Small children are naturally narcissistic. Everything is about them and their needs. As a child grows up, he is constantly testing the boundaries of his parents with what he can do and cannot do. He also naturally demands his basic needs to be met, being fed, clothed, housed and emotionally nurtured. Here are two scenarios that explain healthy vs. unhealthy narcissism.
Little Johnny tries to reach out to his parents to get his basic needs met. When they were met, he felt confident and it built up his self-esteem, a healthy narcissism. As he grows older, he feels secure being in charge asking for help from others, because asking for help works. When someone tells him no he accepts it and goes on to something or someone else, feeling confident and in charge. He learns as he grows older that he is worth loving.
Little Bobby on the other hand tries to reach out to his parents and does not get the emotional support he needs to feel confident in himself. He does not get the attention and help he asks for and he begins to feel he is not important in his parent’s eyes and is not worth loving. His need for nurturing and responding to his needs are not met. The parent’s have failed to maintain a secure attachment with little Bobby and Bobby begins to feel it is his fault. He says to himself, “I failed, I am not in control, I cannot depend on others for my basic needs, I am not worth loving.”
The failure of early narcissism leads to shame. Shame is an unmet childhood need and when a child grows up and becomes an adult, the need grows until it is fulfilled by someone or by some behavior.
When a narcissistic adult feels a negative emotion, they will act out with alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, shopping, etc. over the unmet needs related to shame. Even when they have a positive emotion, they may act out, feeling they don’t deserve to have goodness and positivity in their lives.
Addiction is a futile attempt to get a person’s needs met. In fantasy a person can control the situation and never have to feel they’ve failed. People have affairs and act out sexually because it’s a controllable situation, “I get my needs met and don’t have to deal with the demanding chaos at home.”
Narcissists play defense against insecurity, according to Rob Weiss, CEO of Seeking Integrity and author of “Out of the Doghouse” and “Prodependence.” They feel entitled to act out and lack the empathy to realize how they have destroyed the trust of their partner. Their motto becomes, “Empathy wasn’t given to me, why should I show empathy to someone else?”
The antidote for narcissism is learning how to become a humbler person, allowing human connections to ground us and help us finally get our basic human needs for attention, affection, fidelity and safety met.