Copyright © 2009 by Richard A. Grossman, Ph.D. · All Rights reserved · E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently, a Message Board member asked me what is the difference between narcissism (the disorder) and "healthy narcissism". There's plenty on the web about this topic (e.g., What is the difference between healthy narcissism and pathological narcissism?) But let me add my own slant to it.
Consider the psychologically healthy family. We get our self love (healthy narcissism) from our parents or significant others/parent substitutes. Our parents believe we are special (how could we not be—we share the same genes!), and therefore we learn to see ourselves in this light. This is normal and healthy.
But are we really as wonderful and special as our parents think?
Nah! Still, the feeling, however untrue, protects us against the reality that there are almost 7 billion people out there, each one the lead in their own personal play.
Why is it necessary and normal for us to see ourselves as special? One school of thought, self-deception theory (which I ascribe to), suggests that if we truly believe we are special, we have an easier time convincing others that we are, and therefore, the odds of us finding a mate are greatly increased. Who do you want as a mate? Someone self-confident and assured of their place in the world—or someone certain they are as common and useful as Canadian Geese in the park? So, our ancestors chose the self-confident, and the gene for self-deception was selected in the human population. Hence, "healthy narcissism" became normal.
But what if you don’t get the feeling of being special/loved from your family. Here are three of many possibilities depending on genes/temperament: 1) you grow up slightly, but chronically depressed. Arguably, this represents a more realistic view of the world than “normal” people hold, because of the lack of self-deception. 2) you grow up narcissistic—continuously and grossly distorting your value to yourself and others—because the alternative, feeling of little value to anyone is unbearable. 3) you spend your life continuously seeking the love of everyone around you, and not being able to bear it when that love is not given/expressed. (For this option, therapy is highly recommended, for those love needs can be focused on one person—a therapist—which normalizes your relationships with everyone else).
But all is not bleak, even if we realize in the grand scheme of things we are not special. If we are lucky, we find a very small niche of people to whom we are very special—not special in the way we were to healthy parents (even in therapy, there’s no “complete” replacement for that). But still, special indeed. And in my view this is the best that life has to offer.
Voicelessness and Emotional Survival
Narcissism (the disorder) vs.