We’ve often seen people use “narcissism” as a negative word or trait but can there be a thing called “healthy narcissism”? Can people with narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder healthily use their traits?
I mean, if you talk about some of the challenging traits of narcissism such as a sense of entitlement and lack of empathy, I don’t think that these traits can be healthy or be used in a healthy manner.
If you look at the definition of narcissism, it goes like this, “self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects”. This psychoanalytical definition of narcissism doesn’t say or mention anything about how negative or unhealthy narcissism can be, so why do we always associate narcissism with negative traits?
It is possible to have a positive self-interest without crossing the edge into unhealthy narcissism. Just like not all selfish actions can be unhealthy, there’s no saying that necessary narcissism is unhealthy.
Below, let’s explore the signs and causes of healthy narcissism and when healthy narcissism turns unhealthy.
What Is Healthy Narcissism?
When we hear the word “narcissism” we automatically assume its negativity, but that’s not all. Just one word cannot paint a clear picture of the whole spectrum, after all. Sure, someone who acts all high and mighty with an inflated sense of self-centeredness can be called a narcissist, but a person who acts in their self-interest might not be called a narcissist.
When it’s OK to be selfish sometimes, then why does acting in our self-interest (in an un-malicious way) be considered narcissistic?
When your actions reflect these traits, then it could be considered healthy narcissism:
Promoting positive self-image
Having high self-esteem
Having high self-confidence
Having an acceptable sense of self-importance
Healthy narcissism was first coined by Sigmund Freud as Primary Narcissism. He referred to this type of narcissism as the primary urge that we have regarding self-preservation. Freud believed that healthy narcissism was a part of our psyche and only negative when it went extreme.
In the 1930s, Paul Federn, a psychoanalyst coined “healthy narcissism” as another term for “self-love”. As the concept of healthy narcissism gained traction, Heinz Kohut in the 1970s, suggested that when children had their basic needs met, they developed a healthy sense of self-esteem and confidence.
Healthy Narcissism: Signs To Know
You can’t find “healthy narcissism” in the DSM-5 but it is a term that’s widely used these days. When we talk about healthy narcissism, we talk about the positive traits of narcissism.
Here are common signs of healthy narcissism;
The ability to set healthy boundaries
Developing an assertive communication style
Relying on the positive aspects of narcissism to nurture relationships
Having positive feelings about oneself
Being proud of one’s accomplishments (but not in extreme)
What Are The Causes Of Healthy Narcissism?
Your genetics, social, and environmental factors can play a major role in driving your level and type of narcissism. For instance, toddlers have a developmental process where they only care about meeting their needs, but that’s expected from them, right? However, as they age, they begin to learn about a “give-and-take” relationship.
As they age into a different developmental stage, they begin to form a better understanding of themselves and their relationship with others around them. This development can take a turn depending on the environment they grow up in and the genetics they inherit.
In certain cases, these factors can prevent the child from moving past this stage, and as a result, they may carry some unhealthy coping techniques in their adulthood.
Even parenting styles can contribute to the development of narcissistic traits. For example, a permissive parenting style can contribute greatly to a child developing narcissistic personality traits.
More research is needed to correctly determine the factors that might contribute to the development of healthy or unhealthy narcissistic personality traits.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Narcissism
Narcissism has become a buzzword to be thrown around casually these days, however, only a mental health professional can make a correct diagnosis of NPD. Narcissism can exist on a spectrum, as we’ve established in this article so far, so there are some symptoms of narcissism that might not exactly fall on the spectrum, classifying as “healthy narcissism”.
Here’s what healthy vs. unhealthy narcissism might look like;
You express pride in your accomplishments and achievements
You boast about your accomplishments and achievements in a social setting
You speak for yourself in a relationship while being mindful of the other person’s feelings and needs
You often use manipulation tactics on your partner to meet your needs while having trouble empathizing with them and their needs
You ask for advice from experts and seek genuine guidance
You feign friendship with someone just for their connections and resources
You try to fix past hurts and heal, especially when you’re at fault
You believe that your actions are justified and others are at fault
You feel appreciated when you receive compliments or praise from others
You constantly seek external validation
Narcissism is a trait that can be defined as having a sense of self-importance and an inflated sense of ego. Even though we use “narcissism” to describe the negative traits of NPD, there are healthy expressions of self-centeredness and self-interest that we can call “healthy narcissism”.
Healthy narcissism isn’t a formally recognized term in the DSM-5 but it can be used to describe actions, traits, attitudes, and behaviors that depict a healthy sense of self-love and prioritizing self-interest.
When we say healthy narcissism, we mean acting on meeting your needs in an un-malicious or thoughtful manner without displaying any signs of manipulation or entitlement. Within healthy narcissism, you can have a high level of self-esteem and self-worth without putting others down or looking down on them.
I hope this article helped you learn about healthy vs. unhealthy narcissism. If you’re worried about finding out if you have healthy narcissism traits or unhealthy ones, then it is suggested you speak to a professional mental health care provider for a proper diagnosis.
A professional can help you learn about your behaviors better and can also help you create a healthy balance between selfish and selfless actions.
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