Watch out for narcissistic “do-gooders”!

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.

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Is narcissism the origin of evil?

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.

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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