Is Narcissism a Bad Thing? A Different Take on the Myth of Narcissus
“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” ― C.G. Jung
By: 2SC Staff
Most people consider Narcissism a bad thing. Ask anyone on the street and they will say that Narcissists are egocentric, grandiose,
un-compassionate and vain. These certainly can be true. But only with respect to a certain kind of narcissism. What I call “narcissism gone wild.” But narcissism can also be healthy.
The term “Narcissism” comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus. Many are familiar with the myth, but to summarize in contemporary terms:
Narcissus is the hottest guy anyone has ever seen. However, he knows this, and doesn’t return anyone else’s affection. He falls in love with an image he sees in the water, unaware that it’s him. He tries to kiss the beautiful face, but the image disappears, and he becomes heartbroken. Out of fear of rejection or abandonment, he doesn’t attempt to kiss the image again. Therefore, he just stares at his image, ultimately dying of thirst.
The traditional interpretation is about the dangers of self-love. Falling in love with one’s own image leads to self-absorption, alienation from others, and ultimately, death. In a word, self-love is a dangerous thing.
However, there’s another way of looking at this. The story isn’t so much about the dangers of self-love, but rather the dilemma of how to love one’s self in a healthy way.
The key part of the story is that Narcissus falls in love with an image that he sees. As the image is partial and superficial, he only falls in love with his good qualities. It’s a very limited kind of self love.
Self-love, as Jung states, is about accepting all of ourselves, good, bad and the ugly.
Further, it’s significant that he’s not aware that it’s actually himself. In a way, then, the story is about Narcissus falling in love with himself, but completely unaware that this is the case.
With either point, Narcissus actually doesn’t love himself enough! He loves himself partially and only through his own eyes. No one can do this in a vacuum because none of us can truly see ourselves accurately – we need more than a mirror. We need to have other people who can reflect back with accuracy the truth of who we are.
It’s only with objectivity – standing outside ourselves and looking in – that it’s possible to take stock of who we are as a person. Pluses and minuses. Gifts and flaws. Recognizing that you’re neither all good – nor all bad. But you are essentially good. And human.