How Emotional Intelligence and Brain Plasticity Can Combat Narcissism
By Vanessa Benjamin
This article discusses How Emotional Intelligence and Brain Plasticity Can Combat Narcissism. Is it true that once a narcissist always a narcissist? Well, there may be ways to use emotional intelligence to transcend narcissistic tendencies for those who are willing to do the work.
It’s commonly accepted and believed that once narcissist, always a narcissist. I know that when I was first diagnosed, it felt like I was cursed with a terminal disease. After all, it is a personality disorder and those with personality disorders rarely seek help nor do they stay in treatment. As a result, rarely, if ever do they overcome the problem. In reality, the Narcissistic Personality Disorder, when broken down to its bare bones, is a set of extremely maladapted behaviors and perceptions. The good news is that perceptions and behaviors can be changed, altered and modified through persistent discipline and practice.
HOW TO USE BRAIN PLASTICITY TO DEVELOP EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
The brain can essentially be broken into three compartments: the neocortex where the analytical/rational frontal lobe resides; the limbic system/emotional center; and, the reptilian brain where the more primal survival responses occur. According to a blog post for Heartmanity
titled: “What Is Emotional Intelligence?
” by Enid R. Spitz, the brain first processes sensory input emotionally in the limbic system then travels to the neocortex where it is analyzed using the brain’s higher reasoning faculties.
Dr. Parthenia Grant points out that “those with personality disorders stay stuck in a loop designed to win, by hook or crook, because winning is more important to them, than being right or elevating the discussion beyond flawed, dichotomous arguments devoid of critical thinking. Nor do they stop to examine whether their beliefs, feelings or assumptions are true or even rational. Instead, they argue with facts and stats, while clinging to the status quo and to their own faulty, preprogrammed social conditioning connected to the collective unconscious.” In fact, you can literally debunk their faulty perceptions with a barrage of contradictory research and they will not budge out of the irrational emotional loop that keeps them locked into the limbic system, unable to make that critical transition into the neocortex, thereby leaving them unable to move beyond emotional bias and into understanding,
Going one step further, the mark of true emotional intelligence is one’s ability to not simply use logic, but, according to the research done by the HeartMath Institute
, to start from the heart, since the heart actually governs the brain. Thus, the task for those working to overcome Narcissistic Personality Disorder is to strengthen the pathways between the limbic system and the neocortex while opening the heart. This process takes time, persistent practice, and the intention to become more heart centered. According to Dr. Parhtenia Grant, who developed a course designed to increase emotional intelligence, it takes at least 21 days to retrain and rewire the brain to move into a new, more emotionality intelligent set of behaviors.
K.I.S.S: Keep it Simple Stupid to Develop Emotional Intelligence
On her radio talk show, Divine Love Talk, Dr. Parthenia Grant did a show about the importance of using the (KISS Method) designed to Keep It Simple Stupid to deal more effectively with difficulty, disappointment, and Betrayal. This process can be applied to developing more
emotionally intelligent behavior designed to combat narcissism.
There are four basic pillars to emotional intelligence:
1)Self-Awareness: One of the classic traits of a narcissist is that they can have insight into others, and yet little to no insight into the self. In A Course In Singularity
, everyday students look at the elements of their ego that have been contributing to conflict, chaos, and dross in their lives. Self-awareness is the ability to look at one’s “stuff” with an intention to change it. This requires a willingness to sit with it while taking responsibility for it. While in the course, I had to examine which of the Seven Deadly Sins I needed to work on mastering every day with the goal of coming to the middle wherein these sins (i.e. to miss the mark) no longer had a pull on me. What makes the course doable is that it’s not about perfectionism, which can fall under the first deadly sin: Pride, it’s about catching oneself in the moment, when one’s stuff comes up, and in that moment, making a conscious choice not to go to extremes with self-destructive thoughts, emotions, or behaviors.
2) Self Management involves using one’s self-awareness to mindfully deal with one’s thoughts and emotions. I say mindfully because self-management involves addressing how one feels, in the moment, instead of stuffing ones emotions, or going into denial, which many are brought up to do in western society, which causes emotions to fester and grow into physical, mental, and spiritual illnesses.
The following two vows in the Course are designed to help people develop effective self-management skills:
• I vow that I AM always monitoring my thoughts to determine whether a particular feeling, thought, or urge has its origin within me or from without, such as addictions; psychic projections from others; society; religious and cultural conditioning; the collective unconscious; or, if they have come to make me aware of the need to master a particular weakness, addiction or habit.
• I vow that when negative, disturbing, or chaotic thoughts or feelings arise, I AM always taking a moment to stop, breathe deeply, and examine the thought or feeling to seek deeper levels of truth and understanding and forgive and let go of that thought or urge once I get the lesson or insight.
The foregoing two daily vows also mirror the basic process of Mindfulness outlined in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) which is a method developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Zindel Segal, and Mark Williams using traditional Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness to allow patients to observe negative thoughts and emotions without judgment, allowing it to pass like a wave of energy. MBCT is more effective in reducing relapse of recurrent depression than anti-depressants. It’s so effective that, in a study published in the “Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology” in 2008, many subjects were able to reduce their dosage and 75% of the subjects completely discontinued medications altogether. (Source
3)Social Awareness: Many narcissists only care about how something directly affects them; thus, it is no surprise that they have a general lack of empathy when it comes to how other’s feel. This allows them to live a life as a black hole that takes and takes, without giving back. Appreciation, gratitude or reciprocity is not in their lexicon. Social awareness involves understanding how one affects others or being aware and empathetic toward the feelings of those around you.
One of the main motivations behind Dr. Grant developing A course In Singularity is the idea the when you change yourself, you help change the world, because we are all inter-connected.
One of the books that I read in the course that is required reading is: The Lost Teachings of Atlantis: The Children of the Law of One. In the book, the main character’s teacher Zain, asks his student to imagine the world full of selfish people and then to imagine the world where people practiced unselfish love towards everyone. This passage actually made me think about a world full of a bunch of Vanessas and whether that would be a good place to live in. I had to be honest with myself: before the course in Singularity, the old Vanessa would have loved a world full of herself. I had to admit the truth; however, that the world wouldn’t be a great place to live in because I was so selfish, self-centered, mean, and self-serving. That made me realize why it was so important for me to change. I no longer wanted to contribute to the chaos and suffering already rampant on this planet. Like the 100th Monkey Principle, when a critical mass of people change, it then has an automatic effect on the whole collective consciousness.
One of the most important things that have helped me move out of narcissism is to focus on being of service instead of focusing on serving the whims of my selfish ego. I had to accept that, contrary to my ego’s beliefs, the world does not revolve around me, and that my ego’s needs are never more important than being of service to the whole.
4) Interpersonal Management: If you want to maintain friends and attract healthy relationships, interpersonal management is key. Unfortunately, most narcissists have Master’s Degrees and Ph.D’s in burning bridges and “cutting off their noses to spite their face” as Dr. Grant would say.
I realized that, for years, I couldn’t keep good friends, a job, or a relationship because I had horrid interpersonal management and little to no self-awareness. After all, when it’s all about you, who thinks about managing relationships with others except to meet your own selfish needs.
Spitz says that “a person with high EQ, who excels at interpersonal management, is often a good decision-maker and problem-solver; is not impulsive, manages stress well, adapts to his/her environment, knows how to set boundaries, and is highly empathetic.” What full blown narcissist do you know who has any of these traits? I certainly did not, before taking the Course in Singularity.
Before the course, I had a low internal locus of control. I couldn’t manage stress even WHEN my life depended on in. I was maladaptive in most situations outside of my comfort zone. I had no concept of boundaries (setting them or respecting them), and I definitely lacked empathy for others.
There is light at the end of the self-centered tunnel. If one narcissist can change, all can change. By practicing the 12 principles outlined in the Course in Singularity
; by developing self-awareness; by confronting how my behaviors negatively impacted those I loved and constantly exposing my ego, I was able to see that I no longer wanted to be the kind of person with no genuine regard for others, nor did I want to always on the prowl for what I could get out of others. I wanted to become a genuine, contributing member of society by being of service to others.
As a result, I worked hard to take the necessary steps to develop more healthy traits related to self-regulation and interpersonal management. For the first time in my life, I now have good friends that I can be a good friend too. I now understand that waiting often allows the universe to work things out just right for me. I also know that I can manage stress by adapting and going with the flow when things don’t go my way, by relinquishing my need for control to my higher self.
Overcoming Narcissism is in no way an overnight endeavor and in the beginning, it will feel like an uphill battle against old behaviors, thought patterns, neural wiring, and the delusions of the ego that is fighting to stay alive and maintain its control over your mind. But as Dr. Grant always reminded us, KISS and keep it simple stupid, because there is no substitute for the humility that comes from discipline, practice, and diligence.