The moment Allison Phelan stopped being a narcissist.

By Allison Phelan.

Narcissism is a highly-contagious disease. Me? I caught it young.

The core of an individual’s self-worth should emanate from inside out, but with narcissism, it is instead split into a thousand cracked funhouse mirrors, none of which actually reflect the truth. I know because I’ve dealt with this my entire life—so has my immediate family.

 My first poem published with elephant journal, “Where I’m From,” caused a massive, painful explosion in my family, but also a reestablishment of order.

A little backstory: my grandmother on my mother’s side took her own life when my mom was 18. Most of my life, this was treated as a secret that no one was allowed to speak of. It was a painful burden to bear as a child, carrying my mother’s pain and my own.

I often felt like my mother’s pain leaked out in anger and fear towards me. I was 24 years young, and fresh out of rehab, when a psychiatrist pointed out a massive family issue—that my mom was leaning on me to be her mom, in place of the trauma and unmet needs she hadn’t faced or healed from. She needed my praise and validation, much the way little kids crave that from their parents. In exchange for what she thought she needed from me, she gave me just that: praise and validation.

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In my poem, I said none of this. While talking about the big abuses and traumatic events of my own childhood, here is what I did say:

“I am from anger and trauma and unspeakable things.
From the secrets (the family secrets).
I am from my Grandma’s picture in a frame and how my mom told us she was ‘sick.’
And then my cousin told me the truth.
[…] And the love mom didn’t know how to give after a certain age.
So the objects and the guilt she gave instead.”

The result of the poem being published, and specifically those lines, was several months of my mom not speaking to me and my dad shaming me for being selfish and unfeeling. Then two of my four sisters openly attacked me with hateful messages. One of them proceeded to point out the lines in the poem that she believed were good, acceptable and praise-worthy, mostly because they reflected positively on my father.


No one asked what personal trauma I was dealing with. No one asked what the poem meant to me. No one asked what my intent was or what I meant. Everyone had their own personal story about how the lines in my poem had unjustly injured them. And everyone’s story was completely different in terms of where and why those lines were “wrong.”

Their stories conflicted with each other, but each person could only see the truth in their own. This is narcissism. (Post continues after gallery.)

People often talk about how painful it is to be in love with a narcissist. I’m sure that’s true and I’m sure a few people could write that about me. But I rarely hear anyone talk about what it’s like to be surrounded by narcissists within a friend or family unit. Even less do I hear anyone talk about what it’s like to actually have narcissism—to be a narcissist.

To Narcissus, you are not a person. You are simply a means to an end. You are wonderful and worthwhile if you help Narcissus with his own reflection and he likes what he sees. But you are absolutely unacceptable if you create something he doesn’t want to see.

In relationships with other narcissists, this means being relentlessly objectified and exploited by them, whenever you allow it. If you are the narcissist, this means being relentlessly objectified and exploited by yourself. And believe me, if you’re doing it to yourself, you are more than likely doing it to others as well.

I certainly was—to my family, my friends, my lovers—to everyone.

When those you love consistently react as if the most important thing about your actions is how they affect them, the warped takeaway is clear:

“How I really feel does not matter. Yet, I am the center of the universe. The people in my life orbit me. I am good when what I do affects them positively. I am bad when what I do affects them negatively. And, when what I do does not affect them in any way, I might as well cease to exist.”

This is the fundamental message of narcissism. This is the master germ.


"I am the centre of the universe." Image: iStock.

The good news is that if you’ve caught narcissism, you can heal from it. I have.

The cure is painful, but fast, simple and absolute: You must chop off all infected areas. Anywhere where you were being validated and fed, or where you were being blamed and shamed by a narcissistic complex, just stop it and drop it. Refuse to allow yourself to receive the lows or the highs.

Which brings me back to my poem. My family’s response to it was traumatic for me. But the biggest trauma, in part, was because of my own narcissism.

Writing the poem was cathartic and healing towards that very old pain I carried. Having it published was a reassurance that I’m on the right path. Knowing that other people enjoyed reading it and were feeling inspired and helped by it, in some way made my heart feel joyful.

Yet, for the parts of me that were infected with narcissism, that was not enough. I was expecting to receive validation and praise from my family. When I didn’t, my initial thought was, “How dare they not receive it positively! How dare they not help me create a reflection that I’m good and worthy; that my life is important enough to be shared and help others. How could they do this to me? What monsters!”

Eek…sound familiar?

Not receiving any support or love from them regarding my writing was one thing. It was a painful and illuminating experience full of the super-valuable lesson that I should not, in fact, be seeking support or love from them with regards to my writing. I filed that one away.


"We must catch ourselves - examine our true life purpose." Image: iStock.

But the rest of my thinking? The search and expectation for validation and praise? My inability to see my family’s feelings with compassion? I suffered massive and unnecessary wounds there, because, like a true narcissist, I took their behaviour and turned it on its head to make it all about how it reflected on me—that maybe I was unworthy, selfish, bad, awful and just as wrong as they were saying.

All that thinking had to go. It took a long time to do it, but it was good work, good practice and it helped me anchor within my true purpose as a writer. That purpose, as it turns out, has nothing to do with boos or applause, and everything to do with the greater impact my writing has on myself and the world. I walked away from this experience feeling cleaner, more loving, more honest, more compassionate and less narcissistic than ever.

We can all become clean and free of narcissism. But we must catch ourselves, stop ourselves—examine our true life purpose, whatever that is, and see how it would look and feel without any praise or blame from the outside.

Can we find the real meaning? If so, we must respect and honour that. We must understand that everything we do is valid and worthy, regardless of how others respond to it or whether anyone responds to it at all.

We must see ourselves and our lives through the lens of our own heart and soul, not the wacky and inconsistent narcissistic carnival of warped, changing mirrors around us.

Image: iStock

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This article was originally published on Elephant Journal, read the original here. You can also read these from Elephant Journal.

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