ghost on the street

This Halloween, let’s pledge to stop ghosting

We will get to ghosting in a minute, let me first take a step back.

Over time, the focus of this blog and my coaching has shifted from how to lessen the negative effects of stress to instead how to prevent stress by uncovering and diminishing the root causes of stress. Many of the professionals I work with need deeper assistance than just time management and prioritization skills. Most of the time their stress was caused by the fact that the career, role, or company culture they were in did not serve them. Their stress was a result of not being able to recognize they were in the wrong place and didn’t know how to give themselves permission to change.

When I look at the world we are currently in, I see the same issue on a global level. We are trying to learn how to cope in a messed-up world, where what we should be trying to do is change the paradigm. As I step back and look at the root causes of much of our pain and conflict right now, it is due to our self-focus and our resistance to learn how to come together. In the Western culture where individualism, personal freedom, and individual success is valued, we have replaced the common good with self-focused desires. What is keeping us from coming together is self-centeredness, hyper-independence, and an ego run riot.

I am not saying that we are all self-serving, cold-hearted narcissists. What we do need to be honest about, however, is how our thinking is usually focused on our own wants and needs, instead of including the needs of others or at least being mindful of how our actions affect others. For instance, I have conversations almost daily with my job seekers who are upset that after interviewing multiple times, the human resources representative is unresponsive. The candidate is never informed if they are still being considered or if the role has been filled. They are just ghosted, as the young kids say, by the company. The irony is that many times these same candidates a few weeks in the future, ghost me. I don’t know if they landed a new position or what happened. They are just gone. The bottom line in both cases is that people are not thinking of how their actions or inactions (i.e., ghosting) affects others. They are oblivious to and have no consideration for how what they do or don’t do affects others. In their mind, the relationship is over and they don’t even think of giving even the lowliest of text message response. It is not that they are mean, they just aren’t thinking any further than themselves.

As Lily Tomlin said, “We are all in this together, alone.”* These days I think we need to flip the quote. We feel that we are in this alone. Even with all the technology providing us the tools to be close, more and more people are feeling isolated. We are not alone. It is not me against the world. I am part of the world. Humanity is a living, breathing organism of which I am but a part. As more and more of us can see that we are not isolated, that we are not the only and solely important person in the world, we can begin to make decisions and policies that benefit us all as a whole. And we can begin to heal the root causes of our stress.

As a first step, let’s stop ghosting each other.

*I have also seen this quote as “We’re all in this together – by ourselves.” I could not verify the correct version.

grid of multiple aspects of people

More about narcissism

Narcissism is something I think most of us understand and some of us maybe have had first-hand experience with, and now all of us perhaps have a certain figure or two in mind who exhibit classic narcissistic behaviors. A little while back I wrote about how to deal with the narcissists in our life. What I would like to explore now is how to not have black and white opinions about those with narcissistic tendencies.

Whether a person has narcissistic or other negative behaviors, it is easily to label them as bad. As we learned about our own shame, we want to be careful to only label the action, and to not label the person. Behaviors and actions can change if we are willing. Just as we want forgiveness for when we are not at the best, we owe it to others to not judge and condemn them for their actions. All of us can act bad at times (guilt), but we should not be forever labeled as a bad person (shame).

If you are like me, you may often see things in a continuum. We see people on one end of a spectrum or another. For example, either you are a liberal or conservative. For this discussion, you may see the line as being narcissist on one side and being empathetic on the other. What I have come to believe is that no person is on a single continuum. We are more like a chili with multiple ingredients. We all have some narcissism and some empath in us. I like to think of it more like a bar chart with multiple possible combinations.

In the chart above, the first person is more of the typical narcissist. This person is strong in both self-centeredness and victimhood; they see the world as all about them and feel they are unfairly treated. On the other hand, Person 2 is more the classic victim. This person does not think of themselves and often focuses on others, leaving Person 2 feeling like a victim of others’ actions. The final example is a fairly healthy person. They have a strong sense of self, balanced with empathy. They take care of others and have good boundaries so they can take care of themselves.

We all have different elements in us, and these elements may shift depending on who we are with and the situation. I often hear how people can be loving and kind to a stranger, but have a hard time being as accepting and compassionate to their own family. It is also important to remember that we are all ever changing, and we all have the capacity to change.

Before labeling someone as a narcissist or putting them in some other negative descriptor ask:

  • Does this person always act like this, 24/7, 365?
  • Do they act differently around others than they do around me?
  • Do they only have one negative facet to their personality, or do they also have other positive facets? (In the example above, even though Person 1 exhibited high narcissistic/victim behaviors, they were also caring and giving to others – maybe with a self-serving motive in mind, but yet, they give.)
  • Can I name three times this person acted in ways other than the negative way I am perceiving them?

When we label someone, we sentence them to be that certain way for the rest of their life. Even if they do not act that way ever again, we can only perceive them as we have labeled them. Just as we would wish that others treat us with an open and forgiving mind, all those we interact with deserve to be treated with compassion and openness as well.

It is important to note that being understanding and accepting of other’s negative behaviors does not mean you have to put up with them. Healthy boundaries can protect you from other’s behaviors and provide you with the ability to be compassionate, without hurting yourself.

Understanding, acceptance, and healthy boundaries can certainly make for a better world.