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When Narcissism is Healthy and When it’s Not

Love yourself / but don’t be conceited. Take care of yourself / but put others first. Stay focused on your goals / but don’t crow about your accomplishments. Survival of the fittest / or love your neighbour as yourself?

With all this contradictory ‘wisdom’ on offer, is it any wonder couples are confused and having trouble getting along?

What is Narcissism?

Frankly, I am tired of people saying ‘a little bit of narcissism is healthy’ when the truth is healthy and unhealthy narcissism are two completely different outlooks on life.

Can your husband loving you or loving someone else be considered the same thing? No of course it can’t and it’s not!

In just the same way healthy narcissism is about loving and caring for yourself, while unhealthy narcissism is about loving and caring for a fantasy idea of yourself you have created in your own mind.

A person caught in unhealthy narcissism has so little love for themselves that they have invented a pretend self in order to hide from their own insecurity and shame. So in reality healthy and unhealthy narcissism are opposite extremes.

Can you look at your own weaknesses and faults? Or do you hide behind a perfect image that you promote while blaming your shame on someone else?

Healthy Narcissism

  • Greets people (including close family and friends) confidently and warmly (by name) looking them in the face and smiling
  • Can be objective about their own faults and weaknesses
  • Can be objective about their own talents and skills
  • Relaxed and comfortable around people of all ages and not afraid to hear what other people think
  • Puts their point of view across without putting anyone else down
  • Is compassionate
  • Is patient
  • Feels relaxed and comfortable in their own skin
  • Wins friends easily with interesting people
  • Maintains healthy and close personal relationships with their family including their spouse and kids
  • Enjoys life even when things are not going to plan
  • Is naturally influential
  • Is their own best friend
  • Lives with ease and peace within themselves
  • Enjoys intimate and gratifying sex

Unhealthy Narcissism

  • Jealous and unhappy with their lot in life
  • Competitive and obsessed with being the centre of attention
  • Charming in public (and when they want something) but critical, rude and sarcastic to their close friends and family in private
  • Talk badly about people (including their friends and family behind their back)
  • Only comfortable relating to a small group of peers
  • Multiple relationship breakdowns
  • Damage to business and reputation
  • Wrongly accuses and punishes others
  • Child neglect and abuse
  • Puts their own need for love and attention before their own and their families well being and best interests
  • Can’t genuinely admit they are wrong
  • Feels superior but alone
  • Feels trapped in a bubble that separates them from others
  • Impersonal and/or unsatisfying sex
  • Nervous breakdown
  • Marriage breakdown
  • Increased risk of having violence directed towards them

The false shell of unhealthy narcissism is as constraining to live inside as an 18th century corset and as painful to live with as a tyrant or drunk (as many unhealthy narcissists are). Still, most people with narcissistic tendencies protect this false image of themselves at all costs. Most feel far too vulnerable to let the pretence down and feel the trade-off far better than facing their own shame.

You are best not to hold a mirror to this person’s bad behaviour or you might find yourself rejected or dealing with an open (or covert) assault.

What to do?

Please Continue Reading here . . .

Narcissism in Yourself
Narcissism in Your Partner

Why Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Marriage Counselors Come to us for Relationship Advice

Narcissism does not need to be a death sentence for your marriage – but it won’t get better by itself!

Kim Cooper

For fifteen years, the Coopers have offered themselves as humble guides and mentors, helping families avoid cynicism and chaos. Leading the way as peer support specialists whose own family has traversed love's dangerous terrain.
Taking you to that place inside yourself that you can't go by yourself. Helping you get back in touch with the power of love within you to restore the sanity in your marriage whether you stay or leave.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Very good! Especially liked the part about the pretend self. I believe the pretend self starts early and is built initially for survival.

  2. Both lists offer an opportunity to self-check for blind spots. Thank you for the clear distinctions between what is healthy and unhealthy.

  3. I remember when I first came to your website and saw the description of unhealthy narcissism – talking behind other’s backs was a huge red flag for me. I had never seen a description like this before, but boy, did it fit! I’m so grateful to be a part of this community which has helped me to face my partner head on…by focusing on myself first.

  4. The day I was able to put a name on my husband’s mental state was a very scary and sobering day for me. My immediate reaction was one of relief that I am not the only one dealing with this, but my second reaction was one of despair because I realized that this is not just your ordinary case of pig-headedness and big ego. But it was also the day that I found a new sense of confidence. I felt the weight of not being good enough off my shoulders. I began to think of all things I do for him, our family, our ministry (20 years of working with under-privileged children and teaching them about Jesus), how I take care of the house, our finances, etc. and wondered how could I have let him make me feel so inferior for all these years. The disappointing reality is that no one will ever be good enough for my husband, but that is his problem, not mine. The Lord showed me that He has a plan specifically for me and that regardless of my husband’s attitude, actions and constant words of disapproval and discouragement He would use me if I stay faithful to Him.

  5. What if you see characteristics of yourself on both lists? I think I have more healthy narcissism than unhealthy but maybe I’m not objective enough. I have had difficulty with close relationships and attributed this to a history of abuse and codependency. It is unsettling to think one might be a narcissist but will never know and continue to suffer or cause others to suffer. My ex-husband checks most of the boxes for unhealthy narcissism. Does anyone else relate to this or want to offer some insight?

    1. There is nothing wrong with healthy narcissism. Many people have both narcissistic and codependent tendencies. Often people will be narcissistic in their first marriage and after that fails codependent in their next.

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