There is a kind of narcissistic pathology–yes, it is sick–that masquerades as “goodness” but, in fact, represents a most insidious kind of cruelty, even evil. It includes the “do-gooders” who make a pretense of helping in the service of their own ego aggrandizement. In effect, they are saying, “See what a good person I am?” so that others will affirm their self-image, NOT because they truly seek to help people in need. Genuine caring for others requires humility, but for narcissists, giving is selfish. Their love is self-centered, not for others. Doing good for others and in the world is indeed righteous if done with integrity, but wearing righteousness like a badge on one’s sleeve means nothing if one’s actions, including speech, do not demonstrate sincere intent and virtue. Talk is cheap. And pretense is only skin deep.
Lately, the words “narcissism” and “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” have appeared in a lot of news commentary, usually bandied about without much explanation.
In the words below–while I cannot speak for him–I think Sam Keen may be referring to the most extreme forms of narcissism when he says that people who commit evil acts are on a deep, unconscious level motivated by a need for ego-aggrandizement or self-importance. In effect to matter, for our existence to have meaning, some impact. How we experience “self”–thus our self-image and self-esteem–is vital to our sense of “being” in the world, particularly as individuals in relationship to others, including from infancy onward.
There is healthy narcissism, and there is pathological narcissism, on a continuum from very positive to very negative. While self-confidence and pride are good qualities, self-righteousness and a need to win or to dominate can lead to harming others and authoritarian superiority. When our earliest experiences are not adequately positive to build a strong, integrated sense of our body/mind/spirit personhood, self-esteem is poor and the ego is fragile. Tragically, trying to preserve that fragile “self”–especially if feeling threatened or seemingly pushed into a corner–can result in lashing out in pretty awful ways, including cruelty and abuse. Continue reading