But there is such a thing as healthy narcissism. Well-adjusted adults have a good supply of healthy narcissism within them. It’s important to know the difference from unhealthy narcissism so that you allow this trait to exist within you. Doing so is part of developing a healthy sense of self.
Why We Lack Healthy Narcissism
Think of your children or other little children you’ve known. Remember how they hungered for your attention and your words of praise? Such wonder is captured in their calls to you of “Look at me!” and “See what I did?”
All my children passed through this stage. Every child goes through this phase where they feel that they believe the world revolves around them. They are, in their own minds, all knowing, all powerful and grandiose. All the traits we see in an individual with narcissistic personality disorder can be seen in the young child. And this is good.
It is this that is referred to as healthy narcissism. Healthy narcissism is necessary in childhood—according to Freud—for establishing within us a sense of self-love.
We, as children of unhealthy narcissists, lack this sense of self-love. The abuse your narcissistic parent heaped on you squeezed much, if not all, your healthy narcissism from your being. Hence you never adequately built the foundation of self-love within you.
Human Development and Healthy Narcissism
Dr. Nina Brown writes of age appropriate narcissism. The idea behind this form of healthy narcissism is that it is a part of our development and growth, processes that begin at birth and last until we die. Heathy narcissism is about differentiating ourselves from other people. It is about becoming a whole and separate being.
Healthy narcissism in older children has its roots in the parent-child relationship. When a child has a wholesome attachment to a parent, healthy narcissism evolves with her growth. As the child grows, healthy parents help wean her off her self-centeredness. A healthy parent reflects the child’s own specialness so she comes to realize she is uniquely special. The child becomes certain that she is both valuable and lovable.
Throughout our adult lifes, we all need narcissistic traits as part of our psychological makeup. The parent’s task is to make sure we have just the right amount of narcissism. Too little is just as detrimental as too much.
We know the risks of having too much narcissism:
- Grandiosity and inflated images of one’s importance
- Feelings of being superior and disregard towards others.
- Abusive behaviors towards both adults and one’s own children
- Lies, manipulation, and other dysfunctional behaviors
We have seen all of these behaviors and more in our narcissistic parents.
Yet too little (healthy) narcissism is detrimental as well. Without the support of healthy narcissism, an individual comes to lack self-esteem.
We, as adult children of narcissists, are all too familiar with the absence of self-esteem. Since we don’t have high self-esteem we lack confidence, which leads to self-doubt. We are afraid to express our needs. Also lacking confidence, we feel inferior to others and have difficulty knowing what we want, let alone feeling not feeling empowered to go after our dreams. Our lack of healthy narcissism leaves us dissatisfied and fearful.
And developing healthy narcissism in adulthood is more difficult than having it encouraged to grow within you since childhood. Yet it is something all adult children of narcissists need to do to feel good about themselves.
Healthy Narcissism in Adults
What does healthy narcissism in an adult look like?
For one, unlike the individual with NPD, the individual with adequate healthy narcissism knows she is separate from others. She doesn’t view others as objects or extensions of herself to bring her pleasure or affirm her mental picture of herself.
Her growth has produced a healthy sense of self-esteem. She is not deflated by stress, failures, or the words of others. Her self-esteem allows her to know what she wants in life and to set goals and achieve her desires.
She displays confidence and feels self-confident. Self-confidence translates into a willingness and ability to take healthy risks. She knows what she wants and goes after it. Her confidence allows her to express her needs and take steps to get them met.
She has reasonable expectations of herself and others. This translates to an accurate assessment of her abilities, which means she knows how far she can push or stretch herself. Her natural stance towards others is one of good will. She doesn’t think, “What can I get for myself from this person?” every time she meets someone.
This is a state that many people strive for. How can you work towards having the proper dose of healthy narcissism in you?
Developing Healthy Narcissism
The best way to develop healthy narcissism is to work with a competent, mental health professional. The deficiencies at work for a child of a narcissistic parent are difficult to sort out without professional help. But there are things you can do until you can enter therapy.
Try to work out what you want in life and set out to obtain it. Journal to learn what your dreams are by looking for patterns in your writings. Test your ideas by seeing how your mind grabs them and what your gut says. Ignore the voice telling you “It’s selfish to go after what you want” or that “You don’t deserve to obtain your dreams.” That voice is feeding you the lies served it by your narcissistic parent.
Another technique is to notice when resentment arises within you. What’s causing it? Has someone taken advantage of you? Did your efforts go unappreciated? Recognize the cause of your resentment. Then link it to how your narcissistic parent evoked the same feelings of being taken advantage of or being underappreciated in you. Realize how wrong it is for people treat you this way.
By doing this you can begin to feel that you deserve recognition and no one should walk over you. You can begin to heal.
Building up a store of healthy narcissism in you will take time. But the effort is worth it. Realize it’s a process and not a destination. There is no arriving at a point when you’ll have the ideal amount of healthy narcissism.
I wish you courage as you walk your healing journey. Try to find someone who you can confide in. A person to cheer you on and hold you when painful moments arise.
May peace be with you.
What trait do hope to gain by developing healthy narcissism? Tell us in the comments below.