Self-Love vs. Narcissism
In my therapy practice over the years most of my clients had one thing in common—low self-esteem. Most of them had issues that could be summarized as self-love vs. narcissism. They would tell me they were “stuck” in life, not able to move forward, not able to achieve the success they were working for, not able to find the love they desired. They especially were not able to love themselves.
Not Good Enough
The stories varied but the core was always the same and stated as:
- I’m not “good enough.”
- I don’t deserve …
- What if I fail …
- I’m afraid to …
- What if I succeed …
- Maybe people will laugh at me if …
- What if I don’t measure up?
- If I could be like …
- This list could go on and on
The interpretation of each is, “I don’t like me” enough to have confidence in my abilities. I don’t trust me.
Self-love vs. Narcissism
And so I write a lot about self-esteem and learning to love and accept who and what you are – “as is,” “warts and all. I know this feeling—I went from being absolutely on top of my game to having a severe dislike for who I was.
When I ended a twenty-five-year marriage with a husband who belittled everything I did and said (well not everything. It just felt like everything) I had the self-esteem of a gnat. (Actually, I don’t know if gnats have high or low self-esteem, but I am assuming it is low. Just bear with me here). I went into the marriage thinking that I could do anything and came out of it believing I could do nothing. Why I gave my power away is grist for another mill. The bottom line is that I had little love for myself at the time which meant loving anyone else was almost impossible.
The old me is back, but it wasn’t an easy return. It took counseling, self-talk, meditation, reading every self-help book I could get my hands on, the reinforcement of good friends, some successes and more. It took serious work. Am I narcissistic now? I love myself and can love others. But narcissistic? I don’t think so.
I read an excellent description of narcissism that I would like to share with you:
Narcissism is the opposite of self-love.
In the absence of self-love, narcissists have no energy for anyone but themselves. They are preoccupied by their own internal reality not freed by it. Only their own needs and experiences have any real meaning for them. When you enter their world you are assessed as more or less “useful.” This is why narcissistic people can be so charming and then so ruthless. They see you only in relation to themselves. Your separate existence doesn’t move them. As long as narcissism has them in its grip, they are prisoners of fear, not of love. (From Choosing Happiness: Life & Soul Essentials, Stephanie Dowrick and Catherine Greer, Penguin Books, NY, 2005, p. 77).
A Stealth Narcissist
To make it more understandable in thus self-love vs. narcissism dialog read what Psychology Today says about the Five Signs of a Stealth Narcissist:
- Bragging about one’s perfect family (no one’s family is perfect).
- Hypergenerosity in public to demonstrate that one has power, but coldness once the camera is off.
- Hypersensitive and insecure. This includes imagining criticism where it doesn’t exist and getting depressed by perceived criticism.”Vulnerable” narcissists are self-centered and overly defensive.
- Prone to a vast array of negative emotions including depression, anxiety, self-consciousness, and shame owing to not being given their “due.” Such feelings can be an indication of egocentricity and self-absorption.
- Repeatedly puts down other people, especially inferiors and strangers. Loves to talk about him or herself and mentions others mainly to name-drop.
Admit it out loud
Unless you are a narcissist, it is hard to admit out loud that you love yourself but, unless you fit the description above, it’s o.k. to do so. It may be hard to say it to yourself silently. But explore the idea of loving who you are just because you are you. You are one of a kind. Absolutely unique. Perfect in your own way. It gets easier as you do it more often, like getting used to a new pair of shoes. So say it to yourself silently, then say it to yourself out loud. It may unleash a surge of energy that makes new things possible.
In my rawest days of low self-esteem, I was soothed by the saying, “God don’t make no junk.” It allowed more healing to take place. Find something that soothes you and stays with it until you can say with all sincerity, “I love me.” Healthy? Yes.
In your own struggle between self-love vs. narcissism, be sure that self-love wins.