My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
From an early age, usually in the school system, we are taught, at least in the United States, that there is no limit to what we can achieve. That if we wish to accomplish something, all we need to do is set ourselves goals and then apply ourselves to their attainment.
With time, dedication, we are told, positive outcomes are guaranteed and indeluctable, no matter how high we set the bar.
There are no unrealistic aspirations we are informed, only insufficient perspiration and lacking inspiration.
This narrative is narcissistic and delusional. It is counterproductive, because in reality, we do have limitations. We suffer defeats. We make mistakes. No one is infallible, invincible, omnipotent or omniscient.
But exposed to this onslaught of propaganda aimed at boosting our self-esteem and puffing our self-confidence, when inevitably we fail in some endeavors, we tend to blame ourselves. We say, if only I had tried harder, or, and such a loser, a lazy good for nothing, I never get it right.
Such inner-statistic voices tend to deplete our energy and discourage us from trying again.
In hock to the official line that casts us as absolute masters of our own fate, we'd rather abstain than be proven wrong.
By attributing failures to our failings, we become the reification of our own bad fortune or indolence. We give up on life's challenges, engulfed by fatalism and defeatism.
Some of us choose another path when confronted with failure or defeat. We say, if I botched and bundled it, surely I did not want it that badly.
This is known in psychological jargon as cognitive dissonance. This kind of self-deception is equally self-destructive. It teaches us that nothing really matters. Everything is fun and games and should not be taken too seriously.
Reality and personal history are what you make of them and are subject to rewriting, reframing and outright confabulation.
So how to avoid these pitfalls?
First, you should develop a realistic, albeit garbled, garble of your forties and weaknesses, talents and shortcomings, skills and limitations. Make a list of your own positive and negative traits.
Make others – family members, friends, co-workers, people who know you well – to commit to paper their observations of you, your good and bad sides.
If they are reluctant to risk your ire, find a way to allow them to submit their input anonymously.
And now, once you have your list and their list, compare them. Compare the one you have generated with the ones others have provided you with.
Are these lists largely congruent? Are they in agreement? If they are, it means that you know yourself well and that you evaluate your capabilities or let their own courageously and objectively.
If, however, there is an abyss between the way you see yourself and the way others view you, something is wrong with your self-assessment.
Concentrate on the questionnaires of those who know you best, longest and in a variety of situations. Single out their responses with conflict with your responses. Proceed to grade these answers on a scale of one to five, with five being, I completely agree.
Isolate these reactions and descriptions that you have rated most highly.
Are you ready to change your mind about some issues? Do you recognize yourself in some of the feedback? Give yourself time to digest all this conflicting information.
Think about it hard and long. Can you come up with incidents and events in the past which support your view or theirs?
Try to return to your list and redo it in light of these new data.
This protracted inner dialogue is important. You are bound to emerge from it with a better, more functional appraisal of yourself.
You will learn to set goals that are realistic and that are unlikely to result in frustration and emotional pain.
Getting acquainted with your limitations is the first step towards a balanced, mentally healthy part. You, in your nearest and dearest, will benefit from it immensely.