I’ve spent most of my life learning to let go of the things I thought were important.
My father trained me to be a narcissist. I didn’t know that, of course. He didn’t know that, either. I didn’t understand he was a narcissist, because I didn’t even know what clinical narcissism was. It never would have occurred to me, because my father — the god-like central figure of my childhood — was my standard for all that was right and normal.
I’ve spent my adult life on a long journey of recovery. It started while I was still in my late 20s when I vaguely realized something was wrong. That led to the realization that I had come from a very dysfunctional family. But I still had so many layers of dysfunction to take apart — and I had so much to learn in order to become an emotionally healthy adult.
Even now, I keep finding more habits to unlearn. I keep realizing that I have beliefs that need to change. But as I take apart the old pieces of ugly dysfunction — brick by brick — I slowly replace them with something better.
I’m slowly becoming an emotionally healthy man.
I never wanted to admit to myself just how dysfunctional I was when I was younger. Maybe that would have been too scary for my psyche at the time. Maybe I needed to tell myself that I just had a few minor things to fix — simply because it would have been too intimidating to see how much I had to change. It would have been too humiliating to realize that someone so close to “perfect” was so fatally flawed.
When you’re emotionally unhealthy, you redefine negative things about yourself to make them into positive traits. I did that and I never knew what I was doing.
I wasn’t grandiose. I was just ambitious and talented.
I wasn’t thin-skinned and overly sensitive. The people around me were merely rude and didn’t understand me. It was their fault.
I wasn’t arrogant when I routinely broke other people’s rules, such as the orders of work superiors. Other people were simply controlling and their rules were constricting. Every boss I had was the stupidest person on Earth, so I was right to ignore his orders.
I wasn’t a perfectionist. I just had really high standards.
I didn’t have an excessive need for praise and attention. I was simply a star who deserved validation and other people were idiots for not appreciating my greatness.
I didn’t say those things, of course, not even to myself. But just underneath the surface, that’s the way I felt. I found ways to take every one of my questionable habits and beliefs — and turn them into evidence that the world was wrong and that I was superior.
It’s been a long and winding road to understand all of these inner deceptions. I’ve slowly tried to see myself and reality in honest ways. That’s meant accepting that I was more like my father — in dangerous ways — than I could have accepted at the time.
I’ve had to give up some things that I thought were core parts of who I was. I’ve had to give up grandiose ideas about myself. I had to give up the fantasy that I was going to save the world. I had to give up the notion that everyone was going to love me and praise me. I had to give up my core belief that I was special — that I was secretly better than everybody else.
I’m slowly replacing all of that ugliness with things that reflect who I really am — for both good and bad. Healing means that I am slowly learning how to be normal.
I wish I could have grown up with healthy mental habits and healthy inner beliefs about myself. I wish I could have been emotionally healthier when I was trying to build a company. I wish I could have seen the truth about myself and about the world in time to give myself more time to build on what I’ve learned.
But I didn’t know those things as a child. I didn’t know them when I was 30. I didn’t even know them 10 years ago. But I know now.
All I can do is to live my life in a normal and healthy way — and pray I’m lucky enough to make up for lost time by building the life I wish I had created long ago.