Exploring Taoism and narcissism: About excessive personal importance, force, ego, the dependent mind and independent mind

In this article, I will further explore Taoism and its wisdom and how it could apply to you when dealing with narcissists. This is the sequel of my first article exploring Taoism and narcissism in which I discussed spontaneity, polarity, yin and yang, and being natural. I explored how these subjects relate to narcissism and yourself and looked at the dynamic between an empathic person and a narcissist from the perspective of Yin and Yang.

The first article contains an introduction to Taoism and an explanation of Yin and Yang as well, so I advise reading that article first if you are unfamiliar with Taoism and its principles. In this article, I will go deeper into force and softness, gung fu, excessive personal importance, the independent mind and the dependent mind (ego).

A narcissist’s behavior seems very unnatural as they are using a lot of force and manipulation. This unnatural behavior results in disturbed and chaotic energy. A narcissist seems to be far off from what Taoism is about. Taoism is about harmony, spontaneity, balance, being natural and values the three basic virtues compassion, simplicity, and modesty. This seems to oppose the world of a narcissist, where ego seems to control their behaviour.

Sadly, a lot of people experience or have experienced the brutality of narcissists. I hope these articles exploring Taoism and narcissism can be helpful to you and possibly give a different perspective. To be clear, these articles are my interpretation of the Tao and narcissism and are based on my experiences. The focus is mainly to possibly learn from other perspectives.

Force and softness

First, I would like to explore force and softness when it comes to the dynamic of narcissists and empaths. In my opinion, a narcissist shows a lot of force that could be mistaken for strength and an empath shows a lot of softness that could be mistaken for weakness. Taoism has its own view on force and softness.

To illustrate, this is a part of 78th verse of the Tao Te Ching (translation Derek Lin):
‘Nothing in the world is softer or weaker than water
Yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong
This is because nothing can replace it
That the weak overcomes the strong
And the soft overcomes the hard
Everybody in the world knows
But cannot put into practice’

It might be the most repeated message in Taoism: be like water. When you try to grasp water from the river and squeeze it tight, you will lose it all. To me, this symbolizes what happens when a narcissist tries to control and squeeze their victim. They try to grab all the love and empathy of this person and thereby they lose it all. The victim will be forced to disconnect with themselves in order to stay in the relationship because of this unhealthy amount of force and control.

Water will find its way below all strong things and patiently enter when it’s not blocked anymore. The weak overcomes the strong in the end. In Taoism, the strength of softness is recognized. The grey rock method might be close to an attempt to be like water, being still. It’s a method where you don’t supply the narcissist’s need for outside approval and work on your emotional detachment. It leads to the narcissist probably seeking to fulfill their needs somewhere else.

Being like water suggests staying flexible, willing to lower yourself temporarily, appear weak, but to be aware of your harmony with the Tao. Don’t let evil enter your heart. Trust your gentle self and know you’re indestructible because you’re eternal. Your true self knows you’re enough and you only need to ‘be’. Your kindness, love, and compassion will find its way into your life again.

Gung fu

To see how one could apply the strength of being like water I would like to go into gung fu from the philosophy of Bruce Lee. Can we learn something from the principles of gung fu and dealing with narcissists? Clearly, it could feel like a battle between you and the narcissist. You then want to be able to defend yourself in some way.

The core of the principle of gung fu, to have a mind free from desires and emotions, is Tao. Looking at the principles of gung fu, Bruce Lee states: ‘to be in harmony with his opponent is possible not through force, which provokes conflicts and reactions, but through a yielding to his force.

This means you should be in harmony with the strength and force of the opposition. If the opponent uses strength one should not resist him with strength. When the strength (Yang) goes to the extreme it will change to Yin and you can use this unguarded moment and attack with force or firmness yourself. It’s following a natural process.

The basic idea is thus to defeat the opponent by yielding to him and using his own strength. Under attack, one will not resist but control the attack by swinging with it. It’s the principle of nonresistance and nonviolence.

Strength and force will break under pressure whereas softness will bend and survive. A narcissist seems to only use force and pressure by manipulating, abusing and controlling their victims.

Using force against force

A victim is likely to use a form of force as well in order to survive the painful situation. This is thus using force against yourself as a result of the force of a narcissist.

A victim might use force to disconnect from themselves and their mind to adjust the truth. Your truth or intuition can be denied by your mind to reduce the pain of the situation. In my article about cognitive dissonance, I discuss various defense mechanisms the mind uses to reduce the discomfort of cognitive dissonance.

Being able to recognize and accept when something doesn’t work is being honest to yourself and will be a relief. This is what breaking free means. You let the force of your mind trying to make things work or help the narcissist go. You let the force of your mind denying the truth you feel within go. The unnatural tension then releases!

In my family dynamics, there was a lot of force as well. You can’t force a happy and perfect family. Force was used to appear as a normal happy family to the outside world and this resulted in unending tension and silence about the underlying truth.

Try to force less and make firm moves when possible

The lesson from gung fu could be to try to force less. Of course, one could use a bit of force with good intentions. Victims of narcissists could force themselves to try to make things work or possibly help the narcissist because of empathy or love. The intention is lovely and beautiful but the force is still unnatural. It thereby disconnects you from your true self, especially if you’re not aware of it.

Try to recognize if you’re using (a lot of) force to make a relationship work or not. Self-consciousness and awareness of using force will help to trust your intuition. Think about whether you force yourself to ignore (deny) certain things, or you force yourself to be better or apologize even when you don’t feel you should. If you recognize force, think about whether it’s worth it.

In gung fu gentleness alone can’t forever dissolve always great force. To survive any combat, the harmonious interfusion of gentleness and firmness as a whole is necessary. It suggests the solution is not allowing the narcissist to always keep you gentle and nonresistant but to use a moment of weakness to make your move.

In my opinion, this move should be going no contact and firmly protect the boundary of no contact. The move could be prepared by using the grey rock method and conscious breathing in order to emotionally detach from the narcissist.

The above story is written with the emotional process of trying to get out of an emotionally abusive relationship in mind. When in real (physical) danger, you should defend yourself if needed and seek help from the authorities. It might be interesting as well to read my earlier article about why outsmarting a narcissist is not smart at all.

Excessive personal importance

Now, I will go deeper into appearance, personal importance, and ego.

This is a part of the 24th verse of the Tao Te Ching (translation Wayne Dyer) about excessive personal importance:
Showing off does not reveal enlightenment.
Boasting will not produce accomplishment.
He who is self-righteous is not respected.
He who brags will not endure.

All these ways of acting are odious, distasteful.
They are superfluous excesses.
They are like a pain in the stomach,
a tumor in the body.

When walking the path of the Tao,
this is the very stuff that must be
uprooted, thrown out, and left behind.

Lao Tzu advises to clear yourself of any weeds of excessive personal importance. Desires to brag or to seek approval are weeds. The ego needs to be let go and one should seek an attitude of gratitude and generosity. If you see yourself as important and special because of achievements or talent you are walking the path of ego. When walking the path of the Tao it would mean to express appreciation for the gifts you have.

The sun doesn’t say ‘you owe me’ to the earth and symbolizes the Tao by offering warmth, light, and energy to all without demanding recognition. It’s exactly what a narcissist doesn’t do. A narcissist would be a sun that needs attention and wants to be applauded for its efforts. It would only shine where people appreciate it and preferably even believe in the powerful ‘sun god’. It would be conditional. You can read more about conditional love and narcissism in this article.

The answer to reducing personal importance is to consciously choose to be in a state of gratitude. Practicing gratitude naturally reduces any domination of the ego. We might recognize being ungrateful or feeling entitled in the characteristics of a narcissist which shows their excessive personal importance.

The Tao is walking the path of being a giver rather than a taker. It’s providing for others and asking nothing in return. This could be, however, a dangerous view when dealing with a narcissist and being aware of the fact that an empath is a giver.

So does being a giver mean we should accept manipulation or abusive behaviour? Of course not. A narcissist forces you to give up yourself, love them and fulfill their unending needs. It’s very unnatural. They are simply using, controlling and manipulating you and abusing your nature to give.

I think it’s important to start by giving yourself your compassion, kindness, and love. If you shine bright because of your found connection to your true self you will naturally give your highly vibrating energy to your environment. This resonates with the well-known wisdom about self-love: you can’t truly love another until you know how to love yourself.

Favor and disgrace

The 13th verse of the Tao Te Ching translated by Derek Lin says the following about favor and disgrace:
Favor and disgrace make one fearful.
The greatest misfortune is the self.
What does “favor and disgrace make one fearful” mean?
Favor is high; disgrace is low.
Having it makes one fearful.
Losing it makes one fearful.
This is “favor and disgrace make one fearful”.
What does “the greatest misfortune is the self” mean?
The reason I have great misfortune,
Is that I have the self.
If I have no self,
What misfortune do I have?
So one who values the self as the world,
Can be given the world.
One who loves the self as the world,
Can be entrusted with the world.

This verse is about the problem of high status or appearance. Seeking the favor of others is not the way of the Tao. When you seek favor and status, it will be alarming when you got it and it will be alarming as well when you lose it.

This applies to the dynamic of the unending needs of a narcissist. It makes them fearful. Whether they have the status or favor doesn’t matter as they are always attached to it. They will then be afraid to lose it or chasing to get it.

Disgrace seems the narcissist’s greatest fear and they will do anything to avoid it. It seems they (unconsciously) choose to believe their truth and superiority due to unbearable pain and there is no way to revert this process. The result is that this need for appreciation, validation, and ego-boosting controls them.

Ego: dependent mind vs. independent mind

So how do these principles of Taoism apply to the truth of a narcissist? In my article about cognitive dissonance, I explored the mind of a narcissist. It seems a narcissist fully believes their own truth and all their actions seem justified by their truth. This truth seems, however, only to be true on the level of ego.

If they could validate and appreciate themselves enough, it wouldn’t be necessary to seek approval and favor. Clearly, they need this confirmation and even have a thirst for it. It makes them fully dependent on the opinions of others and this results in disturbed energy. They essentially are a slave to the outside message of praise.

The dependent mind is dominating instead of the way of the Tao where the independent mind flows freely. It’s summarized perfectly by a well-known quote of Lao Tzu ‘Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner’.

Disbalance of a narcissist

The above shows the disbalance of a narcissist. The ego and the need for importance are energized by the in-the-world self. They have no awareness of their eternal nature. One who acts naturally avoids extremes as advertising themselves and claiming credit.

Bruce Lee states ‘There is fear and insecurity in pride because when a person aims at being highly esteemed and achieves such status, he is automatically involved in the fear of losing his status. One is proud when he identifies himself with an imaginary self; the core of pride is self-rejection.

A narcissist has a fully dependent mind and a very strong one. Their false sense is very strong and confident but fearful as well due to the attachment to outside opinions. Facing the truth they will be hurt and the false self (mind) protects them. It results in disturbed energy, chaos and contradiction.

If a victim has a dominant dependent mind as well the narcissist could be attractive to them. The victim’s dependent mind might like (and attach to) the attention and appreciation from the narcissist and possibly their wealth, success, confidence and status as well.

For others, it isn’t clear right away that the narcissist’s confidence is fully dependent on supply from the outside and it can thus be mistaken for spirituality or healthy self-worth. A narcissist sadly feeds your dependent mind and your independent mind will not be fed. The independent mind still is within you though. It’s your truth or intuition that knows/feels something is off and gives you signals.

Realize your true self and independent mind

From Tao perspective, you have to live without being dependent upon the opinion of others in order to realize your true self. Looking deeper into the message of the above shown 13th verse of the Tao is the lesson that it’s essential to remain independent of the opinions of others. This is regardless of opinions being positive or negative. If you make the opinion of others more important than your own, it will impact you. It will disturb the natural flow of eternal energy to your independent mind.

Your basic nature is truly yours and learning to trust the nature of the Tao results in being free of other people’s opinions. Let yourself be guided by your essential beingness. Learn to trust your intuition, your truth and come back home to yourself.

Trust your inner nature

It’s important to distinguish between actualizing yourself and actualizing the image of yourself. If you live for your image you will deny your true eternal self.

The lesson from Taoism is to practice gratitude and trust your own inner nature. Find your true self and try to be natural. Your true self is eternal and independent of the opinions of others. Realize your worldly identity is not who you are. Your inner nature is one of peace, love, and harmony.

You can work towards this by doing meditation, silencing the mind, practicing Wu Wei, practicing gratitude, mindfulness and conscious breathing. The purpose of these activities should merely be doing the activity itself (being in the here and now).

If the principles of Taoism resonate with you, you could try some of the above. I’m confident these things will have a positive effect on you. Allow yourself time in your process and don’t try too hard. This would be using force again! 😉

I hope this was helpful to you in some way and I wish you strength and kindness.

When life is simple, pretenses fall away; our essential natures shine through.’ – Lao Tzu


– Alan Watts – Tao: The Watercourse Way
– Bruce Lee – Artist of Life
– Derek Lin – Tao Te Ching (translation & explanation)
– Wayne dyer – Change your thoughts change your life; living the wisdom of the Tao
– Dutch translation and explanation of the Tao Te Ching and the writing of Zhuangzi by Kristofer Schipper.

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2 thoughts on “Exploring Taoism and narcissism: About excessive personal importance, force, ego, the dependent mind and independent mind”

  1. Nice article! I’ve been listening to a lot of Alan Watts lectures lately, and it’s struck me that much of what he teaches is the opposite of what narcissists do!

    It has me wondering whether studying spirituality would help narcissists. (But maybe they’d just reject the teachings, or try and use them for more power and omnipotence.) It’s certainly helped me heal after a 12 year relationship with one. Thanks for an interesting read!

    1. @dealwithnarcissist

      Thank you for your response and kind words Jon. I agree his teachings are very interesting when compared to narcissistic behaviour. A great speaker and mind! My experience with narcissistic behaviour and chaotic energy unconsciously pushed me towards learning about Eastern philosophies.

      I suppose it’s quite impossible to say whether it would ‘help’ narcissists and it might become a philosophical discussion. It could help and it could not help as well 🙂 Alan Watts might say narcissists are narcissists and thus they behave as such. It would become a paradox.

      I think teachings do require a receiving end, and will always be interpreted within the mind or belief system of a person. I wonder when self-reflection or honesty towards oneself is lacking, what would be a starting point of change? Still, a powerful teaching might reach something deeper within and can shift a belief system.

      How to determine, however, if someone has honest self-reflection? I suppose we can only really explore our own mind and thoughts, and thus we might choose to focus on ourselves and choose consciously how to deal with certain behaviour of others.

      It’s great spirituality helped you Jon, I wish you strength and kindness in the future!

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