I am Rev. Dr. Rick Patterson and I’m a narcissist. More accurately, I’m a recovering narcissist.

There was an article in Psychology today[1] with the headline “Empathy, the Ability that Makes us Truly Human”. As a shame researcher myself, I generally agree.

It’s also widely understood that a key attribute of narcissism is the inability to have empathy. As a shame researcher and recovering narcissist, I agree with that as well.

The transitive property of mathematics would then suggest that the narcissist, the Rev. Dr. Rick Patterson, is sub-human. Sounds a little cold when you put it like that, but many who have had a relationship with a narcissist might now agree!!

What I can tell you is that narcissism, which is fueled by shame, has stolen my ability to live the life I want to live and my mission is to regain my life from this condition.

Many people are jealous of the narcissist because they are generally very driven people – very materially successful due to the very powerful inner shame drive. They are also good at manipulating the shame of others to follow and respect them. They are the top corporate executives. They are celebrities. They are politicians. They are our pastors and leaders. And, sadly, many of us lash out at them because of their “success” – which we envy. Yet they are not living a true life. It’s a mirage.

I believe there is the possibility of hope for narcissists to regain what it means to be truly human – I’m counting on it! It’s a hope associated with a daily arduous battle with its source: shame. This hope, I believe is an idea worth spreading.

Personally, I don’t have to look any further than the lump on my hand to know what’s inside my heart – it’s called a boxer’s fracture – breaking the pinky bone in the back of the hand when you punch something. I hit a wall – then a door – then an oak bookcase. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9OyVlQt-xU)

As I took the pulpit to preach my sermon the following week (yes narcissism rages in the ministry), I knew I would have to explain the cast to the congregation – that I went into a fit a rage when my teenage daughter rolled her eyes at me.

When a teenage girl rolls her eyes she’s saying you’re stupid. You’re an idiot. That ought to be something a grown man has control over. I should be able to ignore it.

Instead, it brings up explosive anger in me because deep in my soul I’m afraid she might be right. I felt exposed. I’d been found out and so I lashed out. That’s what shame does. That’s what narcissism does.

I know shame is an increasingly popular topic – as is narcissism, but it’s rarely acknowledged that Narcissism is rooted in shame. This is why narcissism is so hard to deal with – to deal with narcissism you have to deal with shame and shame is a word of weakness – which is a village the narcissist will not want to visit.

I’ve seen the destruction narcissism can bring into a life:

  1. Narcissism prevents empathy.

What I didn’t realize was the reason my daughter rolled her eyes at me was because I was making her feel the same way – ashamed – that she was just a stupid little girl. The reason I couldn’t realize that is because I lacked empathy. So instead of caring for my daughter, I was at war with her.

  1. Narcissism prevents acknowledging failure: the teaching power life.

My middle daughter defended her dad. She scolder her sister: look what you made Rick do!! My youngest daughter said, “he’s responsible for his own choices”. Failure with humility provides the most powerful learning tool life can offer.

  1. Narcissism prevents the power of apology – which is the only vehicle through which human relationships can survive.

I was able to apologize to my daughter. Nothing is more helpful to a relationship.

  1. Narcissism prevents the narcissist from actually have a “cause” or living to a higher purpose in life: they are their own “cause” – their own purpose.

The narcissist has lived a purposeless life where they are the center – except that such a life is a lie because it simply isn’t a truthful existence.

  1. Narcissism produces a sense of entitlement or a deserving of MORE. This leads to a constant bemoaning of the “unfairness” of life and, more destructively to depression, defensiveness, and the degradation of others

In short, narcissism will destroy a life of meaning, purpose and human connection. Narcissism will rob you of your humanity and your ability to truly live.

Four Rs to recovery:

Research: communicate with other human beings in person or through literature to understand the connection between narcissism and shame and the ill effects of narcissism on a life of meaning and purpose.

Resist: temptation to succumb to the allure of narcissism by practicing generosity, empathy, kindness, all things your narcissism shame will insist you NOT do. Try seeing where you might be wrong about something. Point out your weaknesses to another. Only through resistance will the muscles of humanity be strengthened.

Restore: attempt to apologize to someone for something – for anything. You are a human being and somewhere along the line you’ve made a mistake. Apologize in person or otherwise. The person may even be your own self and the way you have wasted time stewing, brooding, and depressed at your unfair treatment in life.

Repeat: as I mentioned, this is an arduous, daily batter to regain your humanity. There will be no end in my lifetime to communicating with other human beings on this topic. There will never be a day when I won’t need to resist the temptation to think I am the only one who matters in life. There will certainly never be a day when there isn’t something for which I need to apologize.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-darkness/201203/empathy-the-ability-makes-us-truly-human