Narcissism is generally seen as a negative trait, but in this article we will explore the positive side of it. When babies are born, they imagine that the world revolves around them, and if they have an immediate need (e.g. food, touch, change of diaper), they believe that someone will take care of their needs quickly. Unfortunately, the fantasy that your parent (or caregiver) will respond to you in just the right way, at just the right time, at just the right temperature, sets you up for the first of many narcissistic injuries to come. And we all suffer from narcissistic wounds throughout our lifetime. It’s not the wounds that count. It’s how you deal with them.
There are no guarantees in childhood. As a matter of fact, you won’t get what you want exactly when you want it—one definition of entitlement—and one of the hallmarks of narcissism. Most of us learn to cope with the challenges and unpredictability of relationships and adapt accordingly. True narcissists do not. They hold on stubbornly to their idea of entitlement and develop a lack of empathy for others. On the other hand, healthy narcissism refers to the intrinsic belief that we are desirable, lovable human beings and others can be trusted over time.
Having grown up in a loveless home with depressed parents and four older, distant siblings, Charlie was profoundly lonely. As the fifth child, he always felt like he raised himself as he learned to take care of chores such as doing the laundry by the time he was in first grade. His level of self-sufficiency was way beyond his years.
Because he was a “pleasant surprise,” his siblings were considerably older. As a result, he felt separate and superior at times. He was even placed in a program for kids who excelled academically which set him apart even further and perpetuated the aura of special-ness which fed Charlie’s version of narcissism.
Having grown up in a home with physical and emotional abuse, achievement and perfectionism were Charlies’ way of getting validation and attention. Although he was very isolated, healthier narcissism helped him feel competent in the midst of constant competition, envy and bullying.
In Part 2 we will outline specific strategies to identify and heal narcissism.