Narcissistic Thinking Isn’t Narcissism
Narcissism is a pattern of behavior that involves egotistic obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of others; narcissistic thinking is a different animal. To be narcissistic generally refers to having Narcissistic Personality Disorder, an emotional condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a complete lack of empathy for others. Then there are those who exhibit narcissistic behaviors but are not narcissists.
Narcissistic thinking is the normal stage of cognitive development whereby the child is unable to see things from any point of view other than their own. It is not the same as and does not cause a narcissistic personality. Everyone thinks narcissistic, but only a few are abnormally narcissistic in their personality.
People with narcissistic-like behaviors often are using them to mask a low self-esteem, or are trying to cover up an extreme sense of vulnerability or feelings of personal inadequacy. In fact, they may be very needy and insecure. They may exhibit narcissistic behaviors, such as compelling others to notice and value them, because they feel threatened, and are afraid that their flaws might be exposed.
As a child grows and becomes more able to care for himself, his parents begin to turn their attentions towards other things. This may make a child feel he is being abandoned, or that he has done something wrong to warrant his parents’ distancing of themselves. The child soon learns that when he does something that pleases his parents or others, the attention and care returns, so he becomes conditioned to associate pleasing someone with being a worthwhile person.
Is It Narcissism?
As the child grows, and does not get the reinforcement from others that he desperately needs, he may develop great feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, resulting in low self-esteem. He may then begin to develop his own coping mechanisms that mimic narcissism, such as adopting a “Me! Me! Me!” attitude, turning every situation into a topic that centers on him. He may constantly point out the faults of others and even manage to blame his own faults on others.
This is narcissistic thinking, but it does not necessarily make a person narcissistic. These behaviors are the ones certain individuals choose to defend their inner selves from being hurt. As they continue to defend themselves using this type of thinking, the tendencies towards narcissistic behavior strengthens, but it does not necessarily develop into narcissism. The behavior is really just a mask, thrown up to prevent people from seeing the hurt child inside.
This is normal, and every person thinks this way. This kind of thinking is natural and healthy. Narcissistic thinking is healthy when it inspires people to earn the approval of others by learning socially acceptable and productive behaviors.
Using narcissistic thinking isn’t always a path to certain narcissism, or to developing Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Sometimes it is behavior used to protect one’s self esteem, or to help prevent absorbing negative feelings that can damage one’s self-esteem and self-worth.