March 15, 2008

Healthy Narcissism

“Healthy narcissism plays a crucial role in the human capacity to manage challenges, successes and changes; to overcome defeats, illnesses, trauma, and losses; to love and be productive and creative; and to experience happiness, satisfaction, and acceptance of the course of one’s life.

“In a broad sense, narcissism refers to feelings and attitudes towards one’s own self and to normal development and self-regulation. It is the core of normal healthy self-esteem, affects, and relationships. In psychoanalytic terms, normal narcissism is defined as a positive investment in a normally functioning self-structure.” ~Elsa Ronningstam

"Every human being needs admiration and attention, has an occasional lack of empathy, a desire for success and love. Every human being likes having power and control and might be a tad grandiose and self-important, once-in-a-while." 

"Healthy narcissism is the foundation to stable self-esteem that is not subject to extreme fluctuations. Failures, mistakes, stress, or even successes can threaten 'fragile' self-esteem, deflating or inflating one's self-perceptions to an unhealthy degree. Connecting to an inner core of the True Self is essential for establishing healthy narcissism. In other words, connection with the True feeling Self sustains our worth in times of crisis, severe stress, and increases our capacity to grieve significant losses."

"I got me sum narcissism. You got you sum narcissism. To sum degree, everybody's got sum narcissism in 'um. It might be healthy and it might not be. We may have higher than average narcissism like the celebrity stars Pinsky and Young tested. Or our narcissism might be lower than average and as a result, we don't take very good care of ourselves. Our narcissism could be annoying to others and even to ourselves but not being narcissistic at all is no sign of mental health either."

Corrective Disillusionment and Healthy Narcissism
A stable self-esteem (healthy narcissism) increases emotional resiliency and maintains ego integrity during life challenges. On the other hand, narcissists are defined as having unstable self-esteem, which means they are limited in their ability to cope with screw-ups. Narcissistic defenses ward against perceived slights and criticisms, feelings of shame and self-doubt, perceptions of inferiority and insufficiency---further erosion of an unstable self-esteem.

Normal narcissism includes the ability to form deep object relations, emotional bonds, mutual giving and taking, a realistic self-interest, empathy for others, and accurate self-knowledge. Healthy narcissism allows people to tolerate criticism and failure, and contain negative feelings like guilt which leads to even deeper pro-social emotions like remorse and forgiveness. Healthy narcissism, as described by Heinz Kohut, includes creativity, empathy, a sense of humor, awareness of finiteness, and wisdom.

Mental and psychological health requires a balancing of  agency and communion. Once again, Masterson's words are worth repeating: "All the capacities of the real self come under the heading of normal narcissism, which in effect is the capacity to identify what you want and need, get yourself together, and go after it, while also taking into account the welfare of others. This is the healthy way to feel good about yourself. " 

Other Resources

"Some have referred to Kohut’s Psychology of the Self as "psychoanalysis without original sin"—i.e., the “original sin” that Freud considered Narcissism. One of Kohut’s breaks with Freudian tradition is that he considered Narcissism affirmatively, as an essential part of the Self; and described how it develops in the healthy individual..."
"Mature Healthy Narcissism is the middle ground between caring for self and the caring for other. It includes those centered, conscious choices that fall within the center of the continuum. It is the equilibrium between taking too much and giving too much in regards to the other person..."

 by Dr. Albert Bandura
"A strong sense of efficacy enhances human accomplishment and personal well-being in many ways. People with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. Such an efficacious outlook fosters intrinsic interest and deep engrossment in activities. They set themselves challenging goals and maintain strong commitment to them. They heighten and sustain their efforts in the face of failure. They quickly recover their sense of efficacy after failures or setbacks. They attribute failure to insufficient effort or deficient knowledge and skills which are acquirable. They approach threatening situations with assurance that they can exercise control over them. Such an efficacious outlook produces personal accomplishments, reduces stress and lowers vulnerability to depression..."

"In sum, healthy self-esteem refers to realistic and accurate positive appraisals of the self on significant criteria across a variety of interpersonal situations. It also includes the ability to cope with the inevitability of some negative feedback. By contrast, unhealthy self-esteem, as in narcissism, refers to insensitivity to others, with excessive preoccupation with the self and one's own image and appearance in the eyes of others."

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