nar cis sism/nar cis cism. n. 1. Excessive love or admiration of oneself. 2. Erotic pleasure derived from contemplation or admiration of one’s own body or self, esp. as a fixation on or a regression to an infantile stage of development. (American Heritage College Dictionary.)
Alcoholics, and all adicts, suffer from unhealthy narcissism. So do their children.
Most of the time the word “narcissism” is invoked to describe that self-centered, selfish, me-me-me person whom we all love to hate. That definition is close, but not complete and it’s also not as clinical as the definition of narcissism that I prefer, one that I feel is closer to the heart of the child of an alcoholic.
Narcissism isn’t bad. Unhealthy narcissism or a narcissistic disorder is problematic. Healthy narcissism is desirable, good and an indication of healthy self-esteem.
A person suffering from unhealthy narcissism (and suffering is an apt word here) is unable to differentiate himself or herself from other people.
Well, no. I don’t mean that they think they are actually other people! I mean that a person suffering from unhealthy narcissism thinks they are central, or connected, to other people’s actions and can’t take an objective view of a situation involving themselves and another person’s actions or emotions. Rather, they feel responsible, connected or in some way influential in the emotional states of the people around them. A narcissist will erroneously think they are important to and connected to other people in a cause-effect way that they are not.
…a mother who, as a child, was herself not taken seriously by her mother as the person she really was will crave this respect from her child as a substitute; and she will try to get it by training him to give it her. –Alice Miller (The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self)
A person with unhealthy narcissism will assume that someone’s bad mood is connected to them, and they may try to take responsibility for someone’s bad mood, or “help” in some way. They relate to the world and the people in it as if they are connected to it in a special way; a narcissist may think that he or she is very lucky or very unlucky based on how society, employers, employees, etc. treats them (either as a victim or as a ‘chosen one’), as if they were the center of these various worlds.
The child has a primary need to be regarded and respected as the person he really is at any given time, and as the center–the central actor–in his own activity. In contradistinction to drive wishes, we are speaking here of a need that is narcissistic, but nevertheless legitimate, and whose fulfillment is essential for the development of a healthy self-esteem. –The Drama of the Gifted Child
A person with unhealthy narcissism experiences degrees of paranoia. He or she might tend to think that if a friend doesn’t want to do something–go to a movie, talk for a long time on the phone, eat dinner, take a walk, do a favor–that this “rejection” is directly related to them, that they did something wrong, are undesirable, boring, overly talkative, are being dumped, etc.
A person who wasn’t allowed to develop a healthy narcissism as a child can’t easily come to the conclusion that a person with a healthy narcissism can: that a friend just simply doesn’t feel up to going out that afternoon or evening. Nor is it second-nature for the narcissist to unself-consciously realize that another person has a busy life separate from them. It’s not easy for that narcissist to conclude that it is okay to get a ‘no’ answer from friends, because ‘no’ actually feels threatening to them. (The narcissist with abandonment issues may fear that the friend will “never” actually make plans with them again, which is that hyper-rigid, extreme, all-or-nothing thinking characteristic of children of alcoholics.)
Someone with a healthy narcissism won’t put him or herself into the equation, he or she will presume without a doubt that their friend is just busy, or just not interested in making plans today. Lacking information, someone with unhealthy narcissism will plug himself or herself unnecessarily into the equation.
Parents who did not experience this climate [of supportive self-esteem development] are themselves narcissistically deprived; throughout their lives they are looking for what their own parents could not give them at the correct time–the presence of a person who is completely aware of them and takes them seriously, who admires and follows them. –The Drama of the Gifted Child
The way to build more healthy narcissism and leave behind the unhealthy version of it is practice, practice, practice. And by developing self-esteem.
Tips for Healthy Narcissism & Building Self-Esteem
- Evaluate your relationship to perfectionism and come up with a realistic goal that will allow you to be proud of yourself every time
- Be physically active
- Play like a kid: yep, go down a slide, find a swing, throw a ball, roll down a hill, skip, chase your dog around the house (if she likes it), play in the dirt (gardening), jump on your bed, sit on a balloon, make it pop, make extremely goofy faces…
- Practice respect for your friends and your family members: have compassion for others’ choices, even if you don’t understand them. It’s their life. Then direct that same respect and compassion toward yourself.
- Free yourself of taking things personally. Learn to identify when you are having an ‘it must be something I did’ reaction. Disengage from it. Realize that it’s the child of long ago who is reacting, not the current you. Begin work on the new version of yourself.
- Make a list of at least 25 things that you like: activities, foods, places, and things. Feel good about liking them. Tell people what you like. Find out more about what you like and research those 25 topics, places and things.
The book Living Out Loud: Activities to Fuel a Creative Life by Keri Smith describes various creativity-generating ideas for getting in touch with who you really are when the wants, needs and desires of other people are stripped away. It’s a colorful, playful book. Living Out Loud
And SARK has always created inspiring and very creative books like, Making Your Dreams Real: A Guide for Procrastinators… SARK is an original.