It’s Narcissist Friday!    


As the subject of narcissism becomes more popular, the resources for counsel will become more available. Some of these resources will not understand the truth about narcissism. I keep running across writings and videos where the counselors consider narcissism to be simple “self-love” gone to extreme. I have ranted about the idea of “healthy narcissism” in the past, and probably will again, but those who think narcissism is just self-love are wrong. There’s a lot more to it than that.

In fact, if you think of narcissism as only self-love, many observable things won’t fit. The sudden rage, the continual discontent, the lies, the insecurity, just to name a few. You would think that someone who loves himself would be secure and at peace, wouldn’t you? But few who know their narcissists would describe them as secure or at peace.

No, most who have studied narcissism in depth and over time seem to agree that the narcissist does not love what he/she considers to be self. Instead, they create an image, a fantasy self, to hide the reality they believe. Whatever happened to them as children, they decided that the way to handle it was to become something they were not. They believed that they were unlikeable, unworthy, and unable. So they created an image of themselves that was outgoing, successful, and superior. To do this, they learned to mimic the behavior of those they admired. If they saw someone loved by almost everyone, they imitated that person. If they saw someone successful in work or school, they acted like that person. If they saw someone admired by others, they mimicked the one who got the attention. And they found that they could control others by controlling the attention others gave to them.

But none of this comes out of self-love. The image of the narcissist is not the narcissist. He/she wants you to think it is, but he/she does not believe it is. In fact, the reason the image is defended so strongly against challenges is to stop people from learning the truth. The image is phony. The real narcissist is hiding.

Some suspect that the narcissist doesn’t even know his/her true self. Because of the broken childhood (or whatever trauma), the narcissist did not receive the feedback good relationships provide to help us understand who we are. Without a basic understanding of self, the narcissist cannot empathize with others, cannot even see others as fellow beings. Hence, the depersonalization and exploitation of others. So the “self” the narcissist hides may also be false. We cannot know ourselves without heart connections with others.

Counselors, teachers, and authors who suggest that narcissism is merely self-love often refer to “healthy narcissism.” They suggest that narcissism is a continuum from good to bad, rather than from bad to worse. We are able and willing to accept that there are hints of narcissism in us and that those hints are negative even in our lives. Yet, these teachers tell us that narcissism is basically good and only too much of it is hurtful, like sugar or sunshine. This not only confuses us, it moves us to open ourselves even more to the abusers. We miss the fact of the narcissistic system in the mind and heart of the narcissist. We are led to believe that the narcissist thinks just like we do, only worse. We are forced to try to empathize with a person whose personal belief system is radically different from ours.

Self-love is both a normal and appropriate—and healthy—human attribute. From it springs our sense of value and our need for self-care. Accepting the fact that we have abilities and ideas to offer others is truly a good thing. It is not narcissism. Narcissism is a dark and broken thing, a pervasive fear that depersonalizes and exploits others.

I have suggested that healthy narcissism should be compared to healthy cancer. Cell growth and division is normal and healthy. Cancer is abnormal, dangerous, and uncontrolled cell growth. These cells invade tissues and organs in which they do not belong. They cause damage and may lead to death. No one refers to healthy cancer. No one should refer to healthy narcissism.



If you are interested in reading more about the image of the narcissist, check out these posts:


Filed under Narcissism

17 responses to “Self-love?

  1. Anne

    Well-said. I especially like the analogy of “healthy narcissism” to “healthy cancer,” which is, of course, oxymoronic. Do you think we should start using the term “malignant narcissist” when discussing the condition? I have a hard time describing my ex-husband as a narcissist to my friends and family because they don’t understand the difference between just being overly self-centered and the true defining characteristics of clinical narcissism.

    • Hi Anne! A couple months ago we tried to come up with a better term than “narcissist.” we had fun, but it was difficult. We have problems on both sides. Some accept the term as just being self-focused and minimize the effect. Others see it as a clinical term and see us as using it wrongly. I think we are stuck with that challenge.

      However, we did seem to center on the narcissist’s parasitic nature. Referring to someone as a parasite might not help in casual conversation, but it may lead to the right kind of questions. Even using the term “malignant narcissist” seems to suggest that there are lesser narcissists who are okay.

      When I counsel people on how to talk with others, I always suggest to avoid the term. Instead, tell the specific behaviors. If he lied, or hit, or stole money, or was constantly critical – those things others understand. They will be able to judge actions as wrong, even if they have a hard time judging a person as bad.

      For anyone interested, see this post and the comments for ideas others had on what else we could call it. The following Friday post has the long list.

      • Anne

        Thanks, I remember that now. I agree that the term “narcissist” is widely misunderstood and therefore not very helpful in describing what so many of us went through. But it’s very hard to tell people that I filed for divorce after decades of verbal and emotional abuse because I feel they are judging me for staying so long. Even my therapist doesn’t seem to fully understand the way they operate and the psychological damage they do. But I have been telling her what he did over the years and I think she’s starting to get it. It would be easier to just tell people I left him because he’s gay but I didn’t know that for sure until months after I filed.

  2. Becca

    Brilliant as ever, thanks Dave!

    I note your contrast between self love and narcissism as two very different things.
    Do you think that narcissists are drawn to people who do not have good self love?
    Are those people more likely to become obedient “slaves” to the narcissist because they are not looking good after themselves well and will negate their own needs for the narcissist’s unreasonable demands?
    Just some questions which your post threw up in my mind.
    Is this maybe the source of what some people see as “co-dependency”?
    Blessings .

    • This is a great observation, Becca! Narcissists know how to build self-esteem in the beginning, making the person feel wanted and valued. Then they rip it away later, knowing that the person will not fight because he/she has already accepted a low value for themselves. Over the course of a relationship, this on-and-off value or acceptance keeps the person in the relationship, but never gives enough power or strength for real health.
      So, yes, I think a lack of self-love (often from unloving parents or past rejection from partners) opens a person to the manipulations of narcissists.

      • Savedbygrace

        Hi Dave and Becca, this is something that I have thought a lot about and whilst I do agree that this could be a possible scenario, I think people have overstated the role of ‘codependency’ and it ends up victim blaming or somehow shifting the responsibility for the abuse onto the victim or serves to give the victim the false hope that if they somehow ‘fix’ their codependency the relationship will be fine.

        These strategies may work in a marriage where one person is not character disordered ( eg a narcissist) or abusive but will not make a difference where there is an abusive partner.

        I do think that narcissists use the Christian doctrine and character of their partner to bolster their schemes eg put others first, love unconditionally, forgive 70 x 7, God hates divorce etc etc… and may seek out people who are “good” Christians..which is why it is so important for the church to speak into the issues as you are Dave so that people are protected from predators.

        Our doctrine mus be well thought out and not just pat sayings that either end up meaningless or are misconstrued from the Bible’s context and original intent- “God hates divorce ” being a classic….

      • Thanks SBG,
        “I think people have overstated the role of ‘codependency’ and it ends up victim blaming or somehow shifting the responsibility for the abuse onto the victim or serves to give the victim the false hope that if they somehow ‘fix’ their codependency the relationship will be fine.”

        I do agree with what your saying.
        In the beginning of my LTR, yes, admittedly I was under the full influence of my codependency, which the narc took full advantage of. Over time however, I grew tired of the abuse by all her BPD/NPD traits. I took the bull by the horns and with God’s grace and guidance detoxed from my codependency. It didnt happen overnite and was difficult and uncomfortable, to say the least. Through renewed, growing strength and confidence, I was able to eventually detach and depersonalize the attacks. The relationship slowly and steadily eroded and deteriorated over time. I finally ended it after numerous “rinse n repeat” cycles.
        So word to wise…if you are struggling with the I’ll “fix-it”
        mentality…it is a dead end street and futile. BTDT! Your wasting energy and time, as well as it being detrimental to your spiritual life and your overall health period. Surrender and leave them to God.

  3. Mark

    I read a book that really helped me understand the centrality of shame in how we deal with life. The Good News is that God removes our shame, and those of us in the church should not be using shame as a mechanism to produce good works (the essence of legalism). However, it is very tempting to use shame and the fear it brings to try and manipulate people.

    The flip side is how we deal with our own shame. Most of us grew up in legalistic environments, both home and church. When we made mistakes, we were told we were defective and should be ashamed of ourselves. The love we experienced was conditional on whether we deserved that love.

    The two responses to that environment are essentially the sides of the co-dependency coin. I grew up owning my shame and wanting to atone for that by acting broken and trying to do good works. That worked until someone found a chink in my armor, so I had to fix myself so that I could appear whole again. The other response is essentially narcissism/abusive. We try to hide the shame by creating a shameless/ideal image of ourselves, and then try to peddle that image. When people see through the facade to who we really are, we become angry and abusive and try to minimize the damage they can do to our ideal image. I agree that self-respect (aka healthy narcissism) is completely different than narcissism. Neither the co-dependent nor the narcissist have self-respect.

  4. As usual…Excellent insight Dave! Thank you!
    Been working on some Godly self-love myself.
    Obviously, that’s a different subject.

  5. Thanks, Pastor Dave, for this thought-provoking post. I, too, have been perplexed by “good narcissism” vs “bad narcissism.”

    As a Christian, I think it boils down to one simple but profound truth: where does a person’s identity come from? From what, or whom, do you derive your sense of value and purpose?

    Before I became a Christian, I had almost no self esteem. I had been taught from early childhood that I had no value. I was starved for love, and desperately looking for someone to value me enough to love me. Which, of course, only attracted more narcissistic users and abusers into my life.

    Today my identity, my value, and my worthiness of being loved, comes from Christ Jesus, my Savior and my Lord. I do not have to strive to be more, or better, than I am. I am no longer needy and desperate for love. I don’t worry about being “nothing” any more, because I know that I am, in fact, nothing apart from my Creator, but in His mercy and by His amazing grace and boundless love, I have all that I need! Because the Lord is my shepherd, I lack for nothing!

    Just as there is no “healthy cancer,” there is no “healthy sin.” Every sin ultimately leads to death and destruction, to separation from the One Who is Life. We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy, grace, salvation, and transformation. It isn’t about shades of narcissism, or even about being a narcissist vs not being a narcissist. It’s about being His sheep, His sons and His daughters — or not.

    There are the wolves in sheep’s clothing that Christ warned us about. The most destructive narcissist in my life is one who loves to go to church, sing in the choir, and beat people over the head with a Bible. But when you look for the fruit in her life, all you find is rotten, poisonous, deadly fruit. We are saved by faith, not by works, but faith without works is dead. A healthy peach tree does not produce rotten toxic fruit, or prickly thorns. We are known by our fruit, the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit of Love.

    Praise God, we don’t have to struggle and strive to produce good fruit — all we have to do is abide in the one true life-giving vine! Until a narcissist figures that out, nothing changes.

    I used to fear narcissists, but now I pity them. They don’t know the joy, the peace, and the soul healing LOVE that they are missing out on. They hurt people so badly, because they are hurting so badly. But although we may pity them, we can never fix them, regardless of how much we may want to try. Healing only comes when we turn our life over to the One Who is Life.

    Praise be to God! Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me, bless His Holy Name.

  6. I think self-love is actually the opposite of narcissism. I think a human being’s highest purpose is to give and experience love and grace. If a narcissist hates him/herself so much that they must erect a false image, they prevent themselves from being deeply loved, forgiven, and accepted for who they are. And then narcissistic injury..oh my. That’s another layer on the ton of self-loathing. Either way, I love this post and will check out the link discussing what to call it if you can’t call it narcissism.

    • I agree that our greatest gifts are to love God and others as ourselves and it’s the enemys’ delight to prevent us from being known and loved by God and each other.
      I think you would have better communication on the Net if you called yourself something that reflects your loving qualities instead of your understandable anger and frustration with narcissistic abuse. But I could be wrong, God knows. PS God is love and a consuming fire.

      • For sure. The name was chosen out of a desire to give voice to anger. So often the anger of victims is dismissed and invalidated. Thank you for your input…I will consider your thoughts.

      • Georgette

        Have you ever been lied to, deceived, manipulated, physically abused, sexual abuse and then devalued by a narcissist/Jezebel spirit? There is nothing wrong with finding a safe place to express your anger and hurt to find others that have experienced what I have and some have experienced worse trauma than I have by a narcissist. To hear how they overcame their struggles and to learn how they processed their pain and anger is an inspiration to me. To stuff the anger and hurt from narcissistic/Jezebel spirit abuse would turn a person into a bitter and angry soul, creating a play ground for demonic spirits. That I don’t want! Some people who feel trapped in a domestically violent narcissistic relationship find suicide as an only way out. This blog can help those who feel trapped find God’s love and healing and hope to get out of the horrendous relationship or find ways to cope. Until you walked a mile in our shoes please don’t say: I think you would have better communication on the Net if you called yourself something that reflects your loving qualities instead of your understandable anger and frustration with narcissistic abuse. It takes time to heal depending how long you have been in the toxic relationship. I was raised by a psychopathic mom and just ended a narcissistic personality disorder relationship. I’m going on two years of healing. The people and Dave in this blog has helped me process my anger and pain and frustration!

  7. MS

    Psycholobitch- I think your user name is just fine. I’ve never seen any one on this forum who has (before now) judged a commenter based on their user name. Plus, the advice seems to me to be somewhat condescending, i.e. “I think you would have better communication on the Net”…

  8. Richard

    Yes very true. I have also read comments that we should teach chilren in school to be empathetic. The truth is we have been teaching children to be empathetic since day one. 99% of all teachers are empaths. Every narc had been taught empathy. They chose to turn their back to it.

  9. This is fascinating. Clearly the narcissist hides and fiercely guards an inner self, it never occurred to me that the self being guarded may also be false. Do you think it’s possible to reform a narcissist in addition to helping them find their true self? I’m not looking to try, just curious as to whether it could be done and under what conditions.

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