Narcissism: What It Means To Me Chapter One: You Are Not Your Mind

But you’re still a pain in the ass.

Ever wonder why that jackass neighbor down the street, across the hall or patio drives you batshit crazy with their personal habits, thinking, hygiene, friends or lack of any or all of the above?

Me, too.

But after many years, months, day and hours of observing the patterns in my life, listening in on the lives of others doing the same, and then comparing notes, you can all rest assured that the problem with that jackass neighbor not cohabitating with you lies not with them.

I know, I know.

Any reasonable human being would look at the data you have collected and come to the same conclusion that you have: that person is a jackass. But here’s the thing. All research tends to bend heavily in the direction of, “me-search.” Meaning, if you are biased heavily in one direction or the other in an assessment or, heaven forbid, an almighty judgment, either for or against, you will only see the data which exists in support of your initial decision.

What? Yeah. I know. People are machines of prejudice. We see what we wish, or need, to see and hear what we want or need to hear. Anything else is considered, “static,” “anomalous,” “white noise,” “irrelevant,” or some other discounting or pejorative characterization.

It is not hard to imagine why this might be: making snap decisions on the plains of Africa or the jungles of Southeast Asia were a part of daily survival. Who ate or who was successful in feeding one’s self those days, long ago and for centuries thereafter, was not up to a well-fed committee’s decision nor was there a vote on a Tuesday in November. You either did, or you did not, eat or survive on that particular day. Whether your children and grandchildren survived, or ate, on any particular day was based on decision trees that were incredibly short because your opponents and your opposition tended to be much faster than you were, or could be. Foresight demanded that we keep up with beasts and threats that were faster, bigger and/or more agile than we were at the time. Our relative intelligence was our only substantial strength over other species and all our decisions required the ability to think on our feet without a lot of dilly-dallying with null hypotheses, potential confounds and, god help us all, trips to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at our alma mater.

But the following is also true.

A human being in the United States is more likely to die of a heart attack on a Monday between the hours of 9 to 11AM than any other time of the week.

Giraffes do not have this particular spike in deaths related to days of the week. Nor do our best friends, our dogs. It is just us humans who, utilizing our powerful brains capable of enormous foresight, insight and strength to predict probable outcomes, have managed to create a lethal cocktail of meaning which for some reason has correlated to the hours of a return to work after a weekend off. That is one hell of an achievement for an apex predator to accomplish since their prey species seem to stick to the appearance of immediate circumstances to determine whether they will stress their bodies with fight or flight to a physical breaking point.

Personally, I blame our domesticated cats. They have known about our weaknesses all along, but have simply, and selfishly, held on to this secret information because they are predators and jealous of our ability to open cans of tuna. Petty, but so feline.

The point here should be obvious: thinking can cut in both directions, for and against, human survival. And if that proposition causes you difficulty, it is likely because you have not yet experienced just how deep into the weeds a person can trek only to return back to their original point of departure, no closer to where they intended to be than when they started. It can be funny when this happens over issues where little is at stake; but when it comes to issues like who and how to have close, personal relationships with, the stakes can be quite high. Failures, or repeated lack of successful consummations, can be taken deeply personally and can be extremely painful to process through and to learn from. We typically do not even teach children how to solve personal problems in our local schools and many parents do not have the skills to recognize these types of turning points in a child’s development, much less the time to devote to mentoring our kids about humanity’s strange relationship with nouns. It seems our kids barely get through the parts of speech in a sentence and they are graduating from high school.

It is possible to relate all of this information regarding “relationship to nouns” from our reaction to one schmuck in our neighborhood with halitosis. Or some other obnoxious or toxic trait. If we could believe this were true, we could save a lot of money in therapy. If we could accept that we do not understand what our mind actually is, much less possess an innate ability to identify our mind, we could begin the process of breaking down and unpacking our disbelief into small experiments where we identify a situation that annoys or angers us, and then identify where we can, and cannot, exert some measure of control over in ourselves. Ultimately, this is our goal: what can we change about a situation? Most often it is the quality of our response to the situation that we have control over. With this control comes our responsibility to shift, alter or change it over time. The reward is greater peace of mind and a greater ability to live fulfilling lives.

And to spend less money on therapy.

Can you see how our concern over what and where our mind is has relocated itself outside of our brains? We have these fellow humans roaming about our daily experiences providing us with information, also located outside of the conscious experience of our brains, combined with our own lack of awareness of how any of these things have become, or could become, important to our greater ability to get along in the world. If all these things are true, then our “mind” has escaped what we have always thought of as our “brains,” and become this more abstract notion of “mind.”

A physical illustration, or mapping, of what I have just explained in language might be more clarifying.

Venn diagram showing two circles each representing and observer or the observed contained with a rectangle representing “us” and marked with Bullwinkle Moose in the bottom left-hand corner.
Figure 1 The Process of Observation

Figure 1 illustrates the process of the Observer, the Observed and the Process of Observation coming together into a single map to clarify the complexity involved in understanding one’s self in the world. Since Mind 1 can reveal information pertinent to Mind 2, and vice versa, the “US” entity, as an observer, would contain the information suitable for the understanding that it is a mind, but what of us? Out here in Readersville, we comprise an entity, too. An “us-ness” that can both give and receive information to and from Bullwinkle’s Usness out to every person who reads this book and understands that they are not Bullwinkle, yet Bullwinkle is certainly within our brain in the form of a visual sight. Just like the schmuck neighbor with halitosis is within your brain, Bullwinkle, too is within your mind. Yet, rather than see our neighbor as a two-dimensional cartoon, we see a fellow human with the unmitigated gall to walk around without a clue regarding how we see them. We choose not to see a cartoon version of a human, we choose to see a person who, rather than make us laugh, concerns us to the point of annoyance.

Why might that be our choice?

We could rest assured that everyone else would agree with our version of reality and say our neighbor is a menace to all clean-smelling, lemon-freshened human beings, but as I have already illustrated, the whole truth is tad more complex than just our surface annoyances. It is certainly possible that of all the angles in or out, to or from and all the infinite number of reflections of these things, there lurks a hidden version of myself that is just like me, observing all this maddening complexity and focusing on all surface observations and declaring them an annoyance or a complete nuisance. In fact, this hidden version of myself looks alot like me when I see myself in a mirror. He parts his hair kind of funny, but that handsome reflection looks just like me. Perhaps because he or she is me. Why would I do this to myself? Not just parting my hair funny, but generally being annoying to almost everyone I come into contact with?

And out of staring at this fellow dopey human being through deeper perception and understanding, what I am seeing is a reflection of myself that I have hidden deep within and chosen to see it as, “not like me,” or, “not one of us.” Some aspect of myself that I need to avoid has somehow found its way back to me in the form of a schmuck neighbor with halitosis. He could have been Bullwinkle Moose for all I care to know, but for some reason, today, he is a schmuck I don’t want to be associated with. By choice.

And yet, he continues to exist, popping out from the field of infinite possible reflections to capture my attention in a remarkable, if annoying, manner.

Do not let this perceptual “signpost” go to waste because it contains more facts about whom we really are to ourselves than all the trips to a therapist for a full year, or thereabouts, and that is money that you get to keep, if only you could decode how this reflection represents the hidden version of how you see yourself. So imagine that you are this outcast human being for a moment and collect all your judgments, assessments and statements about your neighbor and you will begin to see a completely different picture of yourself forming out of thin air. Oops, there it is contained in the last sentence. I see myself as an outcast, as different-from, as an annoyance. The harder I try to hide this fact from myself, there it appears before me in the form of a schmucky-duck neighbor. Perhaps I should tell my reflection to brush his teeth and tend to himself better, risking a verbal argument and some donnybrook on my way to work in the morning. Perhaps I should ignore him and wait for someone else to ignore who equally displeases me. I can engage in this peculiarly unworthy activity until I have manufactured an entire planet filled with annoying reflections of myself . Or, I could choose to surrender to the fact that I have limited my belief about my mind to only the perceptions of myself that make me feel superior. Or worse, I can still see an outcast human with a limited sense of himself that chooses to make himself feel miserable, surrounded by schmucks. And it only appears to be getting worse over time, never better, as all these negative perceptions stack up as evidence in support of me jumping out of a nearby window and flying away.

Why I would make this choice of decent into negativity, rather than enlarging my view of myself, is the stuff from which books are made to be written and read. I suggest you read on, but you’re going to do whatever the fuck you want to, depending upon how ready, willing and able you are to learn to feel peace, contentment and gratitude over the fact that the answers to all your personal problems finds their solution slapping you in the face every second of every day.

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