Unsure of What To Do
Dear Unsure: Let’s say your intimate partner says she isn’t feeling valued and cared for by you. She mentions that in order to spend time with you, she feels she has to watch an inordinate amount of sports on TV that she doesn’t care about, she feels very little affection coming from you outside the bedroom, and that you fill your evenings and weekends with activities and friends that don’t include her. Your response is to tell her that you like your life the way it is, that you’re going to continue doing what you’re doing, and that perhaps she should get a life and figure out how to be happy.
Now let’s replay your response to her complaints. Instead of discounting her feelings or telling her that you have the right to do what you want to do, imagine if instead you told her that you valued her happiness, that you want her to feel included, and that you’d be interested in the activities she would prefer on evenings and weekends. Then let’s say you did the things she said she wanted. What would you guess her reaction would be to your first response—as opposed to this second response?
You lessen narcissism (being selfish, self-centered and lacking empathy for how others feel) when you are willing to make conscious efforts to attempt to put other people’s needs, feelings, wants and desires equal to your own. It requires you to think binocular, not monocular, the vast majority of the time. In order to do that, you are going to have to truly listen to other people and then honor what the person says is important to him or her. This is making what’s important to him or her important to you. That is the opposite of narcissistic behavior.
One way to do that is to make sure you paraphrase back what the other person says so he or she feels heard and understood. If the other person corrects you because s/he didn’t feel you paraphrased it back accurately, allow yourself to be corrected with no dismissal or snide remarks. Your goal is to communicate to the other person that you really hear, that you’re really wanting to understand how s/he feels or what s/he wants. Then, if you follow through and honor the other person’s requests when at all possible, you will begin to reduce narcissism.
Dear Neil: You once wrote to not forgive someone who has hurt you until you can let him or her know how much pain s/he has caused you. It’s been a year since I found out of my husband’s infidelity. I have since made peace–with him and with myself–about what led to his affair. But I want to let go of my hurt and anger against the other woman. So I want to write her a letter letting her know that by forgiving her and letting go of my resentment, I am setting myself free. Do you think this is a good idea?
Poised to Forgive
Dear Poised: Your letter is likely to embarrass her and she could well respond to your note with anger, blame or venom. But you could forgive her without telling her. Forgiveness is for you, not for her. But yes, you could send that letter to her, as long as you don’t expect a gracious response.