from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

“Dr. Crawford’s presentation was the highlight of the conference and a much needed reminder for all of us (especially nurses) to keep it all balanced. Bill’s psychology background surely protruded through his messages and I know it was well-received by all!”

Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL

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“Narcissism is the shame-based fear of being ordinary.”
~ Brené Brown

Narcissism & the Fear of Being Ordinary

There is a lot of talk about narcissism these days, and I’m sure we can all point to people in both public and private life that tend to fit this description. However, rather than this just being about what’s wrong with them and how they need to change, I suggest that we make this a more valuable discussion by looking at the root of the problem, and raise our awareness in this area so that we can become a more positive influence in our lives and the lives of others.

Of course, for those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that this has to do with how the brain processes information. In other words, the middle brain, or limbic system, tends to store experiences from our past and then use these experiences to form beliefs about ourselves and the world. Given that the prime directive of this middle brain has always been to keep us alive and safe as a specie, it tends to give more weight to negative experiences than positive, and throws us into the reactive, lower brain (the brainstem) when a negative stimulus is perceived.

How does this play into the fear of being seen as ordinary or need to be seen as special? Well, when we were kids, most of us got the message that we were special when we were seen as better than ordinary… when we got A’s versus B’s and Cs, when we were better athletes, when we minded our parents better than others, etc. Further, “special” in the mind of a child meant loved, chosen, valued, while “not special” meant rejected, or not worthy of love.

Therefore, it’s important to recognize that narcissism isn’t about self-love (as the Greek myth might suggest), but instead is about the fear of not being seen as special. Or, as Brené Brown calls it, “the shame-based fear of being ordinary,” which makes sense, because I’m sure most of us can remember feeling ashamed as children when we didn’t live up to our parent’s or teacher’s expectations. In fact, even as adults, that feeling of shame can creep into our mindset when we fail to live up to the expectations of others.

To avoid this shame or fear, some people will go to great lengths to convince others of their intelligence or abilities, but all of this is driven by the need for others to see them as special in order to feel worthy or valuable.

The operative word here is “need.” We all want to be seen as special, valuable, and lovable, and that desire is not only perfectly normal, it’s also perfectly healthy. As a speaker, psychologist, father, and husband, I certainly want to be seen as special and valuable by those in my life. When I get a note from a client or participant, or something from my family that lets me know how much they value our connection, that means so much to me.

The distinction here is the difference between wanting something and needing it. We need to eat, to breathe, to have a place to live, etc., and these needs are driven by the awareness that if these needs are not met, bad things will happen. However, when the fear of bad things (being a “loser,” being rejected) manifests as a need to be seen as special by others, then the lower brain is triggered, and the result is narcissism.

That’s the problem. Here is the solution. In order to avoid needing others to see us as special before we feel valuable or worthy, it will be important to know and have confidence in those internal qualities and characteristics that we bring to life that make us special. To do this, I suggest you make a list of twenty qualities and characteristics of you at your best. These aren’t skills, but qualities that define you at your best (feel free to ask your friends and family if you are having trouble coming up with twenty).

Next, you want to make your highest purpose, or the most important thing in your life, bringing these qualities and characteristics to everything that you do. This will have you accessing the upper 80% of your brain (the neocortex, what I call “The Top of the Mind”) which is where our best skills and decision-making abilities reside.

You don’t have to be perfect at this, however, it will require a new sense of purpose because, chances are, living this way (accessing the best of who you are and bringing it to life) isn’t a habit. The good news, however, is that anything that we practice over and over will become a habit, and given that the brain is always rewiring itself, you will be constantly creating new neural pathways that connect the middle brain to the “Top of the Mind,” and raise your awareness of the qualities and characteristics that make you special.

It is this internal awareness of your value and worth (versus some external need to be seen a certain way by others) that will allow you to be the kind of person you would define as special. And, it is this internal confidence in accessing these qualities that will give you a place to stand, even when others are too blind to see who you really are.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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