Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Narcissism
The Spectrum of Narcissism is on a Continuum.
Narcissism is a spectrum of behaviour that is prevalent in the human condition universally. What this means is that we are all narcissistic to a degree, and the narcissistic traits can range on a continuum from 1 – 10, from what we call Healthy Narcissism (being a 1), all the way to a pathological form, called Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD (being a 10), with varying degrees in between. When narcissism reaches a stage called “Malignant Narcissism” the person consistently manifests at least 5 of the 9 criteria necessary to put it into the category of being a mental disorder.
To the casual observer, telling the difference between a normal range narcissistic personality and a narcissistically disordered personality may not be very evident to begin with, because the difference is the difference between the individuals “intentions”. The healthy narcissistic personality operates from a place of good will towards another person, while the unhealthy malignant disordered personality operates from a place of ill will towards another person, which naturally enough puts a chasm between them.
However, with regard to narcissism, our structure of psychological well-being requires balance if it is to stay healthy; too little narcissism can be just as pathological as too much. Too little sense of narcissism leads to a lack of confidence and esteem. Without confidence and esteem we become fearful, and this exposes us to feelings of inferiority; whereas too much (Unhealthy Narcissism), we risk the likelihood of having inflated egos, and putting ourselves in danger where we may compromise social cohesion in order to make ourselves stand out. However, when one is balanced they have a healthy narcissism driving their ego forward. The person sports a confident attitude where they are aware of their strengths and weaknesses of their personality, and they have both the negative and positive aspects available to them. Because they “know their selves” they are able to have realistic expectations of their self, and their expectations fit comparatively with their abilities. They are fully aware of being separate from others, and they have faith in their own set of ideas and ideals. They use their healthy narcissism in a way that channels them in the direction of getting their needs meet, without having to disrespect or harm anybody else in the process. It is in this healthy or mature narcissism that there is balanced giving and taking, and it is this balanced giving and taking that allows a person to enter into mutually satisfying relationships that last the test of time. In this space there is a healthy respect for both the giver and the receiver to retain their uniqueness and independence with each other. Both are equal, so there is no need for any “one-up-manship” or “one-down-manship” in the relationship. Unhealthy narcissism on the other hand is in complete contrast.
Where there is unhealthy narcissism, the individual manifests their behavior through a personality disorder, and therefore they are incapable of having a true reciprocal bond in any relationship. They will operate through either one-downmanship (the practice of outdoing others in a negative way), or one-upmanship (the practice of any assertion of superiority). For example, their need for one-down-man-ship is used when they have a need to idealize someone; whereas their one-upmanship is present when they need another person as a mirroring self-object (narcissistic supply) in order to confirm their specialness for them. This does not usually last long, because all self-objects are eventually devalued once they have lost their functional one-upmanship. They are then held in contempt, and discarded after there usefulness is used up. It is nothing personal, it is how the unhealthy narcissist treats everybody; he/she uses, abuses, and discards, then goes on to the next victim with no remorse what so ever.