Can Sensitive People Prosper in the Age of Narcissism?

Spoiler Alert!  If you've already seen the film The Sixth Sense, then you might remember the famous ending when Bruce Willis' character, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, realizes that he's a ghost (and has been one the entire length of the film).

He also realizes that his sidekick in the film – a sensitive young boy – has always known that Dr. Crowe is a ghost but didn't tell him because the boy understands that a ghost should, ultimately, figure out that he's a ghost on his own.

And so it is in real life: nearly every person has a secret that they're keeping from themselves – and it's usually not our place to tell others this secret, because it's something that a person needs to reveal to himself or herself at their own pace.

The secret that a narcissist is usually keeping from himself, is that he's not deeply or genuinely interested in other people for their own sake.

Most narcissists would be shocked to learn that other people experience them this way, as most narcissists have created an entire press release inside their own minds about how they are magnanimous or overly generous.

Narcissism is proliferating in our culture, and it's creating people who get bored, anxious or frustrated when the conversation goes too long without being about themselves or their agenda.

Authentic empathy and patient listening are the ways of the peaceful warrior.

Authentic empathy and patient listening are the ways of the peaceful warrior.

Narcissism is created, in part, when children in their formative years don't receive a particular type of mirroring that they need from their caretakers or culture.

The peculiar part of that, of course, is that when narcissistically wounded children becomes adults and have children of their own, the cycle of fracturing usually continues in some variation – from generation to generation (until someone breaks the cycle).

The 2 Ways to Move Toward Your Goals

Our modern culture and corporations are crafted in such a way that narcissists are being rewarded for being self-absorbed and self-serving. Strangely, The Law of Attraction (which is always at play in the natural Universe), doesn't care if you're a selfish person – if your focus is as clear as a laser, you can have your dreams fulfilled.

What this comes down to, then, is that there are in essence two ways to achieve your goals:

  1. the bombastic way of kicking butt and taking no prisoners
  2. the flow way of being gentle, empathic and authentically kind

Which of these methods do you want to use in order to move ahead in your life? 

  •  the bombastic way utilizes charisma, power or politics
  •  the flow way requires a quiet potency
What's it like to be in someone else's shoes? Empathy is the cure for narcissism.

What's it like to be in someone else's shoes? Empathy is the cure for narcissism.

How Sensitive People Thrive in a Modern World

Our own frustrations often stem from a fundamental difficulty accepting others' imperfections.

Empathy is our best conduit to understanding those with whom we interact. It can bring about peace-of-mind, and relieve feelings of isolation, because it pops our narcissistic bubble and reminds us that the background characters in our lives are actually the stars of their own lives (where we are the background characters).

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Walking a Mile in Someone Else's Shoes

Have you ever stood in line at the coffee shop and wondered what another person in line had for breakfast? Have you ever seen someone overreact in a traffic incident and thought to yourself: "Maybe he has a lot on his plate? Could he have recently lost a loved one? Or gone through a divorce?"

  • have you ever tried to imagine another person's feelings in a given moment regardless of your own agenda?
  • if so, was it a rare occurrence?
  • or do you foster empathy as a way of life?

If you happen to be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) yourself, then you already have a visceral sense for tuning-in to others' thoughts and feelings.

In this case "highly sensitive" doesn't mean emotionally fragile. Highly sensitive people are biologically more sensitive, and have up to a 15% more-sensitive central nervous system. This is giftedness, though not always compatible with many aspects of modern living (for example, you should see a HSP try to enjoy lunch in a crowded cafeteria, or try to communicate clearly with someone whose central nervous system is 15% less sensitive than average!)

Have you ever tried to imagine another person's feelings in a given moment regardless of your own agenda?"

Giving one the benefit of the doubt is of paramount importance.

That doesn't mean you should be naive or let others take advantage of you. It simply means that you never know what someone is dealing with.

Personal issues do not excuse or absolve behavior that infringes on your own rights, but at least it helps you to understand what might be prompting actions or attitudes that you find off-putting.

If you happen to be a sensitive person in an (family or work) environment with a narcissist, your solution is to be patient, set lots of healthy boundaries, and lower your expectations. When someone else is challenged with narcissism, you will not change them. Your best best is to be polite and keep as much distance as possible. 

"when we attempt to understand where others are coming from the world becomes a kinder place"

Cultivating Empathy

Consciously cultivating empathy has played an important role in my own personal journey. I try to filter every interaction through my best approximation of what it might be like to be in that other person's shoes. Of course, my approximations might be off, but at least the intent:

  •  is humanizing
  •  creates a more genuine connection
  •  leads to more equitable (and less exploitative) interrelations.

What is your experience with empathy in your daily life? Do you have someone in your life who can sustain an authentic interest in your thoughts, feelings, and experiences? Are you able to reciprocate that interest?

Could this article possibly inspire or help someone you know? I encourage you to share it.