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Self-Knowledge • Fear & Insecurity

Why It’s Good to Be a Narcissist

Narcissism is one of the more misunderstood terms of our time. We’re so aware of the bad narcissist – one whose overweening pride leaves them no room for empathy or kindness – that we are at risk of missing the central role that narcissism should play in the development of any healthy human. 

Sketch of a boy staring at his own reflection by Lucian Freud.
Lucian Freud, Narcissus, 1948

None of us is able to thrive without a chance to deeply like ourselves. As psychotherapy recognises, we universally require a dose of what is termed ‘healthy narcissism’, a sense of our lovability and rightful place in the world bequeathed to us via the approbation of kindly and enthusiastic care-givers in our early years. In our haste to condemn selfishness and pride, we miss out on the primordial importance of self-esteem and confidence generated by love. If we analyse his situation from a clinical point of view, the mythic Narcissus didn’t get fixated on his reflection to the exclusion of others because he loved himself too much; a good deal more poignantly, he did so because some form of early deprivation had bred in him a need to manically keep checking in on himself in a doomed search for a value he evidently couldn’t actually believe in. 

Without adequate approval, we develop what is known as a ‘narcissistic wound’ – a feeling of profound inadequacy in relation to elements like our looks, our status or our intelligence. As wounded people, we will then keep being drawn – despite ourselves – to scenarios that scratch at our perceived flaws. We’ll be alive to every criticism about us, we’ll pick partners who can’t reassure us and we’ll anticipate – and thereby often precipitate – the end of anything positive or kind. What’s more, we’ll lack the slightest sympathy for our wounded nature and therefore interest or capacity for repairing it.

We hear too much about a character who grows evil and selfish because they think too well of themselves. The reality is far more complex and sad. Everyone needs to be adored and will suffer immensely if they are not. We should strive to become more conscious of our narcissistic wounds and try to salve them through intense doses of the very same sort of love whose original absence created them. As we need to keep reminding ourselves, no one ever grew ill from too much love.

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