Everything is About Me Versus Narcissism

Look at the agreement of all these spiritual traditions across cultures, continents and ages:

The kingdom of heaven is within you (Christianity).
By understanding the Self all this universe is known (Upanishads).
Atman (individual consciousness) and Brahman (universal consciousness) are One (Vedanta).
God dwells within you as you (Yoga).
Look within, you are the Buddha (Buddhism).
Heaven, earth and human are of one body (Neoconfucianism).
Those who know themselves know their God (Islam).
—Roger Walsh, The Transpersonal Movement: A History and State of the Art (p. 136)

The common thread in all of those statements is introspection. Introspection is wonderful and not in sufficient supply. Finding fault in others is much more fun (I do it too!), but ultimately no more than a distraction from the more important work of inward looking.
Twenty years ago an anthropology professor told me that some cultures play a game to promote introspection: I call the game ‘everything is about me’, and I covered it in another post.
Obviously, sometimes people are just jerks, and their behavior is no reflection on us. But when that becomes our default conclusion to every negative interaction we miss out on valuable learning. How confident are you that you always know in the midst of a situation what percent your contribution is to it? What is the likelihood that in answering that question you err in your favor?
Despite its name, this game isn’t a recipe for narcissism; it’s actually quite different than how a narcissist views the world. Here’s an example:
Let’s say I didn’t get invited to a party. If I thought like a narcissist, I’d wonder “why didn’t they invite me?” The focus of the narcissist is not introspective, but rather the narcissist expects that it is everyone else’s responsibility to cater to his or her needs. Such a question points the finger outward, away from the self.
In the ‘everything is about me’ game, better questions might be:

  • What emotions am I feeling?
  • Could I have contributed to not getting invited?
  • Why is it I am to not go?
  • Is not going possibly in my best interests? Maybe there is a good reason I shouldn’t be there.
  • If I really wanted to go, how can I be different so that next time I get invited?
  • How can I best resolve my emotions?

The Narcissist’s perspective leans heavily towards victimhood. ‘I wasn’t invited by them.’ True, you weren’t, but that’s not a terribly useful observation. The narcissist is the passive recipient of someone else’s act of omission. The ‘everything is about me game’ encourages internal inquiry. This is not the same as blame, but rather scanning a range of questions that I can actually use to promote outcomes I want.
The pitfall of this game is if you fail to see it as a game. Taken too seriously, you may see everything as your fault. That is not the point of the game. The pitfall of not playing the game is you risk becoming too certain of the other’s guilt (certainty often springs from ignorance) and you miss growth opportunities.