Healthy narcissism vs narcissistic abuse: What you need to know

Narcissism rightly makes people wary.

But, did you know there is something known as “healthy narcissism”? According to Dr. Susan Kolod, a psychologist, everyone actually needs to practice a good dose of healthy narcissism.

In a nutshell, “real narcissists” suffer narcissistic personality disorder and have an inflated sense of their self importance and a huge need for excessive attention and admiration.

On the other hand, “healthy narcissism” is related to self-esteem and self-worth. It’s about taking pleasure in one’s beauty, intelligence, and accomplishments.

“I feel pretty, Oh, so pretty,
I feel pretty and witty and bright!
And I pity any girl who isn’t me tonight.
I feel charming, Oh, so charming
It’s alarming how charming I feel!
And so pretty
That I hardly can believe I’m real.”
-I Feel Pretty, from West Side Story

Healthy narcissism is important because it will help you through difficult times.

A perfect example is when you can derive joy from getting a difficult job done, it protects the person from failures, burnout, and painful disappointments.

There is a fine line, however, between being a healthy narcissist and narcissistic abuse.

To help you understand how to practice healthy narcissism without slipping into creating narcissistic abuse in other people’s lives, we’re sharing 5 traits of people with healthy narcissism below. After this, we’ll go through 6 ways to identify if you’re practicing narcissistic abuse.

1. People with healthy narcissism are self-aware

Healthy narcissism is associated with a quiet, comfortable confidence. People with healthy narcissism do not need to brag about their accomplishments. Instead, they are aware of their strengths as well as their weaknesses. They know they are not perfect and have no intentions to be.

They are considered people with healthy egos and they do not try to be better than others. Because they are self-aware, their goals and expectations are realistic in comparison to their abilities.

2. Healthy narcissists do not pull people down

People with healthy narcissism exhibit a mature sense of self-confidence. They accomplish things without pushing others down in the process. They also have a balanced perception of reciprocity which means they give as much as they receive. In turn, they are able to build and enter into mutually satisfying relationships.

They keep their self-identity and do not lose themselves into the needs, opinions or pressures of others. Most remarkably, they do not bring others down just for them to go up the ladder of success.

3. Healthy narcissists know that approval is earned

These people are not self-entitled. They work hard in order to achieve their dreams because they know that success is earned, not given. When they fail, they know that their failure had less to do with their ability and more to do with needing to work harder or receive further training.

They do not resent hard work. Instead, they get inspired to work harder than before to prove to themselves and to other people that they can do it. They are willing to be guided and they take criticism constructively. They understand that improvement is necessary if they want to get back on top of their game.

4. Healthy narcissists are flexible

People with healthy narcissism are flexible. It means they do not see the point of being rigid or controlling when it comes to success. They are open to change because they know that things always change every day.

Their flexibility keeps them at the top of their game. Not only that, it makes them want to learn more about the needs of those they work closely with. The more flexible a person is, the more in touch with their gut instincts. This means they have a higher chance of being successful.

5. Healthy narcissists are firm

Do not confuse their firmness with their flexibility. Their firmness refers to their ability to know when to be flexible and when not to bend.

It means they do not waste their time pleasing other people, giving in, or getting taken advantage of. People with healthy narcissism know when to say no when the need arises. Most of all, they do not tolerate bullies, users, discourteous treatment or devious motives.

Not all narcissism is negative — it all comes down to a balance. If you have too little narcissism, it is considered just as pathological as too much when it comes to success. While too little narcissism leads to insecurity, a person with too much narcissism has an inflated ego.

According to this study, the prevalence of lifetime narcissistic personality disorder was 6.2%. It is more prevalent in black men and women and Hispanic women, younger adults, and separated/divorced/widowed and never married adults.

However, this is a mental disorder that does not respect any race, age or gender. Most of the time, they commit narcissistic abuse to people they know and love.

Here are ways you can tell someone suffers from narcissistic abuse:

1. People with narcissistic abuse are detached from the environment

A person who suffers from narcissistic abuse experiences dissociation as a survival mechanism.

According to The Body Keeps the Score, an abused person experiences disruptions in their memory, perceptions, consciousness, and sense of self.

“Dissociation is the essence of trauma. The overwhelming experience is split off and fragmented so that the emotions, sounds, images, thoughts, and physical sensations take on a life of their own.”

Dissociation leads to emotional numbing. In turn, a person may look to drugs, alcohol, and other addictions just to escape the reality that they were abused.

People who suffer from narcissistic abuse can be treated by a trauma-informed therapist. Just like what therapist Rev Sheri Heller, LCSW said:

“Integrating and reclaiming dissociated and disowned aspects of the personality is largely dependent on constructing a cohesive narrative, which allows for the assimilation of emotional, cognitive, and physiological realities.”

2. People suffering from narcissistic abuse walk on eggshells

A common symptom of a person suffering from narcissistic abuse is avoiding anything that represents reliving the trauma. It can be anything from people, places or activities that makes them remember the threat. In turn, they constantly watch what they say or do around the abuser lest they incur wrath, punishment or envy.

Being a victim of narcissistic abuse makes you an emotional punching bag. You will find yourself constantly anxious about provoking your abuser in any way so you avoid any confrontation and setting of boundaries.

A victim may also become a people-pleaser which results in losing their ability to be assertive. They lose themselves in the process.

3. Victims of narcissistic abuse put themselves last

Maybe the victim has been full of life once. But once an abuser takes control, the victim will live just to fulfill the needs and agendas of the abuser. They have placed their happiness and lives on the back burner just to ensure that the abuser feels ‘satisfied’ in the relationship.

4. People who suffer from narcissistic abuse often have health struggles

People who suffer from narcissistic abuse experience somatic symptoms that represent their psychological turmoil. It can be in the form of weight gain, weight loss, and severe health issues that did not exist prior the abuse.

Abuse leads to stress and stress is the one cause that your cortisol levels are in overdrive. Due to this, your immune system will suffer which leaves you vulnerable to physical ailments and disease.

This is why it’s crucial to break up with a narcissist if you’re involved in a relationship with them.

5. People with narcissistic abuse sometimes have ideas of suicide

Along with depression and anxiety, a victim will feel an increased sense of hopelessness that can be alleviated through suicide. They think that their circumstances feel unbearable and inescapable so the only thing left to do is die.

According to Dr. McKeon (2014), chief of the suicide prevention branch at SAMHSA notes, victims of intimate partner violence are twice as likely to attempt suicide multiple times.

“There’s no question that the tragedy of Robin Williams’s suicide has brought a lot of attention to the issue,” Dr. McKeon says. “And we still have a long way to go. There are significant numbers of people who are not getting the help they need, but SAMHSA and our public and private partners are working to change that.”

6. Gaslighting is a common symptom of narcissistic abuse

Victims convince themselves that the abuser is really not ‘all that bad’. Worse, they think that it is their fault why they are being abused. Sometimes, rationalizing, minimizing and denying the abuse are the survival mechanisms of the victim because of cognitive dissonance.

Not only that, but victims may also protect their abusers from any consequences by sharing the blame of the abuse.

It is never easy to leave an abusive relationship because of the intense trauma bond developed. However, it is possible for victims to leave the relationship and embark on a self-finding journey to take back what they lost and love themselves once more.

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Lachlan Brown

Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.
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