The Difference Between Narcissism and Self-Love

by | Apr 13, 2019 | Emotional Intelligence, Emotions, Self-respect, Shame, Validation

This is a point that I feel the need to clarify for people at length because I’m trying to resolve some of the resistance that I typically encounter when I encourage people to become more selfish. There are different types of selfishness, some of which are actually good and healthy and I am strongly in favor of healthy selfishness. When people become selfish in the right ways, they set positive boundaries, they empower themselves and empower others while filtering out the people in their lives that tend to be more toxic and parasitic.


One of the biggest points of resistance, when I urge people to become more selfish, is that they have somehow gotten it into their heads that being selfish, in all its forms, is narcissistic. For now, I’ll skip the part about how life, people, the world and human psychology is extremely complicated and nuanced. Pretty much everything has gray areas and human psychology is a profoundly complicated and layered mess. It’s important to see the differences even in the small nuances. In therapy and psychology there are a lot of misused and misunderstood terms and conditions. Narcissism is definitely one of them.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

In the world of psychology, therapy and mental health diagnosing there is an advanced diagnosis known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD. True clinical narcissism is a complex pattern of behavior and psychology that usually starts somewhere in the younger years and is strongly connected to having parents with similar tendencies. The individuals that have NPD usually have a troubled and complicated past. Narcissists tend to be manipulative and exploitative to the extreme and it’s just frankly not fair or accurate for all types of selfishness to be equated as the same thing as clinical narcissism when they are worlds apart. This is one of those limiting core beliefs that people incubate for much of their lives which ultimately leaves them feeling empty and full of regret. Not all selfishness is narcissistic and self-love isn’t either.

The biggest misnomer about NPD and those that have it are people that love themselves but here’s the truth. The act of superiority is a dog and pony show. It’s a facade and a false front. They work very hard to hide the fact that they really don’t like themselves and the reason why we know this is because people that exercise true self-love get no value out of treating other people poorly but I think that’s what really drives other people crazy about narcissists, the idea that they not only mistreat others but they also have a high opinion of themselves. That combination of traits is really infuriating but they actually don’t love themselves at all.

People with NPD do some really heinous things. They exploit and manipulate others at best and at worse they are abusive and sociopathic and this is going to be my central point. True self-love and positive selfishness does have negative effects on others.

Self-Love and Self-Respect

It’s quite difficult to get people to warm up to the idea of self-love. For some reason people are repelled by the idea. They just kind of get the willies from it, I’m not entirely sure why. I think they just have a lot of limiting beliefs about the journey and the practice so lately I’ve been getting people warmed up, first, to the idea of self-respect. I was once turned off by the idea of self-love for all the reasons that I have already stated but in retrospect, as I have worked to put it into practice, I realize that I was wrong about a lot of things and if I could go back in time and give myself a word of advice when it comes to self-love it would be to just keep an open mind. Don’t judge it till you try it and that’s what I would offer anybody out there that has some set notions about self-love. Keep an open mind. Don’t knock it till you try it.

If self-love is so repulsive to you then at least start thinking about self-respect and develop some personal honesty about what that looks like. How do you treat people that you respect and how can you start implementing that towards yourself? This is a great thing to put a pen to paper and write about. Write down how you treat people that you respect and then write down how you can take those some principles and apply it towards yourself.

Narcissism versus Self-love

So here’s where the rubber meets the road. Here’s precisely why true self-love and narcissism are worlds apart. In no particular order:

  • Narcissists make themselves look better by bringing other people down. The classic elusion of elevating oneself by knocking other people down. Narcissists don’t better themselves, they lower the bar. People who practice self-love don’t bring other people down, they bring other people up. Those who see good in themselves are much better at seeing good in others and are prone to pointing it out.
  • Narcissists see other people as competition and are threatened by others. Those who practice self-love aren’t threatened by what other people do well. They appreciate what other people do well and don’t see those efforts as a threat. You can spot a narcissist by observing when they are quick to criticize positive efforts in other people and they do this because they feel threatened by it; they have something to prove. Self-loving types don’t have anything to prove to anybody except themselves.
  • Narcissists get wrapped up in comparisons. Self-loving types compare themselves only to themselves. Comparing yourself to others is being disrespectful to yourself. There’s never a fair way for two people to really compare themselves to someone because each person is so uniquely different. Narcissists can seem overly obessesed by the actions of others and self-loving types don’t generally care what other people do.
  • Narcissists think in scarcity. The mentality of narcissism is such there just isn’t enough to go around so when it comes to money, status and love and so they have a ‘smash and grab’ mentality. Take what you can get when you can get while the getting is good. Self-loving types have an abundance mentality. They understand that caring, kindness and love can come in an unlimited supply if you choose it to be that way.
  • Narcissists keep score. In the spirit of having to outcompete everyone else, narcissists keep tally scores as part of the game of comparisons. Self-loving types find no purpose or value in doing this. It’s trivial and childish but practice self-love by simply disengaging.

I know that so many that read this will have their hesitations but I just want people to realize that they only have one life and it’s so important to make it count on your own terms. You can be selfish without harming others and self-love isn’t narcissistic. Be courageous and take a chance and when you do it may be the greatest day of your life.

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