, dominant or abusive partner’s demands. Using the quote from the movie Network, they are “as mad as Hell and not going to take it anymore!”They are willing to start over and be alone to live a life of peace and regain their sense of self that has been eroded.
So if you identify with the need to control others to get your own needs met, pay attention. If you view others as existing for your purpose, then you have much to learn about being a real, true human being.
Many people learn to be selfish from their parents. One study showed that genetic factors were correlated. Entitlement behavior is transmitted down through the generations and if you had a controlling, critical or abusive parent, you may have gotten a dose of it. In dysfunctional homes, the children learn traits of narcissism and co-dependency. Some get a dose of both. Problems arise when a person gets too much self-regard and self-absorption causing unrealistic expectations from others. If selfishness is what you learned, you can take steps to admit you have a problem, educate yourself and unlearn the errors of thinking that keep you from true, loving connections with others.
Selfishness Equals Errors in Thinking that Consistently Favor One’s Self
I asked a man who was on the brink of losing the family he loved to identify the beliefs that created selfishness as a major part of his identity. He described how his self-involved needs were more important than those of his family members and then gave the rebuttal from his conscience.
The rebuttal statements which he gave are what family therapist Virginia Satir called “reframing.” When you reframe an idea, you see it from a different perspective. You put a different picture frame around it so it looks entirely different. Spiritual teacher Byron Katie calls the rebuttals “Turn Arounds” in her cognitive process of addressing errors called The Work.
Note the many “It’s all about me” errors of thinking in this man’s confessional and the Turn Around corrections when he came from a place of higher truth.
Ten Reasons from my Conscience Why I Must Change
1. I believe that I deserve to get what I want.
Turn Around: Who says so besides me? Who am I to put my needs above others? Selfishness does not work in a world where I want to live in loving relationships.
2. I can get away with it.
Turn Around: Initially this may be true, but the end doesn’t justify the means and eventually I’ll have to suffer unforeseen consequences.
Note that he says nothing here about the unfortunate consequences that his family has had to suffer all along.
3. Nobody really cares about me.
Turn Around: True, the generic nobody doesn’t care about me, but a specific somebody I care about does care and she deserves to be happy.
4. It doesn’t hurt anyone.
Turn Around: Some hurts are not externally noticeable, but they affect the emotions of others tremendously and therefore affect me. Besides I can’t really know how I hurt others. Maybe I’m just fooling myself thinking no one is being hurt so I don’t feel bad about myself.
5. I can have my cake and eat it too. I can be selfish and still meet others needs.
Turn Around: Yes but this cake is extremely expensive. This way of thinking has caught up with me in terms of relationship loss.
6. I can afford it.
Turn Around: Money can’t buy happiness for me or others, and the cost of selfishness is very expensive.
7. If I’m happy, then others around me should be also.
Turn Around: My definition of happiness may not be that of others, nor acceptable to them.
8. There’s no penalty in being selfish.
Turn Around: Maybe no short-term penalty but there is a tremendous long-term loss. Unintended negative consequences of those I care about distancing from me are an invisible penalty in choosing to be selfish.
9. I can control my selfishness.
Turn Around: Yes, but not long term, and getting my own way can be addictive and take over my life. It has taken over my life and now I’m living out the results of my self-centeredness.
10. My parents gave me too much when I was young. I got used to having my way. I kept on doing what I had learned.
Turn Around: Well, if I’ve gotten my way for all these years, it’s time for me to reevaluate my thinking and let others have their way. It doesn’t help me to blame anyone now for who I am. I’m a grownup and am responsible for my actions and how they hurt others.
The Longest Journey in the World
Insights are terrific but typically unless there is some plan to keep the new ideas and the motivation to change in place, people resort back to their old ways of thinking of themselves first. Change requires hard work and practice. Understanding your defensive ways of rationalizing bad behavior is a necessary step but only the tip of the iceberg. Understanding is of the head-real change must come from the heart. Otherwise it is just words and empty gestures with no substance and back to selfish business as usual.
A powerful plan of change is needed and there are coaches who can help you-they are called therapists who work with narcissistic thinking and behavior. You need someone on your side cheering you on as you make small changes and someone to challenge you if you back slide.
When the heart and head get together to make a big shift in behavior, there is a leap into a higher level understanding of what it is to be a loving human being. The twelve inches between the head and the heart and really getting that something drastic needs to change has been called the Longest Journey in the World!
What else helps with this process of recovery from selfish thinking? Examining your thinking. Observing your selfish behavior. It takes Introspection. Reading about fairness in relationships and resolving conflict equitably. Sometimes it takes messing up so grandly that you are forced to ask yourself what you’ve been doing all of your life. It’s never too late to start the turn around process but you will have to break through the denial and shame at how you’ve treated others. You’ll have to start taking responsibility for your actions but once you do, what a lovely thing will happen to your life. Like feeling good about yourself and being able to truly be there for others which is a loving thing to do.
Back to finding the secret of happiness and meaning in life: Philosopher Dan Dennett said, “Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.” Creating happiness for others just might be that something more important than you.
Read more about Spiritual Author Byron Katie’s work at her website The Work.