I can still vividly see what my fleet of planes looked like.
I wasn’t sure how many there were. I wasn’t even certain what we would use them for. I just knew the company would be so large that it would require a fleet of planes. At least six or eight of them. Not small planes. Huge airliner size. The design was simple but bold. Each plane was a solid color, but each was a different color, bold enough to stand out anywhere.
And each one had the company name on the side. In monstrously huge letters. In a powerful typeface — such as Futura extra bold or Folio extra bold — it just had my name. The company name. It just said, “McElroy.”
Confession is good for the soul, but it’s miserable for the ego. I need to confess these old desires for ego satisfaction, because if I’m not careful, they could return.
And I don’t need that kind of toxic ego in my life anymore. It nearly destroyed me.
I’ve told you before about my past desires for power and success and money and fame. But I don’t know whether I’ve made it clear how far those desires went. Worse, I doubt you could possibly understand why I wanted this success so badly — much less what this said about my mental health at the time.
I saw myself building a huge company. My plan was to start with newspapers. I had already spent years in the newspaper business and it was still an enormously profitable business back then.
I was going to build the largest newspaper chain in the country. Then I would expand into television and radio broadcasting. I saw a string of local stations and I also saw a family of cable channels. From there, I would expand into other areas as technology matured and opportunities presented themselves.
I didn’t just want to be successful and comfortable. I wanted to prove myself.
The pride that had been wounded so badly as I grew up with a narcissistic father wanted to do “impressive” things. That pride wanted to do big things. Huge things. I wanted to be on magazine covers. I wanted to constantly be in the news. I wanted everyone to see me as important.
Then I would move into politics. With my media empire and money, I would end up as president of the United States. The wounded and scared little boy — still terrified of feeling the shame of not being loved and adored at home — could finally say to everyone, “See? I really am somebody. Don’t you love me now?!”
I was going to be a real-life Charles Foster Kane — and I would have died just as unloved as he was.
But here’s the thing. I wanted that success and money and power, but I had very little interest in doing the things required to make it happen. I had no intrinsic desire to build a big company. The real me didn’t need to be famous. The real person at my core didn’t need the wealth or the power.
I don’t even like the kinds of people who are attracted to a person like that.
But the unconscious dysfunctional need in my broken heart didn’t know all this. I didn’t understand that my father was a narcissist. I didn’t understand that I was on my way to becoming a narcissist myself. I didn’t realize how much shame and fear I had about not being “good enough.” Whatever that means.
I slowly lost the desire to pursue these symbols of ego as I became healthier. It wasn’t all at once. I first had to realize those weren’t really my dreams. I had to slowly come to confess to myself just how unhealthy all of this was — and how it was all related to my shame and fear that were wrapped up in my need for love. There was no one “light bulb moment.”
I just slowly realized I no longer had a need to prove anything to anybody else.
I had a strange flashback about all this today. I was listening to a podcast that dealt with what it was like to be raised by a narcissist — what it did to a child. As I listened to the psychologist cover ground that was already very familiar to me, I felt something rise inside me — just briefly — that felt like the need to prove myself.
In a split second, I realized that I had briefly experienced that old shame again as the psychologist talked about it. I had experienced the fear of not being good enough. I had felt the toxic need to have success — or even to fake some success — enough to scream to the world, “See? I really am good enough. Please love me!”
As I’ve thought about this for the rest of the evening, I’ve found myself thinking that this is why I have forced myself to go so far in the opposite direction over these long years when I’ve been recovering my mental health and learning how to heal from the old toxic shame.
I realized that there’s still a part of me which would love to put something born of toxic ego in front of the world and beg for the empty adulation that I wanted for so long. The healthy part of me realizes that my ego isn’t ready for something like that. I’ve come a long way, but I’m not emotionally strong enough to experience great success of that magnitude without letting it turn me into someone that I once was — someone I don’t want to be.
In my healthiest times, I now see success myself as the state of having love and peace and joy in my life. I see it as having powerful and healthy connections to other people. I see it as experiencing powerful connections to the spirit of our creator.
In my weakest times, I can still feel the toxic pull of a desire to satisfy my wounded ego. I can feel myself wanting fame and fortune again. I can see myself wanting power. I can see myself puffed up with pride as I step out of a huge airplane that has my name painted down the side.
I often confess things to you because doing that gives those things less power over me. This is definitely one of those times.
I want to avoid the kind of toxic ego that ruled my heart and my head back then. I want to keep my heart fixed on the desire to love and to be loved in return.
I don’t want you to accept me because I’ve done “impressive” things. I don’t even want to be adored by someone shallow enough to be attracted to someone for those things.
I want someone to love me for who I am. It’s what I’ve always wanted, even when my wounded ego was trying to win something which never would have brought me the loved I needed.