The word narcissism is not usually associated with anything positive. It is likely that thoughts of a friend who never asks about your life or a parent who puts their needs before yours will come to mind.
But experts say there is a form of narcissism that is actually beneficial to your daily life — known simply as “healthy narcissism.”
“NSagittarianism works on a spectrum, says Hannah Aldert, a licensed mental health counselor, meaning one can either have too much narcissism, as seen in narcissistic personality disorder, or not enough narcissism, which can lead to depression and low self-esteem. A Washington State resident and author of Breaking Free From Narcissistic Mothers: A Step-by-step Book to End Toxic Behavior, Set Boundaries, and Take Back Your Life.
Sarah Graham, a counselor in Bournemouth, England, who specializes in working with adults who have narcissistic parents or partners, said that over time, the idea of any kind of narcissism has turned into something bad. And for many, it can be a problem.
When someone has narcissistic personality disorder, it’s all about their own needs, Graham said, which can take a huge toll on the children and partners of a narcissist.
Graham notes that when the word narcissism appears, it tends to be associated with pathological narcissism, which is the extreme side of the aforementioned spectrum. “The definition of pathological actually…is people who are unable to control some part of their behavior or are unreasonable,” Graham said.
It is important to understand that healthy narcissism is very different from narcissistic personality disorder and does not excuse any narcissistic abuse that people experience. Narcissistic personality disorder can cause problems and is worth mental health treatment—both for the person living with narcissism and for people with narcissistic abuse. But Graham said there is also a healthy level of narcissism that isn’t passive.
Aldert said healthy narcissism occurs when you’re in the middle of the spectrum—”HNot enough to get us to achieve our goals, but not so much that we trample on others and become rigidly self-centered.”
It is this healthy amount of narcissism that drives us to reach our goals, she said. “In fact, you could say it’s the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning,” Aldert added.
“If we all tried to be the opposite of narcissism, we’d all end up with an echo mentality, right?” Graham added. (Echoism is the opposite of narcissism; when one does not like attention and is afraid of being seen as a narcissist.) “In fact, we need healthy narcissism to be able to function properly and be happy.”
So, do you have a healthy amount of narcissism? Here are the signs to look out for, according to experts.
You can be on your own.
Graham referred to the research of the late Dr. James F. Masterson, a psychiatrist who focused on narcissism. Masterson found that people who display healthy narcissism can be alone. For example, they don’t jump from one relationship to another just to fill the space around them.
A narcissistic person may feel abandoned when they are alone; Someone with healthy narcissism understands that there is a difference between the two, Graham said. She added that someone who is able to be alone realizes that being alone is better than dead end relationships or being with people they don’t really care about.
You can regulate your self-esteem.
“The ability to regulate self-esteem essentially means that a person is able to work through life’s ordinary challenges without tying their self-worth to an outcome,” Alderete said.
“For example, those with healthy narcissism might be defined as having an internalized locus of control,” she points out. In other words, your sense of control comes from within and is not dictated by the things that happen around you.
“A person who is able to regulate self-esteem has an internal locus of control, which allows him to take responsibility and accountability for his behavior and helps him control his emotions,” she said.
You are able to cope when you don’t get what you want.
Adulthood is full of surprises and situations that don’t always work out in your favor—or are full of moments that require you to put other people’s needs before your own—and that’s okay.
For narcissists, this is hard to deal with. “An individual with narcissistic personality disorder may become disaffected, angry, and obsessive when they don’t get what they want,” Aldireti said.
Relatively speaking, someone with the traits of healthy narcissism would be able to stoop to these changes. “An individual with healthy narcissism…can cope well when they don’t get what they want or when they are unable to meet certain needs. They can be flexible with the outcome, and this allows them to meet life’s challenges with grace,” she said.
You don’t need to be liked.
Graham explained that when someone is giving a speech or a lecture, they want the audience to learn and care about what they’re saying – that’s healthy narcissism. On the other hand, the narcissist wants to be admired during the speech and wants the audience to tell them how well they did during the lecture.
“[The difference is] In the motivation behind our behaviors, in fact. So it could be the same behavior, but whatever’s going on inside their mind is the important thing,” Graham said.
The need for admiration is a hallmark of narcissism, and this is evident in many different situations—from workplaces to family environments.
You take care of yourself.
According to Alderete, displaying self-care behaviors is another sign of healthy narcissism. This means that you have the desire to take care of yourself and meet your needs.
This might sound like signing up for your favorite yoga class or treating yourself to your favorite meal when you need it. Plus, this self-care also means you’re not afraid to stand up for yourself.
“You have the ability to set boundaries with others and communicate more assertively,” Graham said.
You can really experience your feelings.
Referring again to Masterson’s research, Graham said that people who have a healthy amount of narcissism can experience emotions deeply.
When it comes to narcissists, Graham said, “there is an underlying shame and feelings of inadequacy,” which dampen the real feeling of the aforementioned feelings. Instead, life may feel like a continuous list of jobs or tasks.
People should be able to deeply feel emotions such as excitement, happiness, and spontaneity.
You are goal oriented.
Whether they are based on work, travel, or family, goals are something the person with healthy narcissism possesses. Even with setbacks, Graham notes, you’ll find yourself striving for a goal when it’s something you’re passionate about and in your best interest.
Graham said that for Echoes (people on the other side of the narcissistic spectrum), it’s hard to define your own goals and needs because you’re so used to serving those around you.
You know that you deserve respect and that others do too.
Anyone with healthy narcissism wants and expects to be treated well, Graham said, and will treat those around them with respect as well. It might feel like checking in on loved ones or not being afraid to stand up for yourself when a colleague tries to take credit for your work.
T“They have a really healthy relationship with themselves and with other people,” she said.
The hallmarks of a narcissist are very different from what is mentioned above.
By comparison, someone with narcissistic personality disorder may believe they are better than those around them, need constant validation, and lack empathy, Alderete said.
As mentioned earlier, healthy narcissism is essential for setting goals, understanding your feelings, and living a meaningful life. In other words, it is an ideal state of being.
If you’re struggling to feel this way — or if you feel like you’re on the far side of the spectrum — there are therapists you can reach out to for support. You can use Psychology Today’s database to find a provider near you or check out other online databases such as Inclusive Therapists.