I think everyone’s a little narcissistic. We all have moments when we wish everyone would be more like us—when we get upset that no one seems to care about what we are feeling. We also often put others ahead of ourselves and deny ourselves the satisfaction of saying “I need to do this for me.” If either of these becomes an extreme, psychologists may diagnose it as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The Gentle Self by Gerti Schoen addresses the second type of narcissist.
Drawing on her own experiences and her observations of others, Schoen explains exactly what a “gentle self” is. This type of narcissist puts others ahead of themselves because the narcissist feels that he or she is unworthy of love or respect. I can definitely relate to the gentle self. Schoen spends half the book comparing and contrasting the two types of narcissist. You may be thinking, “How can someone who puts others first be a narcissist? Isn’t that the exact opposite of what a narcissist is?” Schoen addresses this very question. She explains that a narcissist is anyone who is self-absorbed. The gentle self is self-absorbed in the sense that they are constantly thinking about how they don’t feel like they belong, how they aren’t worthy of love, etc.
The second half of The Gentle Self is about how to overcome depression, anxiety, shyness, and low self-esteem. Schoen offers such advice as, “If you feel strong anxiety or pain or even a nervous breakdown approaching, the first rule to remember is: leave yourself alone.” She goes on to say, “We often tend to put more pressure on ourselves in the form of ‘I can’t possibly burst into tears right now,’ ‘what’s wrong with me,’ or ‘I hate myself,’” and suggests trying to “be your own friend” when others are being negative toward you.
In romantic relationships, Schoen recommends bringing the spontaneity that we crave into the relationship instead of waiting for our partners to do so. If we sit around waiting for our partners to read our minds and do what we want them to do, our relationships will end in failure. Affairs are a not uncommon problem in relationships with gentle narcissists. In friendships, Schoen says that gentle narcissists should get out and meet people. Since it’s human nature to crave connection, meeting strangers on the street can feel refreshing and give the gentle self the confidence he or she needs to feel good the rest of the day.
Some other practical methods that Schoen provides for dealing with personal issues are the typical options: psychotherapy, meditation, and growing up. The phrase “growing up” means something different to everyone. In the context of The Gentle Self, growing up can be explained with three ideas:
- Leave yourself alone.
- Stay involved with other people.
- Take care of somebody else such as a child, grandparent, or pet.
If you, or any other gentle self, can get your mind off of how you feel about yourself, you get out with friends or meet new people regularly, and you have someone you can pour your affection into, your life might just start to look a little bit brighter.
All in all, I’m not too sure how effective Schoen’s methods are. I’ve tried meditation before with little success. Though I do feel a little better when I’m interacting with people, when that interaction has ended, I’m back to feeling how I did before—worthless and unimportant. There are a lot of things that I agree with in The Gentle Self. As I read, I could see so many parallels with my life. Everything from distant parents trying to live through me to my fear of intimacy in romantic relationships—Gerti Schoen covered it all. I have yet to try psychotherapy, but it is something I’ve been looking into. As for taking care of someone else, I don’t know what I would do without my pets. The only way I can explain how I feel about my pets is how a parent feels for a child. They mean everything to me and I would be lost without them.
On the whole, The Gentle Self was a slow read. There are a few grammatical and spelling errors, but nothing that the average mind would notice unless it was looking for them. Schoen offers sound advice. Her methods work more often than not. Ultimately, I would have to say that The Gentle Self is definitely a book I would recommend to anyone who suffers from major depression or bipolar disorder. You may see yourself in the pages.
The Gentle Self: How to Overcome Your Difficulties with Depression, Anxiety, Shyness, and Low Self-Esteem
By Gerti Schoen
CreateSpace: August 25, 2011
Paperback, 136 pages