Healthy Narcissism: Aren’t We all Narcissists in a Way?

“Healthy narcissism” is self-love. People with strong self-love, or healthy narcissism, have good self-esteem; they are confident and generally feel good about themselves. They value other people as much as they value themselves. Healthy narcissism does not cross the line in confidence or self-esteem into the pathological area where one thinks so highly of their own self that they put themselves on a pedestal above others. Someone with healthy narcissism does not believe they are superior to others and does not need to belittle or devalue “inferior” people in order to feel better about themselves. Healthy narcissism says, “I’m good” while unhealthy narcissism says, “I’m better”.  Healthy narcissism says, “I think I might be the best” and unhealthy narcissism says, “I know I am the best”.

We all like to be complimented, not just narcissists. All of us want to feel good about ourselves and at least occasionally be reassured that the people around us like us for whom we are. It gives our self-esteem a boost which gives us the psychological energy to go on with our day feeling a little lighter and happier. Studies have shown that those with higher self esteem and self confidence rate themselves as happier and more successful in a variety of areas in their lives.

We all crave approval, not just narcissists. When others give us approval it fulfills our need to feel loved, important, powerful and in control. It also gives us strength to cope with the inevitable criticism, which can lead to feelings of inferiority.  Alfred Adler, a psychologist (considered the founder of ‘Individual Psychology”) theorized that it was the ‘pain of inferiority’ (the importance of the inferiority complex) that motivated human action to strive for a sense of superiority and perfection. This is a normal defense, an act of healthy narcissism that is essential for psychological health. It is this action that protects us from hurtful disappointments, failures, and feelings of helplessness. The morale boost obtained through healthy narcissism is what motivates us to seek improvement in our lives. 

Narcissism is not just NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) – it is a continuum of behaviors that are universally present. In other words, we are all narcissistic to a degree with some folks showing very few behaviors and others showing many traits of narcissism. If you think of narcissistic behaviors as a range on a continuum from 1 – 10, healthy narcissism would be a 1 and pathological NPD would be a 10, with varying degrees in between. When narcissism reaches the pathological stage (also called “Malignant Narcissism”) the individual would consistently manifest at least 5 of the 9 criteria necessary to put it into the category of being a personality disorder (NPD).

It is important to note that too little narcissism can be just as dysfunctional as too much. Balance is required. Too little narcissism can lead to a dismal lack of confidence and poor self-esteem. Without confidence and positive self-esteem we can become fearful and develop an inferiority complex. Too much narcissism and we risk the likelihood of having over-inflated egos, put ourselves above others, and have difficulty maintaining relationships. The balanced person exhibits a confident attitude and is aware of his or her strengths but also their weaknesses. Because they are aware of whom they are- they know their “self”- they are able to have realistic expectations of their self which are commensurate with their abilities. They are fully aware of being separate from others (they don’t blur boundaries between self and others), and they have confidence in their own ideas and beliefs. Healthy narcissism can channel people in the right direction for getting their needs met without having to disregard or exploit anybody else in the process. Healthy or ‘mature narcissism’ consists of a balanced give and take in relationships; a balanced give and take approach allows an individual to develop lasting, mutually satisfying relationships. In these relationships, there is respect for both the giver and the receiver for maintaining their own self-identity and independence from each other. There is no room for “one-up-manship” or “one-down-manship” which is so common in unhealthy narcissistic relationships (one-down-manship is the practice of outdoing others in a negative way and one-up-manship is the practice of any assertion of superiority). 

Most of us do exhibit a few mild traits of narcissism on the low end of the spectrum or continuum. Looking out for one’s self and one’s own needs is natural and demonstrates good psychological health. Sigmund Freud believed that healthy narcissism is a critical part of normal development. We all begin life as narcissistic infants and we retain a certain degree even as we grow and develop; hopefully, as we progress in our maturity we outgrow our infantile narcissism.

Some people, however, retain more of the characteristics of narcissism. Some of these- such as high self-confidence, arrogance and egocentrism are credited to individuals with a “big ego”. A person with “just a big ego” is generally healthy with their high self-confidence and realistic expectations. These traits are based on realistic successes, realistic awareness of abilities, and positive self-esteem. Whereas a narcissist demonstrates exaggerated self-confidence, an over- inflated view of his abilities, and unrealistic expectations of himself and others.

A person with healthy narcissism is able to persevere during difficult times (demanding work, stress, rejection) in order to achieve their goals. He or she is able to be independent and self-sufficient but at the same time at ease in intimate, give and take relationships. Healthy narcissism allows you to have enough ‘self-love’ to feel equal in relationships yet enough other-love to be able to develop loving relationships.

Self-love means taking care of yourself: setting realistic goals, not depending on someone else to meet your needs, watching your diet, doing regular exercise, paying attention to your appearance, and being kind to yourself and others. You may choose to call it taking care of yourself or you can call it healthy narcissism, the end result is positive and an excellent way to live.


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2 thoughts on “Healthy Narcissism: Aren’t We all Narcissists in a Way?”

  1. I believe I have been in a long-term relationship with a narcissist. He has ended the relationship with me two times before but this time I felt he was unreasonable.. I did not get an explanation except that we have both changed and want different things which I disagree with because we are still the same people. The recent break up occurred the day after I had been to interview and was told the same day I had gotten the job. He doesn’t act like a jealous person, but neither does he show any positive reaction. He never seems excited to go places, and actually avoids going out. He prefers to play games, especially LOL. I can understand why I was attracted to him, besides his good looks. I was shy and needy of love and a clung to his egocentric behavior. I feel he has made me stronger, but now I know he doesn’t need love, just worthiness. I feel great disappointment that it has to end but I want someone who is able to express their emotions with me and who I can trust to not let me go. I feel attracted to a level of narcissism but he has lost my respect.

  2. Absolutely agree! Thank you for posting this. There is a positive side to this. You can be self confident and love yourself without wanting to bring anyone else down. In fact, some of the most confident, self-absorbed people I know are also the kindest and most generous.


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