Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Narcissism?

What is Healthy Self-Love?



You might have come across the term, “healthy narcissism”. If you’ve been wounded or are living with a suspected (or diagnosed) narcissist, this term can be confusing. It might even make you wonder if it is really you that is the narcissist.

Put simply, the difference between pathological narcissism and the rest of us is the frequency and duration of self-centred, unempathetic behaviour. Any of us might respond to adverse events by getting angry, shutting down, worrying about our reputation or putting ourselves first in a selfish kind of way. This might last a moment, a day or even a season (especially when it’s in response to trauma).

But for the average layperson, recognising narcissism is about noticing and naming the many complex manipulative things a person does to form a pattern or a strategy for exploitation – using us for their own ends.

Healthy Self-Love

Psychologists have done us all a great disservice by referring to healthy self-love as ‘healthy narcissism’. Let’s ditch the term!

Healthy self-love means taking care of our own needs rather than sacrificing them to please others. It starts with self-compassion. That is, the ability to relate to ourselves with the same care, support and kindness that we extend to our best friend. We need to include ourselves in our own circle of caring.

When our self-compassion increases, we will notice how it shows up in our lives as:

  • Reduction in harsh self-criticism
  • More gentleness and tenderness towards our own suffering
  • Increased ability to say ‘no’ and set healthy boundaries without guilt or shame
  • More courage and resilience
  • Less shame and self-blame
  • More contentment
  • More compassion and empathy for others
  • Less perfectionism and people-pleasing
  • Healthy self-love

How Do We Get There?

Healthy self-love is simply about feeling good about ourselves. It’s quite different from arrogance, believing ourselves superior to others or always having to be in a one-up position, the way a narcissist does.

Sometimes, our family or community culture can convince us from a young age that we must always put others first to be a ‘good person’. And coming out from under the burden of that long-held belief can be challenging. So, think of the oxygen mask analogy. The pilot always tells us to put our own oxygen mask on first – because if we don’t, we might pass out and then we’ll be of no help to the person beside us. And life is a bit like that too.

Some things we can do to nourish healthy self-love are:

  • Doing things that naturally help us experience positive emotions like gratitude or awe
  • Being with people who naturally support and respect us
  • Getting enough sleep, exercise and nourishment in our diets
  • Doing things that give us a sense of accomplishment
  • Spending time in activities where we are totally absorbed in what we’re doing
  • Being part of something bigger, having purpose and being aligned with our values

Helping others, serving the community or the nation, being a rock for people we love are all beautiful and wholesome motivations. Healthy self-love isn’t about ‘looking out for Number 1’, it’s about supporting and caring for ourselves so that we can be the change we want to see in the world.

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