What can the wisdom of Buddhism teach us when we have to deal with narcissists? In this article, I would like to explore Buddhism and narcissism. I will introduce Buddhism and go into how subjects such as feelings, silence, meditation, mindfulness, ego, and self-reflection relate to narcissism. I will focus mainly on the mind in this article.
My experience of having a narcissistic father pushed me unconsciously towards learning about Eastern philosophies and I experience the wisdom as being soothing and helpful. This is the reason why I love to share some ideas of Buddhism as there is a lot of wisdom, kindness, and compassion in it.
Sadly, there seem to be a lot of people that experience or have experienced narcissistic abuse. The brutal manipulative behaviour of narcissists can have quite an impact on their victims. Dealing with narcissists is very personal and you have to learn how to deal with yourself and your mind.
Buddhism can be a great way to work on yourself if it resonates with you. I don’t aim to create ‘Buddhists’ but I do think the philosophy has a lot that can be helpful to you if experiencing narcissists. It’s because the mind of a Buddhist is directed inwards (looking inside yourself) whereas a narcissist’s mind is directed at the outside world.
The blind spot in the mind of a narcissist is honest self-reflection. This blind spot is exactly what Buddhism is about. When dealing with a narcissist they will push you into their world of ego, appearance and external things. It can push you into having a chaos of thoughts and emotions and therefore losing the ability to think clearly.
In my opinion, a possible antidote or counterbalance could be exploring your internal world and trying to create (more) silence within the mind. It can help you with gaining clarity and can be seen as training your mind. Know this article is based upon my personal experience with Buddhism and narcissism.
I hope this article can be helpful to you in some way!
Buddhism in short
I will give a short introduction to Buddhism and how I interpret Buddhism as a philosophy. The philosophy is based on the Buddha’s observations and insights. It’s not a religion, but rather an invitation to look inside ourselves. It means self-reflection is an essential part of Buddhism.
It’s about seeing reality as it is before our thoughts and ideas come into play. The Buddha summarized his teachings as ‘awareness’. This means being awake and being aware of what is happening in the here and now.
To me, Buddhism in its purest form invites everyone to explore life for themselves by reflecting and looking inside. The teachings of Buddhism are open to criticism and, in fact, invite everyone to a critical examination of the doctrine. The repeated message is that you have to research and discover everything yourself.
Buddha Dharma and the Four Noble Truths
The so-called Buddha-Dharma (Buddhist teachings) urges you to focus on your own experience of Truth and not to become captivated by the doctrine itself. The reality of life is the problem that we don’t want to have any problems at all. Joy and sorrow, happiness and misfortune are simply a part of life.
The Four Noble Truths are the essence of Buddha’s teachings. The first truth according to the Buddha-Dharma is the truth of suffering. This is part of human life and is all around us. The second truth is the truth of the cause of suffering. This comes from within ourselves and arises from our ignorance and our desire to change reality.
The third truth is the truth of the end of suffering, which is that we can understand for ourselves how this suffering arises and put an end to it. The fourth truth offers a method to come to this realization. This realization is called Nirvana (enlightenment). The fourth truth consists of eight aspects and is called The Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path
The Eightfold Path is quite a list and consists of the following: right understanding, right thought, rights speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
This path is divided into three basic aspects of Buddhist life, which are:
1. Ethics/morality (Action, Speech, Livelihood)
2. Meditation and mental development (Mindfulness, Effort, Concentration).
3. Wisdom (Understanding, Thought)
It thus revolves around seeing and recognizing our suffering or ‘problems’ in life. When it becomes clear you will see the necessity or benefit of conscious living and to be fully present and aware. It means consciously thinking and speaking.
So how do we do this? You can start by acting and living consciously and not harming others in doing so. Behaving differently will lead to better thoughts and a calmer mind and this will help with meditating. By meditating you will gain wisdom. Ethics or morality is thus seen as the basis for the development of concentration, which in turn is necessary for the development of wisdom.
In conclusion, the Buddha-Dharma tries to open our eyes to what we are experiencing in the here and now. You don’t have to search it outside yourself and depend on external things. It’s an internal process and about waking up in the here and now!
Thoughts, feelings, and emotions
After the short above introduction to Buddhism, I would like to go into different subjects that are relevant when experiencing narcissistic abuse from a Buddhist perspective.
In my latest article, about 8 negative feelings and emotions narcissists cause/emphasize by manipulating I go deeper into the rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions one could experience when dealing with narcissists. It shows how important the mind is with all its thoughts, feelings and emotions.
In Buddhism, the subject of thoughts and emotions is important as well. A thought is a thought and a feeling is a feeling. Is there a need to attach to it? How do we decide this? And how do emotions arise? It seems we have many counterproductive emotions based on ignorance of the true nature of things.
Simply put: there are pleasant, neutral and unpleasant feelings. The Buddha speaks mostly of feelings instead of emotions. He does speak of individual emotions, such as fear. It seems he sees raw feelings as ingredients of emotions. A raw feeling can be positive or negative whereas an emotion can be a more complicated mixture of both positive and negative. Most emotions, however, are overwhelmingly either positive (joy) or negative (fear or anxiety).
The influence of feelings and emotions
Our feelings and emotions motivate our behaviour in a very direct way as well as in more indirect ways. If you feel pain because you burn your hand in an open flame, you will react directly and move your hand away. More indirectly would be if you, for example, don’t like someone. Your mind then will mostly think of negative things about this person and more reasons not to like them.
Your mind will tend to explain neutral things in a way that supports your truth of not liking someone in the above example. The human mind thus tends to align with your truth.
Feelings thus influence our thoughts and behaviour in both direct and indirect ways. We feel their impact. In meditation, the feelings don’t reach out and grab you in the same way. After reflection, you might make the decision not to let them impact you how they normally do as you feel they are less substantial.
The thing is that some feelings are reliable and truthful, whereas other feelings aren’t. It thus means you have to decide which feelings you’re going to engage with. Will you attach to it and what will be the impact of your thoughts and feelings? View feelings with discernment. This is what wisdom is in Buddhism. It’s (learning) to understand for which feelings it makes sense to engage in and for which feelings it doesn’t.
The impact of narcissists on your mind
This self-reflection and clarity is something we could learn from Buddhism. Is the feeling you have reliable? Is it a bad thing you have self-doubts and anxiety? Or is it a good thing you have a feeling that something is off and that your intuition gives you warning signals?
When interacting with narcissists, the tendency can be to deny a reliable feeling because it doesn’t correlate with the ‘strong’ truth of a narcissist. Cognitive dissonance might disturb your process of trusting your intuition and reliable feelings. The result could be that feelings have a negative impact causing or emphasizing counterproductive emotions such as fear, anxiety, and shame. The manipulative behaviour of narcissists stimulates having these counterproductive emotions.
A narcissist thus disturbs your natural process of acknowledging and observing your thoughts and feelings and manipulates you into denying your natural thoughts and feelings. Denial and other defense mechanisms are then in a way creating new unreliable thoughts and feelings that correspond with the truth forced upon you by a narcissist. This is what your mind does to reduce the discomfort of cognitive dissonance.
These unreliable thoughts and feelings might become yours but they actually aren’t. It shows the importance of having the ability to recognize which thoughts and feelings are yours and which aren’t. Meditation and conscious breathing are methods that could help in doing this.
The truth of a narcissist: Ego and external things
Buddhism revolves around opposite things when comparing to the world of a narcissist. The world of a narcissist is one where external things and appearances are very important. A narcissist has an unending need for validation, appreciation, and ego-boosting. To fulfill this need, a narcissist is seeking for all these external things. A narcissist has a created identity (ego) that is fully dependent on the opinion of others.
The ego is a created identity, a derived sense of self, and therefore it needs to identify with external things. It needs to be fed and it needs to defend itself. The ego’s needs are endless and it lives in a state of fear. It, therefore, seeks for attachments to survive and protect itself. Ego could, for example, identify with possessions, social status, work, abilities, education, physical appearance, relationships, belief systems, and so forth. None of these things is you, however.
In my in-depth article about cognitive dissonance, you can read more about the mind of a narcissist and it’s dynamic. The article goes further into cognitive dissonance and how truth can become blurry because of narcissistic abuse.
The mind of a Buddhist
The mind of a Buddhist is directed in the other way. It’s directed inside instead of outside. It will try to let go of attachments of the mind to external things in order to gain insight. It will eventually even try to let go of ego/identity because of the understanding of how things really are.
True power is within. Power over others is weakness pretending to be strength. If there’s a need to have power over others it merely shows the dependency of someone. Your deeper self or independent mind doesn’t need control, attachments or validation to exist, as it is independent.
Buddhism and being in the here and now is about letting these attachments go. You become present. Life is now and will always be now. Meditation and mindfulness will naturally bring more presence into your life. The present moment is all you will ever have.
About fear and mindfulness
Let’s shortly look into fear as an example. How does fear arise? The psychological condition of fear can show itself as discomfort, anxiety, tension, worry, nervousness, and so on. These types of fear are there because of something that might happen but not because of something that is happening now. Your mind is in the future instead of in the here and now.
If something is happening now you can try to deal with it, but you can’t deal with the future right now. Trying to do this creates anxiety. Suppose you have the feeling of walking on eggshells because you’re afraid your partner might be frustrated, disappointed or mad when he or she comes home from work. It means you’re tense now even though your partner hasn’t yet arrived home. You’re already trying to deal with a possible future event.
If you’re dealing with the future, you’re identifying with the mind and involved in the world of ego.
Unhealthy dynamics when in relationship with a narcissist
A relationship with a narcissist is based on the world of ego and will be dysfunctional. A narcissist is fully invested in their truth and ego has control over them. Therefore, it’s not possible to have a balanced relationship with a narcissist and it leads to very unhealthy dynamics. If you want to read more about this you could read my article about the toxic attraction and relationship between an empath and a narcissist.
The importance of mindfulness and silence
Thich Nhat Hanh describes the importance of mindfulness and silence as follows:
‘Silence is essential.
We need silence,
just as much as we need air,
just as much as plants need light.
If our mind is full of words and thoughts,
there is no room for ourselves.’
Thich Nhat Hanh emphasizes the beneficial effect of inaction. You stop thinking, bring your mind back into your body and you’re fully present. Our minds can be full of all kinds of revolving thoughts. Silence can’t be taken for granted and it can be very busy in our heads even when it is quiet outside.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh, it sometimes seems that we are constantly ruminating our thoughts. Mostly, these thoughts seem to be negative thoughts. We ‘eat’ them and let them come up again to ruminate them endlessly similar to a cow chewing on its food. It’s quite an unhealthy habit to do this and it drains your energy.
The solution from the Buddhist perspective is thus practicing mindfulness. This means to experience the activities that you do in the now as much as possible. It’s an attempt to fully focus your attention on what you are doing right now.
When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist you will probably go through a rollercoaster of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. You could feel confused, emotional, hopeless, shameful, doubtful and so forth. It’s thus very draining to have a mind captivated into all these thoughts and emotions.
A way to counterbalance this is Buddhist meditation or conscious breathing (mindfulness). It’s practicing silence. This is especially important if you feel like your mind is full or chaotic. It’s a clear sign you need silence in your mind if you have low concentration, feel chaotic or stressed, doubtful and/or anxious.
If you start practicing silence your emotions might first appear magnified. It can be overwhelming but know this is a good thing. You are simply noticing your emotions and by that bringing them to the surface. It’s healthy because this way you can consciously acknowledge your emotions instead of carrying them with you unconsciously or in denial.
If you’re in the process of emotionally detaching from a narcissist, whether still in contact or already in no contact, I recommend practicing silence in some way. It doesn’t matter if it’s meditation, conscious breathing or other mindful methods. Find whatever method suits you.
Meditation and conscious breathing
I wrote some articles about meditation and conscious breathing that might be interesting to you.
In my article about Buddhist meditation, I share some tips in Buddhist meditation in order to better protect your energy from narcissists. At first, meditating can be overwhelming but in the long term, it will have a positive influence on you. It’s a good way to grow and develop yourself. The clarity resulting from meditation could help in trusting your intuition and your truth. Practicing meditation regularly can be challenging, but in my opinion, it’s definitely worth the effort.
A narcissist can cause cognitive dissonance and manipulate you into having increasing self-doubts, low self-worth, and feeling anxious, stressed and/or confused. Meditation and conscious breathing will help you move in the right direction by gaining clarity, acknowledging thoughts and feelings, and observing reality in a less skewed way.
You can read more about mindfulness in my article about practicing conscious breathing and my article exploring mindfulness and narcissistic abuse.
The importance of being kind and compassionate to yourself
I want to emphasize the importance of being kind and compassionate to yourself. Sadly, when experiencing narcissists your mind could become more negative about yourself and you don’t deserve this treatment. I know most victims are very loving and caring to others and I hope you try to treat yourself in the same way.
You could be anxious or stressed and you might want to try meditating in order to calm your mind a bit. If so, try to focus only on observing and simply see what’s going on in your mind. Don’t try to change anything or think it’s bad to have negative thoughts or feelings. It’s all okay! There is no need to drag the past into meditation but it’s okay if it happens. See yourself as a compassionate and kind observer that’s not interfering with your mind.
Allow yourself to simply relax, sit and take a breath. Doing meditation or conscious breathing should be done with compassion to yourself and with realistic expectations. This is what is meant with the right effort.
You can’t force or control being in the here and now to calm your mind. Try to find the natural amount of effort you can put into it right now. What is possible for you at this moment? Meditation is merely about observing and seeing what’s going on in your mind. The only thing to do is bringing yourself back to this state of observing.
I hope this article was helpful to you. I wish you strength, kindness, and wisdom.
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– If you’re interested in Eastern philosophies you might like my article exploring Taoism and narcissism as well.