Provocation of the month:
"My ambitions are my worst enemy."
Positive and negative narcissism
The author Alice Miller speaks about positive and negative narcissism. The difference lies in how much we like ourselves and what we want to contribute to our world. If we are in touch with our own self-realization and contribute to our customers and to people around us because we want the best for everyone, it could be a good thing to stand in the spotlight and to be given attention for what we do. That’s how I interpret positive narcissism.
At the same time we can easily end up in a situation where we will do anything to satisfy our own needs, like getting a raise, being the center of attention at any price or strengthening our own power and control. This puts us in negative narcissism. We will do anything for our own sake, but don’t really care about others while at the same time we are dependent on them.
This will not work in the long run. There will be an imbalance because we don’t give as much to our world as we take from it. Neither will it work to put others needs first and give up our own, i.e. giving more than we get back. The latter affects a lot of people in today’s organizations when resources are cut back but the expected performance level stays the same. This imbalance leads to long term sick leave and early retirement for many people on every level in our organizations today.
This struggle between our individual egos and things we share seems to be a part of life itself and the more aware we get, the more we will understand that the giving and taking needs to be balanced over time. Over a short period of time we can accept and even appreciate imbalances, but in the long run we will have to “repay”, to ourselves or to other people. We need to understand and accept that imbalances are a natural ingredient of our lives. It’s not abnormal to be in imbalance, it’s actually a natural thing. But at the same time we need to learn from these imbalances and take conscious steps towards living and working in outer as well as inner balance. If we don’t, we are at risk of consciously or unconsciously passing the imbalance on to the next generation, while not living our life to the fullest today or not running our business as well as we could.
At this time there is a rebalancing between the “rich” industrialized world and the formerly underdeveloped industrial world. Globally poor people are becoming better off financially in relation to wealthy people, and these old world people with power are scrambling to aggressively acquire assets and social benefits at the expense of others. In the old world the wealth differentiation increases. Where do we stand in all this? The readers of this reflection letter are most likely a part of the “rich” world. What is our view concerning the improvement of life for poor people? How active are we in supporting that kind of development? How do we try to hinder that kind of development? What are we willing to give up? Do we even care?
If we really care we need to reflect on what goes on in our world and how to act in order to feel proud of our contribution during our time on this earth. It’s hard to influence the whole world as a single individual, but we can all take a stand and work toward a positive change not only for ourselves but for those around us, our family, co-workers, customers, patients or students. We can all choose to spread positive circles around us and make sure that we, over time give and take in balance. This also means that we need to understand the integration of Meaning, Joy and Financial Success.
Ambitions that lead us to take and give in balance are good ambitions. Ambitions that lead to imbalance are negative and could become our own and our business’ worst enemy, at least in the long run. We need to think and act long term as well as short term. When we don’t, and only think short term we could risk limiting our financial result, abusing our power, neglecting the environment, using our co-workers to the end of their strength where they end up getting sick. We may also end up increasing our consumption without thinking about the consequences or not giving our children and our parents the time and support they deserve. In short, it could lead us into our own Ego trap, which may be fun for awhile but is not a nice place for anyone to be in the long run.
We can all contribute in our own unique way to making our own and other peoples lives as well as the business we are involved in easier to live with by having the courage to stand up for what we believe is good for ourselves and others, long as well as short term. To make that happen, it will probably help if we are content with ourselves and are in touch with our own self-realization, i.e. positive narcissism