We Can Often See the Reflection of Our Narcissistic Side
It's okay to affirm ourselves but maybe not to be extremely fond of ourselves.
Posted Feb 11, 2017
The term narcissist comes from a Greek legend about a boy who admired and doted on himself. He was condemned to the life of a flower that grows by and bends over a pool of water, where it may forever see its own image.
Healthy and Malignant Narcissism
Healthy narcissism is basically adequate self-esteem. People with healthy narcissism can empathize with other people and are not devastated by criticism. They believe in themselves and have realistic self-evaluations.
Malignant narcissists have less concern for the welfare of others and more concern for satisfying their own needs. According to the Mayo Clinic, a narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism. (Definition by Mayo Clinic staff)
Research shows the relationship between aggression and narcissism. Sam Vaknin in Narcissism Book of Quotes, (2002) wrote, "Narcissism is a pattern of traits and behaviors which signify infatuation and obsession with one's self to the exclusion of all others, and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one's gratification, dominance, and ambition."
Research is inconclusive whether narcissism is the result of genetic programming or dysfunctional families. We come into this world with a drive toward freedom, independence, power, and control. Like Narcissus, toddlers feel they are at the center of the universe. They are in the developmental stage Freud called Primary Narcissism where they view caregivers as extensions of themselves.
The narcissistic parent has a way of making everything about herself. She has a way of sucking up all the air in the room. Unchecked, a narcissistic parent can easily eclipse a child's feelings. In fact, he often tells the child how he should feel or not feel. She can be easily angered when a child does not agree with her, therefore, the child tries very hard not to trigger that anger, or worse, have the narcissistic parent withdraw her love.
Narcissism on a Continuum
Concern for the welfare of other people exists on a continuum from Mother Theresa to Jack the Ripper. Most of us are somewhere in the center. When does a young child move Primary Narcissism to a greater sense of autonomy and independence? If we are fortunate to mature in a loving and consistent environment with firm boundaries, we become healthy adults. If the environment is inconsistent, unpredictable, capricious, and arbitrary we may remain narcissistic. The narcissist may remain in his carefully constructed world to protect himself.
I believe we need to "admire" ourselves in order to maintain a healthy sense of self. However, when we "dote" on ourselves we move from "personal affirmation" to "extreme fondness."
Any of us may regress to an immature narcissistic frame of mind if our self-esteem and our ego are challenged. Those are the times when we "think only of ourselves." When we apologize it is a sign of maturity. When we feel justified and entitled it is a sign that we have regressed.
Dr. Knittel is a professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Kearney where for 30 years he taught classes in counseling theories, counseling methods, group counseling, practicum, and psychodrama. In addition to his current book, One Hand Clapping (2015). He wrote Counseling and Drama: Psychodrama A' Deux in (2009) which was translated into Mandarin and published in Taiwan in 2013.