For relationships to grow and thrive, a generous amount of freedom is necessary.  Or to say it backwards, when relationships are grounded in authoritarianism, insistence upon conformity, threats, duty and obligation, they will eventually crumble. 

Being free can be defined as the privilege to choose how to manage life.  It includes the absence of subordination, but the presence of equality.  Self-determination is encouraged, as is the ability to sift out options.  Free people are encouraged to ask: “Who do I want to be?  What defines me?  What gives my life meaning?”  Ideally, the presence of freedom can be the impetus for a life of well-conceived responsibility.

Enter the narcissist.  Just like anyone else, they can shout: “I too want my freedom!”  But their craving emanates from a place of pervasive unhealthiness.  By definition, narcissists seek to control others, showing little to no empathy, feeling smugly superior while simultaneously being profoundly immature.  They are quite willing to manipulate and exploit others in the pursuit of the favored position.  And they will readily invalidate those who do not conform to their desires and whims.

Narcissists think very differently about personal freedoms, so as you determine how to respond wisely to their mannerisms, it is necessary to know what drives them.  When a narcissist says, “I want to be free,” here is what it often means:

  • I want to be accountable to no one.
  • If my choices and priorities bother you, too bad.
  • In my freedom, I’ll reserve the right to be a keeper of secrets.  You don’t need to know the real me.
  • No one has the right to challenge or confront me.
  • You need to show me acceptance no matter how offensive I may be.
  • If you dare to disagree with my choices, it means you are judgmental.
  • By the way, my freedom makes sense, but your free choices will probably end poorly.
  • My personal cravings always take the higher priority.
  • I’ve been held back by rules and standards for too long.  I make up my own rules as I go.
  • Being free means I’ll be telling you “no” a lot.  (Don’t expect me to be a team player.)
  • If my free choices separate me from you…I don’t care.

Narcissists are all about #1.  Sure enough, they do indeed get to be free, but their chosen pattern of life ensures it will be disastrous for themselves and for those required to coordinate with them.  With narcissists, freedom does not include “us.”

As healthy people incorporate freedom, they begin with an understanding of our fundamental interconnection with each other.  They consider the impact of their choices upon others and pursue options that are most likely to be good for both oneself and others. 

To get an idea of how this works, consider their different understanding of freedom.  For instance:

  • Freedom does not cancel out my conscientiousness.
  • As I practice free choice, I’ll also assess its potential impact for good.
  • I know there are all sorts of selfish options in front of me, but ultimately, I find raw selfishness to be unappealing.
  • Goodness and cooperation are enhanced when I don’t turn it into obligation.
  • I’ll still confront and set boundaries, but my intent will be for the good of all involved.
  • When we differ, I don’t feel the need to justify myself beyond a plain explanation.  Coercion is not my thing.
  • If you think I’m stupid or ill advised, I’ll listen, then I’ll move forward guided by my common sense.
  • My use of freedom is impacted by my mistakes and miscalculations since I’m willing to self-reflect and make positive adjustments.

Freedom, accompanied by a communal spirit can lead to positive resolve.  It can prompt you to choose:  love, reliability, integrity, collaboration, peace, self-restraint, service, forgiveness, truth that is accompanied by an open mind, meaning, and growth.

Every person wishes for freedom.  That is part of what makes us human.  Unfortunately, narcissists are so persistently immature and entitled that their pursuit of freedom results in them being imprisoned by their own self-centeredness.  But in the meantime, healthy individuals can be grounded in a form of humility that leads them toward well-considered decency.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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