The Narcissistic ‘Self-Love’ Explained

Everyone has a little narcissism in them, that’s healthy. You want to look out for yourself, think well of yourself, and be self confident. For most people, loving yourself is taking good care of yourself emotionally, mentally and physically. Most of us know “The Golden Rule” which states, “Do unto others as you would have then do unto you”. If you relate that to loving, then in order to love others, you must first love yourself. Loving yourself or “Self-love” is warm and compassionate, affirming to yourself, and helps you maintain positive self-esteem. Loving yourself, or self-love, is an emotionally healthy, positive practice that leads to the ability to love others in a mature manner.

Most people believe that, like the character in the story of Narcissus, narcissists love themselves too much. It is a commonly held belief that they are so enamored of themselves that narcissists do not have the ability to love others. They, in fact, are not able to love and generally disregard others- with the exception of those people that flatter them or provide another source of satisfying the narcissists’ needs.

However, the narcissist’s self-love is superficial and not love at all; their alleged self-love is completely dependent upon the praise and admiration from others. Narcissists need that praise and admiration, so they spend a lot of time and energy projecting a positive appearance and positive qualities in order to ensure they receive it. They spend considerably more time than normal on grooming, purchasing the latest fashions, and preening in public like a peacock. They will be the first to tell you how attractive, intelligent, and charming they are. In research studies, narcissists usually rate themselves as attractive, intelligent, likable, charming and entertaining; this impression is then supported by others. They make certain that they project those qualities in order to garner the attention and praise they need from other people. Narcissists usually make a great first impression but the longer you are around them, the shallower their self-love appears to be. You will begin to observe that what first appeared to be self-love is merely egocentricity and self absorption; you may begin to see signs of hypersensitivity, insecurity, and their excessive defensiveness to even the mildest slight or criticism.

Initially you may find yourself, like so many others, drawn to the narcissist’s charm or other projected positive qualities.  Their charm quickly loses its appeal as it turns into vanity and grandiosity, along with manipulation and exploitation of others. Narcissists care only about themselves and maintaining their advantage over others; they lack empathy and truly do not care about others (if he shows concern for someone it is either staged or because he fears it will harm his source of Narcissistic Supply). Narcissists need to be dominant, the alpha dog in a power position; the narcissist becomes a master at controlling others to maintain the illusion of their exaggerated self-importance. Narcissists are quick to draw attention to themselves and seek praise; they are just as quick to be judgmental, critical and demean other people so as to make themselves feel superior.

They put on a great face to the world, but it is a mask. It is not their True Self. It is known as their False Self- the one they project to the public. Because of their self-adoring behaviors, it would be expected that they love themselves supremely. However, that expectation would be misconstrued. In actuality, the narcissist feels inferior and dependent due to his reliance on other people’s opinions of himself/herself. He defends himself against these negative feelings by concocting an elaborate world of make-believe, denial, pretensions and delusions of grandeur.  Author and self-proclaimed narcissist, Sam Vaknin, writes that the narcissist does not love himself because there is so very little True Self to love. The narcissist loves only the False Self and will do anything to strengthen it and protect it. The narcissist loves the image which he projects toward others who then reflect it (the False Self) back to the narcissist. This process bolsters the narcissist’s confidence in the existence of his False Self and further blurs any distinctions between reality and fantasy.

The reflection of the False Self back to the narcissist leads him or her to false assumptions which lead to a false view of the world which eventually lead to a grandiose, inflated sense of self. This embellished sense of self is rarely grounded in real achievements or merit. Furthermore, the narcissist’s perception of his superiority inflames his feelings of entitlement which can be demanding and aggressive. These feelings can easily deteriorate into the abuse of others- verbally, psychologically and physically.

The narcissist has little experience of his True Self; what he does know of it, he finds unacceptable. Instead, he lives in his imaginary world of the False Self where he is a fabricated character in a grandiose script. He spends all of his energy devising and reassuring himself of the False Self; he has not developed basic human interaction skills such as empathy or sharing of emotions. He is unable to cope with other human beings, let alone engage in the most difficult task of relationships- loving them.

Vaknin, speaking as a narcissist proclaims, “Self-love is a precondition for the experience and expression of mature love. One cannot truly love someone else if one does not first love one’s True Self. If we had never loved ourselves – we had never experienced unconditional love and, therefore, we do not know how to love.”