THE BLOG
09/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Cutting Through the Narcissistic Ego: Step One is Awareness

I'd like to talk to some of the dimensions of normal narcissism used in the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, namely Superiority and Entitlement, as they relate to addiction, one at a time. That's right, I said talk to, not about. You'll recall from the first article that narcissism can be considered subclinical, or non-pathological. As Doctors Mark Young and Drew Pinsky state in their paper, Narcissism and Celebrity, "...normal narcissism is characterized by self-centeredness, self-aggrandizement (the act of making oneself more powerful, wealthy, etc., especially in a ruthless way) and a manipulative interpersonal orientation." Let's again be clear that we're not talking about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, although it's probable that some addicts do fall into that category. For our purposes here, I want to describe these traits in terms of Aspects of Self dialogs, which I use in my book and workshops around the country.

Before I describe how this works, let me just say that in terms of normal narcissism, my NPI test results score much higher than the average celebrity in the Young and Pinsky study. So before you accuse me of being narcissistic, let's just get it out of the way. I'm a card-carrying addict, which means that I'm self-centered to the core. Add to that a high degree of extroversion. These results may be shocking to you but they're no surprise to me. But this is why I've worked so hard to develop a program for myself that utilizes the most powerful tools available to cut through this ego. My life depends on this kind of work. Your situation may differ.

Background
In my workshops I use a technique that's modified from something that I learned in the late 80s called Voice Dialogs. We basically ask to speak to a certain voice and the participant puts on that hat. Some voices used typically have been The Controller, The Skeptic, The Protector, The Victim. A Zen teacher, Genpo Roshi, worked with Voice Dialogs since then as well in his own therapy and developed a rationale for using it with his Zen students because in his own traditional Japanese Zen practice he felt that some issues were left unaddressed. As the technique evolved over the years, he created what he now calls Big Mind. You can find out about it on his website. I've attended his seminars and adapted the work to use with recovering addicts. The results have been amazing. I call it Aspects of Self and the Addict -- same technique, different population. It's a bit different dealing with intellectual Zen students than it is recovering addicts. I should know, because I'm both.

From a Jungian perspective, we have different sub-personalities within the entire scope of our whole self. In Buddhism, these can be considered facets of a diamond. The core essence of "diamond-ness" is present in and as the whole gem, but different angles reflect light in their own ways. We are normally unaware of the effect of the different aspects of our selves. Some are split off, stuffed away, denied. Others get a lot more airtime. By becoming aware of these parts of our minds, we can heal our whole selves. Awareness is the key point and Buddhism is all about awareness. I use a basic Buddhist meditation to illustrate.

Awareness as Healer
To meditate, we need an object, be it the breath, sound, a point in space between our nose and the wall or floor or a particular physical sensation, such as the feeling of the air on our skin, our butt on the cushion, or the hair on our big toe. In single pointed concentration, our method is simple: focus on the object. This is called mindfulness. As Mingyur Rinpoche teaches, when we forget to meditate and realize we've forgotten, we simply return to the object of our meditation. This is called vigilance. There are many books, recordings, and teachers to help you learn this. But if you want to try it right now, here's a quick introduction. Don't do this while driving.

Sit with your back straight, feet on the floor, relaxed and comfortable. Not too stiff, not too loose. Relaxed yet alert. Alert but not tense. Spend five minutes on your choice of object -- any of those mentioned above will do. Say, "I will meditate on this object for five minutes." Then train your mind on the object. When you realize you're distracted, say again, "I will meditate on this object," but don't analyze further for now. Gently return your mind to its object of single pointed concentration and relax there.

There are a number of studies recently that show how practices such as this help our brains and bodies heal in all sorts of ways. See my review of Hurry Up and Meditate on the12stepbuddhist.com for some examples. Follow me on Twitter to catch these stories as I find them. Suffice to say that the first step in solving any problem is to become aware of it. This is a principle involved in Step One from the 12 Steps, "We Admitted We Were Powerless Over Our Addiction and Our Lives Had Become Unmanageable." For an in depth analysis of that step and how it works for me from a Buddhist and psychotherapeutic perspective as integrated with 12-Step work, see the 12-Step Buddhist. What I'd like to do here is practice some awareness by speaking directly to one of the aspects or dimensions of the narcissistic self.

The Dialog
For the dialog to work, you have to participate. If you don't participate, it can't have a chance to work. This is an experiential exercise, which might look silly from the stands. But on the field, as the player, it's a whole different... well you get the picture. I'd therefore like to suggest that readers try this out by speaking from these voices in the comments section. Get into the voice, answer the questions and see how it works. I'll give an example of my own. But first, here are the rules.

• I'll ask to speak to an aspect or voice. Your job is to stay in voice -- speak in the 1st person from the voice called for. I'll say, let me speak to the Mind of Entitlement, for example. You'll start by saying; I am the Mind of Entitlement. Then answer the questions from that perspective. Easy.

• Speak in the 3rd person when talking about the self. The voice or aspect, in this case the Mind of Entitlement refers to the self by name. If your name is John, the Mind of Entitlement might say, "Without me John would have nothing."

• No cross talk between commenters. Engage with your own aspects of self. Like I said, if you want it to work, feel free to work it. If not, please let others give it a try.

Now I'll run the dialog with myself, then I'll list the questions for you to try it. You can do this on your own on paper or in your head, with a counselor or sponsor, friend or lover. But be careful -- the truth comes out. Note: what follows is my own actual dialog.

• Facilitator: I'd like to address the voice of total and absolute, unbridled superiority. May I speak to the mind of Superiority?
• Participant: Yes.
• Facilitator: Who are you?
• Participant: I am the voice of Superiority.
• Facilitator: How did you get to be Superior?
• Participant: I just am. Have always been this way. If the rest of the world would figure that out, they'd all be better off.
• Facilitator: What do you do for the Self?
• Participant: I keep him from feeling weak. Without me, Darren would feel like a piece of crap all the time. We can't have that. Won't have it!
• Facilitator: So you have a valuable role then. One of a sort of protector.
• Participant: Yes, that's right. Didn't I just say that?
• Facilitator: Yes you did. So if you're Superiority, what are you not? Who are you not then?
• Participant: I'm not inferior! And I'm not the damn self. He's weak. I'm above and beyond anything that he could do on his own.
• Facilitator: Do you feel that you're able to function out in the open, or do you have to stay hidden?
• Participant: Oh I come out whenever I need to, one way or the other.
• Facilitator: What are some ways that you "leak out" when "he" tries to hide you?
• Participant: Oh all it takes is a look. Sometimes a quick verbal jab. That usually does the trick.
• Facilitator: Do you think the self appreciates the effort that you go to keep him from feeling insecure?
• Participant: Not for a moment. He's too busy feeling sorry for himself.
• Facilitator: What would you like to say to the Inferior Self right now?
• Participant: Relax friend, I've got it under control. Leave the driving to me. I'll keep people from trampling all over you -- you can count on it.
• Facilitator: Thank you.

To try this yourself, just go to the blog comments section and paste in the questions below. Remember to stay in voice. We'll begin by asking to speak to the voice of Superiority. I'm not assuming that any reader is a narcissist, normal or otherwise. Nor do I assume that anyone is an addict. But we all have some of these aspects hidden away. Let's see what they have to say. Since the blog comments are anonymous, this should be even easier than it is in live workshops. But if your secret or not-so-secret inner voice of Superiority can't come out right now because another voice is in control, please try to observe and respect the dialogs of others. This kind of observation of others can be very revealing for us as well. Let's begin.

• Facilitator: I'd like to address the voice of total and absolute, unbridled superiority. May I speak to the mind of Superiority?
• Facilitator: Who are you?
• Facilitator: How did you get to be Superior?
• Facilitator: What do you do for the Self?
• Facilitator: So you have a valuable role then. One of a sort of protector.
• Facilitator: If you're Superiority, what are you not? Who are you not then?
• Facilitator: Do you feel that you're able to function out in the open, or do you have to stay hidden?
• Facilitator: What are some ways that you "leak out" when "he" tries to hide you?
• Facilitator: Do you think the self appreciates the effort that you go to keep him from feeling insecure?
• Facilitator: What would you like to say to the Inferior Self right now?
• Facilitator: Thank you.

If this goes well online, as far as I know it hasn't been tried like this before, we'll proceed with some additional voices. If not, there will always be plenty of topics for consideration.

I'll be doing workshops at Breathe Books in Baltimore on August 20th @ 6:30pm, Robin's Books in Philadelphia on August 22nd @ 6pm and East West books in New York City on August 23rd @ 5pm. We're also having a Winter Retreat at the Breitenbush Hot Springs on January 8-10th. For more dates check the Calendar at the12stepbuddhist.com or my Amazon Author Page.