Volunteering: Narcissism Needed
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 6, 2014
Asking people to give up their time, for no obvious monetary reward, means that the anticipation for the volunteer is that there will be narcissistic gratification-the healthy kind. Selling volunteer work, so to speak, means highlighting the positive self-esteem that follows from helping others. This affirmation comes both from the volunteer work, itself, and also from the peers and supervisors who value the contribution. Libby, fifty-two, comes to mind. She comes in hurt after an email exchange where her peers asked her to volunteer to teach, to which she politely responded that she was not available, fulling expecting an expression of disappointment, but instead getting a rather flat response of “OK”. “The fact they asked you meant they wanted you, but when you rejected them, they did not express your value to their organization, and so I can see how you felt bad after that.” I say, highlighting that although no one likes being told “no, thank you,” the onus is still on the program chief to acknowledge the value that Libby might have, and in the past has, brought to the training program. This narcissistic stroking is vital to the success of any organization, particularly a volunteer one. “My guess,” I tell Libby” is that the person who asked you was now moving on to thinking who else he could ask, that he did not stop to think about keeping you on the bench for future opportunities. My sense is that was very short-sighted of him.” I say, wondering about Libby’s sensitivity, along with the way that quality volunteer organizations work to maintain their staff. “For you to give up your time, you must feel that your efforts are going to a place where your skill set is valued and appreciated, not just by the students, but by the administration,” I say, supporting her in her view that without affirmations, she is less likely to want to work for them in the future. “This is healthy narcissism, needing to get strokes for a job well done.” I say, directly supporting her view that those emails could have been more thoughtful. “I wonder if you are hurt, because you are torn.” I say, returning to her vulnerabilities in that email exchange. “Oh yes, I like teaching, and I might have enjoyed the opportunity, but I don’t like feeling like I am a check box and now they move on to the next person, as if I have no individual value.” Libby says, reminding me how important personal understanding is in our world of fast-paced challenges. Understanding narcissism is vital to organization success. If Libby ever runs her own organization, she will be sensitive to that.