Is It Possible To Have Healthy Narcissism?

Narcissism is extreme self-absorption at the expense of the feelings or needs of others (via WebMD). People who show signs of narcissism could fall anywhere along the spectrum of this trait and don't necessarily have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the extreme end of the spectrum. 

There are two types of narcissism, each identified by a set of certain behaviors in relationships. Grandiose narcissism describes a person with an exaggerated sense of importance and typically dominant behavior. Grandiose narcissists have high self-esteem and an inflated self-image (per Frontiers in Psychology). Vulnerable narcissism is characterized by a defensive, hypersensitive, or avoidant attitude to protect against feelings of inadequacy. Vulnerable narcissists have low self-esteem and feel offended or anxious when others don't treat them as if they're special (per WebMD).

The thing is, we all have some degree of narcissistic traits in ourselves. Who among us hasn't acted selfishly on occasion, or wanted to be in the spotlight once in a while?  Mindbodygreen calls it healthy narcissism. But how do we identify healthy narcissism from a clinical personality disorder, and what exactly sets them apart? 

Healthy versus unhealthy narcissism

What separates unhealthy narcissism (having a diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD) and healthy narcissism (possessing narcissistic traits) is that NPD is a persistent pattern of self-interested and self-aggrandizing attitudes and behaviors (per Psych Central). On the flip side, momentary selfish behavior — like, when we won't honor our companion's request because we're upset or irritable, or we're seeking happy wishes when it's our birthday — is just what most of us do when we're in a mood.

When it comes to attention-seeking, healthy narcissism allows room for taking selfies when you're feeling cute and confident, or telling others about an achievement you're proud of, according to Mindbodygreen. When that type of "look at me!" behavior is temporary and doesn't impair relationships, it's healthy. With NPD, striving to be in the spotlight is enduring and often involves dismissing others' accomplishments or feelings. For a person with NPD, friendship is really a fan club.

How someone deals with conflict can be a tell-tale sign of pathological narcissism. A person with a healthy level of narcissism will take ownership of a mistake made or harm caused, apologize, and work on healing the relationship because they're able to experience empathy for others (per Mindbodygreen). Someone with NPD, though, may become rageful, intensely defensive, or sulking. If they're at risk of losing the relationship, only then will they fake caring about the other. Their behaviors will be confusing and dramatic.

A person's self-awareness, patterns in relationship with others, level of empathy, and capacity for change are all things to consider when identifying healthy or unhealthy narcissism.