One of the things I quite like about the guy I’ve been dating is that he doesn’t have Instagram. Sure he’s a tall, tanned Latino with amazing arms and a great sense of humour too, but let’s stay focussed shall we. I don’t know the exact reason for him not having IG but I know he works in cyber security, so he likely knows something about a pending privacy meltdown that you and I don’t.
The reason I find so much sex-appeal in him doin’ absolutely nothing for the ‘gram is that accompanied with his happy-go-lucky nature and chilled vibes, this reflects the epitome of a healthy self-esteem in the modern age. Not having to update a bunch of people he doesn’t really know to feel good about himself is just so, um, damn hot, in my opinion.
Now I know social media has graced us with a lot of tip-top society-transforming goodness too – it’s not all steroids and fake boobs. I’m just saying that I think we could all pin-point people in our newsfeeds who clearly use it as a tool for validation. These are the people who post to be seen and heard, as opposed to just sharing, entertaining or promoting. And granted, there’s a spectrum, because I’m not saying everything I post is for my audience’s enjoyment. Sometimes I quite literally just want to show off.
But I’m writing this post after a small emotional debacle I recently went through, which drew attention to the fact that my self-esteem was a little messed up. I had a strange experience with (what I now understand to be) a narcissist. He was Instagram-obsessed and festered in his own self-esteem issues too. (Hence why I’m really diggin’ healthy ‘steem.)
Of course everyone’s self-esteem is a little sick and twisted at times. I bet even the Dalai Lama wakes up some days wondering if anyone actually likes him and his buzz cut. But there are some of us who irk more on the side of I’LL-TOLERATE-TERRIBLE-THINGS-BECAUSE-I-KINDA-FEEL-BAD-ABOUT-MYSELF than others.
And like, it’s good to be able to identify these traits within ourselves. Because it’s not a sin to lack self-love, it doesn’t make you a google-eyed sea creature from the land of mental issues. In fact, being self aware enough to say, “hey, maybe I did post that lame mirror selfie just to get compliments off the internet” is GREAT. It kinda means you’re not a narcissistic prick, which leads me to the crux of this story.
See, the thing that really bugged me about my recent low self-esteem revelation, is that I also figured out this trait is the primary reason I’ve spent my whole life attracting narcissists who’ve messed with my good vibes. Everything from a volatile university fling, to an abusive boyfriend, to a manipulative professional contact, to an emotionally needy friendship. They’ve all drawn me in like a moth to a flame and toyed with my sense of reality to a point where I was left feeling like I was to blame for the relationship failures in the end. Which would be okay if my life was an episode of Home & Away. But, well, it’s like, not.
Let’s talk narcissism.
Narcissism is a psychologically complex and truly fascinating form of fucked-up-ness. One common behaviour of a narcissist – and one that appeals to those of us with low self-esteem issues – is love bombing.
This is an example of a romantic relationship, but it can also happen in professional or platonic contexts. Think the manager who uses emotionally-driven tactics to manipulate a staff member into doing work outside their remit. Or the socialite who befriends people with high social status, only to ditch ’em when they get what they need.
I’m not going to pretend to be a psychologist or Google and try to educate you, but my slight obsession with narcissism after I ended things with my narcissistic ex saw me scrolling through quite a few pages of content on the subject.
I actually believed that if one of those narcissistic bastards were to come at me again, I’d be able to spot ’em from a mile away. But noooooooo. There’s a subtle art to being a self-indulgent detriment to society. They play yo’ ass.
Or do they?
Well, here’s the thing. They don’t play everyone’s ass.
Generally, people with healthy self-esteem will come into contact with a narcissist and move on from them as soon as they experience the first drabs of anti-social behaviour. People like me on the other hand – people who experience the love-bombing and get so attached to how special they’re made to feel – well, we’ll be more forgiving towards the inconsistencies in what’s said vs. what’s done, the relentless dick-moves and the word salads that are thrown at you when you question the abnormal behaviour.
Yup, I can be a right dumb-dumb for an emotionally in-touch human.
I’ve done a fair bit of introspection on it obvs, and I managed to marry conclusions from my self-evaluation with knowledge I gained from a couple of books I read in the same time period. I was a real wizard about it and came up with a couple of theories on why I was such a sucker in my most recent and short-lived experience with a narcissist.
Here we go.
1. I BLAME NEEDINESS
Neediness in relationships, according to Mark Manson, is when we place a higher priority on others’ perceptions of us than we do our perceptions of ourselves. This means that the motivation behind the things we do and say is based on impressing someone or winning approvals from them. For example, we might go dating and plan what we can do to impress somebody, instead of wonder what they can do to impress us. Afterwards we might spend too much time thinking about whether they’re going to text us instead of getting on with our lives and texting them when we have a spare moment.
Non-needy people only do and say things that are aligned with their values and interests. If someone still wants to hang out with them after that, great! If not, next! They don’t try and talk about stuff that you’re interested in to impress you, they just talk about what they’re interested in and if it gels, then bloody terrific, someone might get laid.
It’s really very simple.
I know that in my past I have cared more about what other people think of me than what I think of myself. I’ve let my values go to the wayside, and suppressed parts of my personality to get along with the other person better. It’s lamo-saurus-rex.
I’d like to say this was years ago, but NO. It happened with this dude in 2019. I clearly had some unaddressed self-esteem issues and craved attention more than I craved my own dignity.
2. AS HUMANS WE GIVE PEOPLE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
The second reason I may have fallen into this trap could be based on an idea from this book called Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s all about bad things that have happened in history because people have an innate inability to read the motives of people they don’t know. As in, we don’t know a thing about strangers, therefore it’s very hard to guess their motives or know if they have a hidden agenda. So we, as humans, go into this auto-default mode of giving strangers the benefit of the doubt, despite initial suspicions of something more sinister at play.
Apparently Hitler had chatted, bonded and eaten with British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain a few times before WW2. And during their time together Hitler proooommised that he wouldn’t go all evil and slaughter a bunch of people. Then suddenly he did and Chamberlain was shocked and appalled that he’d been lied to over tea. Chamberlain had some serious egg on his face.
The book also talks about a bunch of really interesting psychological experiments that prove we’re all as silly-billy as each other when it comes to assessing the character of someone we don’t know.
In my case, I knew, like I really KNEW, that it was weird to receive texts first thing in the morning and last thing at night from an attractive heterosexual man who claimed he had no intentions of dating or seducing me. Of course I knew this was weird! That’s weird. I’m not a potato head. I know weird when I experience it.
Firstly, his behaviour was needy. Because sure you can just be a nice guy with a keen interest in befriending a wannabe comedian with strawberry blonde hair, but don’t hang out with me every day, buy me chocolate and end your texts with an ‘x’ if you don’t eventually want to mack on or have babies. He enjoyed the reciprocated attention as much as I enjoyed having a pretend boyfriend.
I’d only gotten to know the guy over a couple of weeks and shit got intense really quickly because I was being manipulated into a false friendship. I assumed we had chemistry. Did it occur to me that I was possibly being used for something else? NO! I gave him the benefit of the doubt and thought he was just unique and needed some time… Eventually he’d want me in his bed. So I just kept going along with it, despite the abundance of questionable things said and done in this time.
He wanted to start a business with me and quote, unquote, “conquer the world together”. I was like, gosh, bit intense, but if I blow away my stinky skepticism around his level of authenticity, I smell passion, I’m in!
He also attracted a lot of drama into his life and I was like, gosh, he’s a bit of a Home & Away episode, but if I sweep all this wariness of his emotional stability under the mat, I can see a guy who wants to change! Hooray!
My subconscious was clearly sending warning signals about the emotionally-needy narcissistic tendencies emerging, but my conscious brain would dismiss it and default to giving him the benefit of the doubt. (Which I totally can’t be blamed for because see above, human!👆)
When it fell apart
According to Gladwell, the thing that triggers us out of this default mode is when “the case against our initial assumption becomes definitive”. Put simply, we choose to believe the best-case scenario about people until our doubts get to a point where you can’t keep making excuses for the person clearly being a twat. Very rarely do we have a suspicion about someone and get all Sherlock Holmes-y on them, scouting for clues to help us confirm our inklings of doubt.
In this instance, I was ditched when I became uninterested in the half-baked business plan I didn’t actually sign up to. Things got peculiar before that because in a truly narcissistic fashion, the intense thing was flipped back on me. I was accused of becoming too intense! I got unfollowed on Instagram and when communications really dried up I was like, HE USED ME. And off I went on a deep psychological journey of how the hell this comfort-zone breaching sister got bamboozled by a narcissist again.
I think the combination of 1. my neediness, 2. my natural human tendency to look for the best in strangers 👆 and 3. the fact that I genuinely like helping troubled people, well, all that got me into the last mess.
Good news is, there were lessons learned. And as we all know (if you don’t know this, pay attention) growth comes from experience, and often the most uncomfortable or painful experiences propel us into a whole new realm of new, exciting and better experiences. I’ve become more aware of the shitty traits I need to work through, and by doing so I am attracting people with the just right kinda Goldilocks self-esteem.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Be who you want to attract.