Wellness·5 min read

Some Narcissism Is A Good Thing. Here’s Why.

Woman pointing to presentation slides
Getty Images
May 31, 2023

Everyone from celebrities to politicians to anonymous exes has been labeled a narcissist on TikTok and in the media. The unsparing use of the term has made it lose its real meaning making it "little more than an empty pejorative,” says Craig Malkin, a psychologist and the author of “Rethinking Narcissism.” The truth is, having a healthy level of narcissism actually allows us to be happy, productive members of society. 

Wait, so is narcissism good or bad?

Narcissism is “the drive to feel special and stand out in some way from the other 8 billion people on the planet,” says Malkin. It’s a personality trait, but it exists on a spectrum. Research suggests that for some people, a healthy amount of narcissism may be beneficial by promoting persistence and ambition and protecting against depression. Though high levels of it can negate these benefits and may be linked to narcissistic personality disorder. 

People may fall into one of the following categories, depending on the types of narcissism they display: 

  • Narcissism deficit or echoism: When people don’t often see themselves as special. This lack of narcissism is sometimes called echoism because of the famous Greco-Roman myth of Echo and Narcissus, in which Echo is cursed to repeat what others say. “Like their namesake, echoists struggle to have a voice of their own, and they tend to echo the needs and feelings of others,” Malkin explains. 

  • Healthy narcissism: When people see themselves through “slightly rose-colored glasses” but are still able to take criticism and accept when they’re wrong, according to Malkin. 

  • Narcissist: When people are on the higher end of moderate narcissism but not to the point that their behavior is considered a disorder. They “might be healthy, but they still are far enough up on the trait to be called a narcissist,” says Malkin. One example: they may not be able to take criticism well. According to Malkin, politicians, who tend to score higher in narcissism, often fall into this category. 

  • Narcissistic personality disorder: When levels of narcissism become disruptive enough to meet the bar of a mental health condition. People with pathological narcissism “are so driven to self-enhance or feel special that they set aside love, connection, [and] care,” says Malkin. 

So where do I fall on the spectrum? 

Numerous factors contribute to whether you fall more on the echoist or narcissistic side of the spectrum. One such factor may be the quality of your relationships because there's a correlation between healthy narcissism and secure attachment, says Malkin. People who have a deficit of narcissism (and those with too much) tend to have an insecure attachment style. Because echoists prefer to diminish themselves, they also gravitate towards more narcissistic individuals who are happy to fill the space in the relationship, which may only reinforce their echoistic tendencies, according to Malkin.

Your move 

If you feel like you could use a little more narcissism in your life, Malkin has some tips... 

  • Work on developing a more secure attachment style. This can be done in therapy or by seeking relationships with trusting, open people. 

  • Identify what sets you apart from others. One idea: Keep a journal of your unique qualities and talents. 

  • Get in touch with healthy anger. Letting yourself feel the emotion will help you recognize your needs and give you the confidence to stand up for yourself.

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Well Read

Night Vision Book Cover and headshot of author Mariana Alessandri
Hannah Skubic, Princeton University Press

We feature buzzy books in the health and wellness space. This week, we read:  

Night Vision: Seeing Ourselves through Dark Moods” by Mariana Alessandri, Ph.D. 

Author Credentials: Alessandri is a philosopher and associate professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. 

Table of Contents: Alessandri draws on her experience with dark moods (she claims to be an “angry person genetically”) and those of like-minded philosophers before her to make a case against toxic positivity — “self-help books be damned.” Instead, she argues that mental states including depression and anger are dignified and beautiful expressions of humanity, because “the angry among us, the hurt, the grieving, the depressed or anxious, have every reason to feel broken.”

Why We Bookmark’d It: There’s plenty of evidence that everyone experiences dark moods, which may help people going through them feel less alone. In “Night Vision,” Alessandri moves the needle from normalizing mental health issues to revering them. If her points resonate, you may find yourself feeling less shame and blame when ‘stay positive’ just isn’t working.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 

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