Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Healthy Narcissism

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 7, 2014

Affirmations, we all need them. We all want them. We all seek them out. Some, by affirming others, hoping that, like a bouncing ball, that affirmation will come back. Others, by artistic endeavors, where appreciating the creative output is akin to appreciating them. Some, less gracefully, push conversations back to themselves, with the result being others as bothered and annoyed that there is a lack of reciprocity. The art of living is to get positive feedback without a sense of domineering or high jacking the other. This is a fluid experience where under times of stress, getting narcissistic needs met in a pleasant and not off-putting way is more challenging, and hence difficult situations often spiral down to more despair. Likewise, doing positive things for others, often spirals up to better and better feelings about oneself. Milly, thirty-five, comes to mind. She was a shy child, with few friends. She felt isolated and unlikable until she went to college, where suddenly she found people who felt comfortable and friendly. Together, five of her friends created a theatre group which went on tour throughout the United States. Suddenly, Milly felt like a part of a larger “family”. The audience loved their performance and the group coalesced into a working structure. Milly’s narcissism was fed in a positive way, giving her a new-found confidence and excitement for life, which she had never experienced before. Suddenly, Milly felt the power to make her life the way she wanted it, as opposed to dragging through each day as if it were a chore. Learning how to get narcissistic  needs met, without hurting others is the secret to embracing life. The more these needs are met, the less fear, anxiety and discouragement one feels. It is a simple formula, like diet and exercise, the problem is not in the conception, but in the operation.

2 Responses to “Healthy Narcissism”

  1. Shelly said

    Interesting that it can take so long for us to figure out how to get our needs met or even what our needs are. For some of us, we never even get that far and that is when the loneliness sets in. In that way, you might say that those of us who have not yet found our niches and are lonely, that we are narcissists–the unhealthy kind. It’s not that we want verbal affirmations: “You are wonderful, you are bright, you are a good friend.” However being part of a group, as you describe Milly in this post, “Milly’s narcissism was fed in a positive way…” I get it. Loneliness means you are not wanted, you are isolated, you are not valued for your possible contributions. It is hard to embrace life on one’s own if one values being part of a group.

    • Yes, the summary statement is that it is a universal truth that we both want to belong to a group and feel special, at the same time. Working between these opposing positions is the art of healthy narcissism. Unhealthy narcissism sets in when we tilt too far in one direction. Thanks.

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