In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter renowned for his beauty and his vanity. He was exceptionally proud, but undervalued and belittled those who loved him. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, wanting to punish Narcissus attracted him to a pool where he saw his reflection in the water. He fell in love with his own reflection not realising that it was merely an image. Unable to withdraw from his own reflection, Narcissus drowned.
Narcissism is not generally considered a positive trait, but what many people don’t know is that a moderate amount of narcissism can also be healthy. Let’s first look into what gives it a bad name, though. We have all heard the term, many of us have met such people or even lived or were in intimate relationships with them. What makes narcissism such a ‘bad’ trait?
Freud used the term ‘ Narcissistic Personality Disorder’ to describe persons who were self-absorbed, and psychoanalysts have focused on the narcissist’s need to bolster his or her self-esteem through grandiose fantasy, exaggerated ambition, exhibitionism, and feelings of entitlement.’ (Donald W. Black, DSM-5 Guidebook: The Essential Companion to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is often characterized by a view of grandiosity, an enormous need for admiration and a total lack of empathy and sympathy towards others. Narcissists believe that they have an imposing importance in everyone’s life – they are usually snobbish, patronising and disrespectful.
Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
In order for a person to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) they must meet five or more of the following symptoms:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectation.
- Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own end.
- Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes (PsychCentral)
Extreme narcissists have egotistical absorption with themselves, their needs, aspirations, personal preferences, success and generally how they are perceived by others. They often manage to cut other people out their lives and become emotionally isolated. Usually these people have experienced deep emotional traumas that could have started in childhood and later lead to attachment issues.
They eventually become emotionally ‘stuck’ at the time the major trauma took place. We will discuss the damaging effects of being in a relationship with a narcissist and how to heal from that in more detail in an upcoming article
So, narcissism as a general trait is bad, that is well established by now. However, what if there are healthy and useful sides to specific forms of narcissism? To start with, we all possess a degree of narcissism. Degrees of self-esteem, self-value and self-regard are very healthy for us and essential for our individual identities.
Lack of self-interest is a bad sign and equals to inability to protect and support ourselves in the world. Healthy narcissism allows people to feel motivated and inspired. It helps people cope with stress, anxieties and feelings of low self-worth. Internal needs of being noticed, achieving goals and setting high standards for ourselves are desirable and should be encouraged.
People who possess healthy narcissistic traits are inspirational to others; the math genius teacher, the women who never give us against all odds, the aspiring ambitious friend, the highly achieved individuals. Wanting to positively influence people is not as bad thing.
Healthy narcissism means looking after yourself, loving yourself, placing importance to your needs, and not neglecting you own desires, too. Motivates you to look good, stay fit and healthier, live longer and have a better quality of life. Respecting and valuing yourself will result in increased self esteem, in prioritising what is important in life and will make it easy to deal with bossy and manipulative people.
[quote_box_center]People who possess traits of healthy narcissism have high outward self-confidence in line with reality, values, ambitions, needs of achievement and real concern for others and their ideas without exploiting them.[/quote_box_center]
‘People with a solid sense of self-esteem will be better able to find the balance between being overly dependent or overly self-reliant. They can be self-sufficient but still capable of intimacy. At the same time, they may be the ones to be better at parenting. Because they don’t need to see their children as an extension of themselves, they will be more likely to produce mentally healthier children. The adaptive narcissists will not be helicopter parents, but will give their children greater room to grow on their own terms’, (PsychologyToday)
Therefore, narcissism could be considered as the extreme version of certain traits we should all possess. Surely, pathological narcissistic tendencies which result in someone not being able to lead a normal life and which have unwanted effects on his life or the life of others are to be avoided. However, in moderation healthy narcissistic traits are desirable.