For most of my life, I was a liar.
A more charitable person might simply say I was full of delusions. Whatever you want to call it — lies, deceptions, delusions — I was full of them. The normal rules of life didn’t apply to me. I was going to be instantly successful at whatever I tried. People were going to recognize me for the superior person I was. They were going to love me, praise me, follow me, adore me.
I believed I was special. I believed others would see that.
When I was a small boy, I used to put myself to sleep every night making up stories. I was always the hero. I saved people in trouble. Other men wanted to follow me and emulate me. All the women wanted me to choose them. One of my earliest consistent stories was of rescuing a girl from a burning building. She was a classmate on whom I had a crush. After the rescue, she adored me, of course.
I grew up. I quit fantasizing about rescuing Wendy from burning buildings.
But what I didn’t realize is that the delusions didn’t go away. They grew into bigger delusions. I was still sure I was special. That faith carried me. I didn’t know the day would come when my self-deception would all come crashing down.
I understand now that my delusions of being special are partly normal childhood fantasy and partly the result of growing up with my father’s narcissistic personality disorder. It’s impossible for me to be sure how much of my fantasies were normal and how much were from his influence.
Those suffering from pathological narcissism often have delusions of grandeur and believe they are so special that rules don’t apply to them — and it’s common for their children to develop the same patterns.
Since I didn’t realize at the time that there was anything pathological about my father — and I wouldn’t have understood narcissism even if I’d known there was something wrong — I had no way of knowing which parts of my development were normal and which parts were unhealthy. Over the past 12 to 15 years, I’ve struggled to understand which parts of me were unhealthy reflections of him and which parts were fairly normal development issues.
I’ve concluded that everybody goes through some form of the same delusions but that mine took longer for me to see through. I see that pretty much everybody is delusional when he’s younger. Mine were just so powerful — and so deeply embedded in my psyche by the insecurity of narcissism — that it took me longer to finally burn through them.
Here’s what I think.
We cruise through our 20s and 30s under the power of our delusions. Some of us are more confident than others, but some of us have such a great need for unlimited success and admiration that we hold onto those delusions longer than others.
Even after others have given up on seeing us do the things we had hoped to do, we keep believing that we’re early in our lives and that the grand success just hasn’t arrived yet.
We believe others see us as special. We believe we’re going to be chosen for something amazing. We believe that success and all the things that come with it are about to shower down on us at any moment. We think we’re only waiting for the big break we always knew — deep down — was just around the corner.
For most of us, something changes as we approach the age of 40. All of a sudden, we’re not the amazing young talent who’s going to change everything. We might be successful, but our reality hasn’t achieved what we saw in our fantasies.
We thought we would be successful and have power and money and fame. Most of all, though, we were sure that we would be loved — by everyone.
At some point, the self-deception stops working.
Even if we’re successful, it’s not as we imagined. It doesn’t come as easily as we had dreamed. And the realities of how we feel on the inside is where the cracks really develop in our delusions.
We realize that we don’t feel the love and approval and understanding which we always believed would be ours. The people in our lives don’t really see us in exactly the same “special” ways that we did.
The self-deception starts cracking. We see reality as it is. We see the mess we’ve made of certain things. We begin to feel that we might have messed things up beyond repair.
Then we realize with terror that we do not feel loved.
And that is the moment when the self-deception no longer works. The jig is up. We’re no longer special. We no longer have forever to become special, either. We are mere mortals — and our mortality feels all too real.
It took me longer to experience all this than it takes most people. The delusions of grandeur that I developed growing up with a narcissist left me enmeshed in my self-deception for much longer than others.
But as I have started healing from the narcissistic damage, I was forced to shed a lot of the delusions which most people shed earlier. The last 10 years have been rough for me. Most people start this phase in their late 30s or early 40s, but it started later for me — and I had to fight off the shame that came from having to confess to myself something I never wanted to believe.
I am not special.
I do believe I am special in the same sense that every human being is special. Every life has possibility. Every person is unique. We all have an inner spark of Life — not just what comes with a heartbeat, but something deeply Divine — that gives us potential to love and to create that most of us never take advantage of.
I have that — and so do you.
But I’m not going to walk into places of power and position and just have success handed to me. I’m not going to rule the world. I’m not going to be universally loved. I’m just another man who needs to do good work which others will pay for — and who will be loved in the same way that he loves someone else.
Midlife starts at different times for different people, but when it happens, you will want to step off the treadmill of life and figure out who you really are and what you really want. You will want to turn away from your mistakes and to set a course for where you should have been instead.
Some people become like immature kids who make entirely different mistakes when that happens. But many others will recalibrate what they expect from life — and from themselves and from others — and that’s when they will start living in mature ways.
I lied to myself for most of my life. Without meaning to, I deceived others about who I was. But I reached the point that the self-deception no longer brought me the comfort I needed.
I broke down. I fell apart. And I had to start rebuilding myself from scratch.
Maybe you’ve experienced something like this. Maybe you’re doing through it now. Maybe you haven’t yet seen it. But be thankful for the day when your self-deception stops working. Be grateful when the facade behind which you’ve hidden cracks and you understand who you really are.
That’s when life begins.
That’s when you can start becoming who you’ve always needed to be. That’s when you can find a way to be loved for being yourself instead of for something which was never real.