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I've been recently observing that I am surrounded by a lot of narcissistic people which include all kinds of relationships friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances. Having been surrounded by these people I believe I have developed a relatively weak ego/low self-esteem over time -which of course translates to suffering. I also have been doing some meditation related work which has made me stronger/confident and also I believe it is the reason I've been recently having clashes/fights with these kind of people.

Thus I wanted to understand narcissism from a deeper perspective of Dhamma. Modern psychology has it already in the dark triad personality traits, namely, narcissism, machiavellism and psychopathy. I watched and analyzed some videos from Jordan Peterson and some others; but I am shocked to find such a surprising lack of material and insights about this phenomenon from any good spiritual gurus, and even here on forums like stack-exchange, reddit etc. Thus I am making this post!

So I would like to plead here - kindly contribute any deep/thorough analysis of this trait both from classical sutras perspective and from your own understanding: giving arguments/analogies/reasonings for any assertions. Possibly include the following topics - deconstructing what narcissism actually is, what kind of mental states and defilements are involved, how to overcome those as a person who has narcissism and how to minimize the bad karma recieved while dealing with such people.

It may be a little bit of effort to write up properly, but I believe you sharing such valuable insights will be very helpful - for both people like me who have to deal with narcissistic people and also for others who want to fix their own narcissism and corresponding defilements. If anyone does contribute here, your efforts and insights are greatly appreciated, Thank you!

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The self is a tricky concepts in Buddhism. All of us have to deal with it, many are unable to separate from it (to a greater or lesser extent), and some are so absorbed in it that they hardly realize that any selves exist independent of their own self. That last is what we call narcissism.

That being said, the self is a relational concept: the self is a public persona that we present to society, so that others know how we relate to them and how they relate to us. Even though narcissism is a closed persona — all relationships are viewed through the lens of the narcissist's self, and other selves are only acknowledged to the extent that they offer utility/inconvenience or pleasure/displeasure to the narcissist — it's still relational in the sense that narcissists expects everyone to relate to the narcissist in the ways the narcissist dictates. And when you say you have developed 'weak ego' or 'low self-esteem' that two is a relational persona: you have absorbed into a self that gives in the dictates of others.

But it's just a persona. I don't mean to make it sound simplistic — because it isn't — but with practice you'll come to realize that your self is just a public persona that helps you relate to others, and that you ultimately decide how you will relate to others, and thus what that persona looks like. Ultimately, narcissists have a compulsion to be perceived in a particular (self-validating) way, and it's their weakness that they must constantly struggle to force others to validate them in that way. They don't realize they can get that same validation merely by releasing the concept of self — by being authentic — and so they are compelled to find ways to control others. When you can see that (without self-judgement) you can't help but have compassion for it, and when you find that compassion for their struggles they will no longer have the power to dictate their relationship with you. That's when you can start to help them.

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  • Great answer! Do you think narcissists have problems with excessive hate? The ones I have met are quick to abuse things/situations/people. Also, this is established in modern psychology that narcissists have lack of empathy/compassion. Jul 13, 2023 at 3:45
  • @Kobamschitzo: I think such people have a difficult time coping whenever another person fails to conform to their expectations. They need the people around them to reflect their internal beliefs about themselves, and when that doesn't happen it can produce a range of intense emotions. It's all reactivity, so I don't want to say it's going to be this emotion to that one (or even that it will be consistent from moment to moment), but hatred-like symptoms are surely in the mix. Jul 13, 2023 at 16:22
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In Traits, AN 4.192, a personal identity (i.e. our self-image) is a result of living in a society. And the consequence is that we are swept away by gain and loss, fame and disgrace, praise and blame, pleasure and pain.

Once, we have an identity view, we will want to do whatever necessary to defend and build on it. Anything that threatens our identity/image/esteem is clear and present danger. Anything that can assuage and boost our self-identity is dear and precious. That’s why we surround ourselves with things/activities/people that result in gain, fame, praise and pleasure. Similarly, we avoid and resist things/activities/people that cause loss, disgrace, blame and pain.

To me, therefore, being narcissistic, self-centered and egoistic is a desire arising from having an identity view taken to extremities. It is still about defending and building on our self-esteem, image...our very existence. One way to see this clearly is to look at the opposite, people with extremely low self-esteem i.e. inferiority complex. In such situations, we essentially hate ourselves. We will attack (instead of defending) and tear down (instead of building) this disappointing self. It’s really a malfunctioning situation that I hope no one ever needs to go through. Although I believe at some point in our lives, we go through some episodes when we despise who we are.

But why do some people ended up being narcissistic, self-centered and egoistic while others suffered from chronic feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and inferiority? I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist so the following is based on my observations. I believe it’s partly karma because past karma pre-disposed us towards certain ways of thinking, speaking and behaviour. It’s also partly our choices because of our preferences for certain ways of thinking, speaking and acting which in turn generate new karmic seeds that affects us in the future.

Personally, I learned to just move away from narcissistic, selfish and egoistic people. They have their habits (or preferences) and if they are not willing to change themselves then no external forces can do so for them. One curious thing I observed is that such people seldom admit what is their true desires. I strongly suspect that they may even not be conscious of their true intentions having habitually hidden them so deep within themselves. But desires (and intentions), whether hidden or not, guide our actions in certain directions in order to achieve certain results. Consequently, when such people are questioned on their actions, they are forced to engineer some storylines in order to justify their actions to others. And this really opened up cans of worms.

If we are truthful about our intentions and goals, our innate intelligence can evaluate if certain actions generate certain results that meet our intended goals. If we are not getting the desired results, we can then objectively determine whether there’s something wrong with our actions or goals. Now, imagine these people with their desires/intentions so well hidden from everyone including themselves that this process can no longer happen. I have observed how such people have acted time and again, in ways that is not giving them or others any benefits (but only pain) yet they persist in their harmful behaviour. One example of this behaviour can be seen when Mara tried to disguise its intentions to the Buddha. Such beings, whether humans or not, have lost this innate ability to self-correct which is so sad.

These, I think, are pitfalls with identity view. Feelings of superiority or inferiority, to the point of harming ourselves and others, can happen to anyone at anytime in their lives. Freedom from these dangers can only happen at the state of Arahantship as Venerable Sariputta alluded when he says he do not despise himself. Similarly, Ajahn Chah when questioned on being afraid of very diligent disciples, said, “If we think others are worse or better or the same as us, we go off the curve. If we discriminate, we will only suffer.”

I don’t 100% grok Ajahn Chah’s words but I suspect it is a bit like concentrating in a tennis game. Rather than judging yourself, your opponent and others, you are just with the racket and ball. Giving your all and enjoying the moment, playing for each point regardless of how well or bad you played. In the case of Arhants, they don't need to concentrate on not discriminating themselves or others, it's just effortless.

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  • Thank you , with regards to the quote in your answer: “ In such situations, we essentially hate ourselves. We will attack (instead of defending) and tear down (instead of building) this disappointing self. It’s really a malfunctioning situation that I hope no one ever needs to go through. Although I believe at some point in our lives, we go through some episodes when we despise who we are.”.How would you suggest to get free from it? Jul 13, 2023 at 3:51
  • Perhaps, 3 points. Firstly, always remember that disappointment or pride in ourselves all arise from a core desire for happiness in ourselves. We created an ideal self that we believe will lead to our happiness. When we achieve the standards of this ideal, we are proud. When we failed, we are disappointed. This oscillation between pride and disappointment (and their extreme form of narcissism and depresssion) is hard to avoid as we create all kinds of identities in our long journey through samsara. We must see this clearly and bear with equanimity.
    – Desmon
    Jul 13, 2023 at 5:37
  • Secondly, we should try our best to make our experience in this endless samsara as pleasant as possible by being skilful. Jump at every opportunity to do good deeds to ourselves and others that leads to long lasting happiness and well-being e.g. exercise regularly and give good, sincere advise to help. Avoid doing harmful deeds to ourselves and others that cause long lasting harm e.g. eating junk food and being cruel to animals.
    – Desmon
    Jul 13, 2023 at 5:38
  • Lastly, as long as we are in samsara, the dangers that come with identity view can and will come despite our best efforts. If we are tired of constantly guarding against these dangers, we should strive for the safe shores of Nibbana and proclaim as the Buddha did, “O house-builder, you are seen! You will not build this house again.”, Dhp 154.
    – Desmon
    Jul 13, 2023 at 5:38
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About the life of a monk, the suttas say:

'My behavior should be different [from that of householders]; a person gone forth should often reflect on this.

AN 10.48

While we ourselves are not monks & nuns, the same principles applies to Buddhist practitioners, in relation to a world that has grown immeasurably in recent decades in terms of narcissism, due to greed, materialism, sensuality & political correctness (i.e. unreflective sheepish conformity to corporate/media expectations). It is wise we perceive our own life to be different to the average non-Buddhist or non-religious layperson. This means we learn to live our own life, according to our own principles, and not get caught up in any unwholesome ways of the ordinary world.

In Buddhism, we try to determine where we live, where we work & who we associate with to make these things more suitable for the pratice of Dhamma and to avoid social conflict. Refer to Snp 2.4 & DN 31. In short, Dhammapada 302 says: "Suffering comes from association with unequals".

About narcissism, specifically, one sutta says:

Who has not tamed all vain conceits,

Who lacks in wisdom, uncontrolled,

Heedless, in the woods may dwell alone,

Yet will not escape the realm of Death.

SN 1.9

The realm of Death is the realm of heedlessness & suffering. The word 'Death' here does not mean 'physical death' but means 'internal despair'.

  1. Heedfulness is the path to the Deathless. Heedlessness is the path to death. The heedful die not. The heedless are as if dead already.

  2. Realizing that this body is like froth, penetrating its mirage-like nature, and plucking out Mara's flower-tipped arrows of sensuality, go beyond sight of the King of Death!

  3. As a mighty flood sweeps away the sleeping village, so death carries away the person of distracted mind who only plucks the flowers (of sensual pleasure).

  4. The Destroyer brings under his sway the person of distracted mind who, insatiate in sense desires, only plucks the flowers (of sensual pleasure).

Dhammapada

The Buddha said to us:

  1. This I say to you: Good luck to all assembled here! Dig up the root of craving, like one in search of the fragrant root of the birana grass. Let not Mara crush you again and again, as a flood crushes a reed.

Dhammapada

We should do our best to understand & practice Dhamma; and not get too involved or caught up in the world around us that is growing more day by day in unwholesomeness, insanity & conflict.

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  • I agree with the first paragraph that we should mind your own business is not get caught up in the samsara. The remaining part of the answer, however, seems off-topic to me in relation to the question that was asked. Thanks anyways. Jul 12, 2023 at 7:03

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