Self-Development Without Narcissism

by Evan on 2014/11/14



One of the sins that self-development is accused of is narcissism. I don’t go along with this entirely, I do go along with it partly.  In this post I want to explain my approach to narcissism and our thriving.


Narcissism and How it Comes About
When a need of yours is not met it doesn’t go away. The need will structure your experience – perhaps including developing insensitivity to longing.

Children need attention (so do adults). When it isn’t provided the longing for it structures their experience. I’m saying that the origin of narcissism is not too much attention but not enough.

[Students who are only praised and not given intelligent and supportive guidance on how to succeed may end up producing bad results, and not be able to tell the good from the bad; but this is not narcissism.]


Health is a Kind of Self-Forgetfulness
Health is being engaged with something – we are healthy when we are relating (to someone or something) well.

  • This medium when making art.
  • This person I am present with
  • This topic I am investigating

and so on.

To be constantly monitoring yourself would interfere with this process. There is a rhythm between engaging with the matter at hand and then reflecting; working and resting. There is a flow between paying attention to the matter at hand and yourself. Paying attention to only one part of this process leads to problems. Paying attention to yourself and not the matter (narcissism) leads to problems.
Narcissists usually aren’t terribly good at things.
And those who are good at things have a self-forgetfulness in what they are doing (in that particular thing).

I have had the privilege of knowing quite a few people who perform at a high level in different areas of endeavour. They are all quite free of ego when engaged in that activity (away from the activity, in other areas of their life, can be a quite different story); in doing what they do well they are not narcissists and are quite grounded and matter of fact.

And I have found that those who perform at the really high levels to be quite generous with advice and support. If they don’t know they say they don’t know, if they have advice it is quite specific (e.g. “At the moment you need to work on this” or “OK, the next step for you is . . .”).

There is unhealthy self-forgetfulness too. One type is narcissism – caring only about yourself; the other being only caring about the subject of interest e.g. Artists with disastrous personal lives or relationships; business people with no life outside their work.



Self-Development is healthy when it is about engaging well with a medium or situation based on your interest or desire.

It is unhealthy when concerned only with the external (success as the measure of a person) or the internal (happiness or equanimity or joy or whatever).

Healthy self-development means a grounded flexibility, adapting and innovating, flowing from your inner to outer world and back again.


What Could This Mean For You Now?

1. If you have spent time majoring on one of your worlds and you still feel stuck it may be time to look at your other world.
If you can’t find contentment perhaps your environment doesn’t suit you. You may want others to treat you differently, have a different timetable, change employment if possible.

If you are still frustrated and all the changes you have made haven’t helped it may be time to examine your thoughts and beliefs about your situation, or your criterion of judgement. If it is something that you feel has always been part of you it is likely that you are running off childhood programming that needs to be updated.

2. If you crave attention, consider if you give yourself attention.
If you were judged as a child for wanting attention it may be that you don’t pay attention to yourself. And you will perhaps not take in compliments from others either. Which keeps you craving attention.

3. Thank others and give credit to yourself.
Think of those who you have learned from in the past. Imagine or feel them with you and thank them for the value they have added to your life.

Think of the challenges you have overcome and the difficulties you have dealt with. Acknowledge you intelligence, persistence and courage for dealing with these things. Feel free to give yourself as much credit as you would give to others for having dealt with similar situations.

4. Take note of the times when you are self-forgetful, when you are just absorbed by what you are doing.
These times give you information about what is healthy for you.

Gradually, with a healthy approach to self-development, we develop our own particular way of thriving.

Any and all responses most welcome in the comments.




Coming Up
In February next year I will be starting a major course about how you can thrive. You can find details here. Get in touch if you are interested.


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