In Sigmund Freud’s original writings, he viewed Narcissism as a positive personality trait. Narcissism was seen as a person’s personal investment in their endeavors and those things they produced. A narcissistic investment was the pride we take in our work accomplishments, the competency we brought to relationships, the joy we carried when our feats were recognized.
Freud saw narcissism as a motivator to do our best in our daily endeavors. Conversely putting forth a sub-par effort was a sign of low self-esteem, a deficient narcissistic investment in our deeds.
It was in more modern times that narcissism became a “personality disorder”. Two trends brought this reversal. In 1991, Christopher Lash wrote, “The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations”. In his book, Lash focused on the pathological forms of societal narcissism: inflated expectations of individuals without merit; Dr. Spock babies raised to think they were the center of the world; people like the Kardashians who were famous for being famous, without any valued accomplishments.
It was also the case that the American Psychiatric Association began publishing the DSM Psychiatric Manuals. In these volumes, they described “personality disorders” or broad based dysfunctional patterns of behavior that interfered with a person’s societal adaptation and interpersonal relations. A Narcissistic Personality Disorder was characterized by inflated self-esteem, exploitive interpersonal relationships, and inability or over- sensitivity to any criticism, and a lack of both empathy and conscience.
Functioning within society, narcissists were the con men, the self-centered politician, the bragging TV money-grubbing attorney, the lothario, seducer of women, and criminals of all types, and even presidential candidates.
In spiritual psychology, narcissism is seen as the enemy which draws one away from their spiritual purpose. In day-to-day life we make decisions and may choose the path that is in our self-interest, the narcissistic choice, or the path which represents spiritual values of caring for humanity, or sacrificing personal needs for the sake of history, values or tradition, and a transcendent force.
In a spiritual psychology, a person accesses and is governed by a higher purpose. Self-interest often conflicts with that higher purpose, and faced with a choice, we choose self-sacrifice. In fact, the goal of a spiritual psychology is to imbue our day-to-day actions with godly intent, even the most mundane actions. To do so we must often forgo our ego needs, our narcissistic sense of satisfaction.
The spiritual person is selfless, imbued with humility, and focused on values–fairness, integrity, gratitude, love, compassion, kindness–which bring joy to self sacrifice.
Michael Abramsky PHD,ABPP