This is not an article siding with any political party. I am especially not writing this with an alt-right agenda. Social justice and equality are extremely important to me. I am writing this article to get us all to begin to look at the damage we do when we are letting Narcissism take hold in our life. Read more to consider my perspective…
I identify as an intersectional feminist, who applies social justice theory to my own life, as well as in how I critically analyze others, events, and the world.
AND, I am also a person who lives strongly by a moral code of accountability. Not just accountability for myself as I exist in a system of power differentials and oppression, but also accountability around the way I understand my identity, psychology, and personal responsibility and power, towards my self and others/groups, in relationship.
My current view is that having only one these two orientations within the world, either social justice or personal accountability, while mostly or completely excluding the other, leads one to cause harm. If we don’t have a balanced orientation within both positions, where we hold them as equally important, it limits our ability to truly, authentically engage, in either position. Over-focus on one position, sets the stage for Narcissism to take hold, at its most extreme.
With extreme focus on personal accountability, Narcissism takes hold, and a person becomes a rugged individualist who doesn’t at all acknowledge other’s contexts as being valid, and nor so they acknowledge systems and their participation in them. In fact, these extreme, Narcissistic personal accountability people, develop active disdain for those who want them to engage in relational accountability through acknowledgment of said systems.
Or, on the other end, and extreme focus on social justice, when Narcissism takes hold, causes the individual to become melded into a label within a group/system, believing themselves to have moral superiority, who in standing behind “the cause” can express disdain or judgment, for anyone who has some resistance arise in response to losing their individuality, being judged and categorized, and told to assimilate to this orientation.
Holding both these macro (social justice) and micro (personal accountability/responsibility) positions equally, allows us to find balance in life as an individual AND as a systemic, relational being, preventing extremes and the Narcissism that comes with them. The macro and the micro orientation together, allows us to be educated, relational, empathetic, empowered, humble, connected, nourished, generous, non-violent, conscientious, aware, change agents, that are ultimately effective.
As someone who is invested in social justice and activism, I understand this business of being balanced is a delicate line to walk, as a big part of educating those who benefit from privilege, is jolting them out of their privilege slumber. And to get others to awaken, this means making them feel uncomfortable long enough to begin to see outside of their self-biased and selfish worldview, in order to build empathy and compassion for those being exploited, colonized, dominated, and oppressed. So, by no means am I saying we should all cater to making everyone feel comfortable, however, I think this issue with Narcissism is toxic, and is actually destroying social justice efforts in America, and on a global scale. Just as I think Narcissism in general, is destroying us all, whether we hold the macro or micro views, or are Republican or Democrat. So, this is why I am saying we need both positions, equally, to remain in check, and balanced.
I am going to share more here about what I mean by personal accountability, or what I am also referring to as the “micro”. Living with the balanced form of this orientation allows me to make sure I understand my internal process enough. It allows me to understand my internal world. I constantly assess where I am on the spectrum of accountability, deciding whether I am engaging others from the extreme negative end of: shut-down, shaming, blaming, arrogance, judgment, self-righteousness, superiority, defensiveness, dismissiveness, devaluation, self-protectiveness, or victim mentality, versus the other end of the spectrum of: empowerment, true accountability, openness, curiosity, vulnerability, humility, emotional self awareness, empathy, and compassion. With this balanced micro orientation, I honor the fact that I always hold responsibility to some degree, for how every dynamic in my life occurs, and I am willing to look at this and make amends with my self, or with others, if I notice contexts where I fall short, or am not boundaried, receptive, or empathetic.
If someone only holds the larger view of systems, within the social justice theory, and in extremes, chooses to apply this to every context, without also holding themselves accountable on the personal level, they end up rationalizing doing harm to the people they deem as “not getting it”, or the people this movement deems as having the most power. And, in their rationalization of harming others, through “educating” them and bringing justice, by any means necessary, they lose connection to their own responsibility to be personally accountable. As a side note, this position then gives even more ammunition to people who are against the social justice cause, as they will spot the double standard: others are personally accountable, while we (the social justice activists) are not holding ourselves to this same standard.
To explain further, this over-emphasis on the macro level, perpetuates a Narcissistic stance in the group mentality. This Narcissism in social justice promotes a model of “justice” where people who have more systemic power, are objectified, dismissed, and devalued, and essentially viewed as undeserving of tact, understanding, curiosity, compassion and care. And, within this Narcissistic stance, a person who has less systemic power catering AT ALL to the “oppressor’s” humanity and need for respect and dignity, is viewed as performing extraneous emotional labor, and allowing oneself to be oppressed. This Narcissism creates an elitism, and a false dichotomy. In this false dichotomy, as a social justice activist, one truly is deluded into believing they are completely aware of the other person’s context, and are called to change the status quo, and confront those who benefit from oppression, by any forceful and unapologetic means necessary. On the other side of this dichotomy, if one does not follow this experience and script, someone involved is social justice is questioned in their commitment to the cause and are actively called out as ignorant or oppressive, or enabling this systemic and interpersonal illness of oppression.
In this Narcissistic form of social justice, holding personal accountability as an activist, is viewed as an automatic, one-down position, where the oppressor has “won”. It is almost as if there is no room to have the personal accountability discussion, without being viewed suspiciously. There is a defensive assumption that the oppressor won’t also hold personal and systemic accountability, and instead the oppressed, when also simultaneously using the personal accountability model, will just end up further gas lit and disempowered. There are legitimately some people who clearly choose not to understand or incorporate the social justice perspective into their orientation, so I see where a boundaried, somewhat self-protective approach is warranted. However, I also see how this Narcissism ends up expressed in the ranks of actual social justice groups, and within progressive and liberal communities, alike, where this defensive posturing may not be needed.
As a side note, I want to bring in the analogy of abusive relationships. I look at the people who have absolutely no willingness to understand social justice, while being Narcissistic, bigoted, and stuck in the extreme micro orientation of what they deem personal accountability, should also be viewed as abusive. I think it is prudent to be aware that the abused holding oneself to a standard of personal accountability while choosing to still connect to an abuser, can be a convenient way for a sociopathic or psychopathic abuser to take advantage and gaslight, because these abusive folks won’t ever hold themselves authentically accountable. In domestic violence literature, the advice given to people in these situations is to learn self-love and self-validation, get support, and to leave, and cut contact. I think this is a very good idea. If someone is harming you, and shows no willingness to genuinely change and no action to rebuild trust, be humble, accept feedback, and make it right, of course, protect yourself and get out. Even if you see you have some level of responsibility for the dynamic, it is important to minimize damage, by minimizing exposure. So, before you dismiss the personal accountability I am proposing here, please know I am not justifying abuse.
Having stated all of the above, I am going to be clear and redundant by pointing out I am particularly calling attention in this article, to the curious situation when Narcissism makes its way into how people approach being involved in social justice, and having social justice conversations. I am referring to when people co-opt social justice as a means to not have to take any personal accountability for their behaviors in relationships, and actively justify judging, shaming, dismissing, belittling, and devaluing others who do not completely agree with their behavior, or their worldview.
So, the next time you engage someone who is giving an argument for personal accountability or social justice, ask your self how accountable you are actually being. Ask yourself whether you are responding to Narcissism in the other, or if you are also being particularly Narcissistic, and see if on your end of the conversation, you might bring some balance. Also, then ask yourself if you might be able to make a little more room for listening and curiosity, or if this is clearly an indication of the need to remove exposure, due to the level of Narcissism you may be engaging with in the other person. I think interactions could potentially go very differently for you, and for all of us, if we do all of these things. Less room to get hooked into circular, defensive arguments, and less of a waste of everyone’s time.