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: