Self-Love vs. Narcissism: 4 Steps to Mastering a Healthy Relationship With Yourself & Others

Self-Love vs. Narcissism: 4 Steps to Mastering a Healthy Relationship With Yourself & Others

Woman looking into her reflection

Self-love vs. narcissism: What’s the difference? Here’s your guide to healthy self-love without having to go to extremes.

Love is all we need, they say. But what if the world of today needs more self-love than anything else? 

Because the way you love others is the reflection of how much you love yourself. And when you have more self-love, you can give more love to the world. 

So, how do you love yourself without slipping into the extreme of being narcissistic? Here’s what you need to know about the two:

Self-love starts with finding your way back to your authenticity. And when you return to it, you will be at peace with the most important person in your life — yourself. 

Self-Love vs. Narcissism: How Are They Different?

Self-love or love of self is often seen as a moral flaw, synonymous with narcissism. But they are different.

Self-love is a healthy consideration of your own well-being and happiness. Most importantly, when you have self-love, it doesn’t exclude other people’s best interests. Simply put, loving yourself doesn’t mean you see yourself as more significant than others. 

Narcissism, on the other hand, as a personality trait, is excessive self-love and self-centeredness. Contrary to self-loving individuals, narcissists have an inflated sense of their own importance and often lack empathy. They may also exploit and manipulate others to achieve their own goals. 

While self-love is important for self-care and self-esteem, narcissism can be harmful to you and those around you.

In essence, according to Vishen, founder of Mindvalley, narcissism is self-love without love for others. And self-love is unapologetic gratitude for yourself as you are and forgiveness for all the things that need to be improved.

So focusing on compassion, gratitude, and forgiveness can help you avoid narcissism.

a woman holding red heart-shaped balloons

Types of Narcissism

It turns out that narcissism isn’t a black-and-white issue. Teal Swan, spiritual teacher who has written and spoken extensively about the topic of narcissism, developed a framework for understanding the different types of narcissism and how they manifest in individuals.

According to Teal, there are three main types of narcissism: 

  1. Covert narcissism: It’s characterized by feelings of inadequacy, a lack of self-esteem, and a need for validation from others.
  2. Overt narcissism: This type is distinguished by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.
  1. Malignant narcissism: It’s a combination of both covert and overt narcissism, and is characterized by a lack of empathy, a need for power and control, and a willingness to exploit and manipulate others for their own gain.

Swan stresses that everyone has some degree of narcissistic traits because narcissism is a spectrum. So it boils down to self-awareness and inner work. 

When you become aware of narcissistic tendencies and take responsibility for your actions, you can change them and heal. 

However, when narcissism is excessive and debilitating, it is seen as a personality disorder, known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Individuals with NPD have a grandiose sense of self-worth and a preoccupation with fantasies of power, success, and attractiveness. And treating this medical condition requires professional help.

What about egotism? 

Egotism is similar to narcissism, but it is not as extreme or pathological as the latter. It can refer to someone who is excessively self-absorbed, self-important, or boastful. But unlike narcissists, they may still have the capacity for empathy and may not take advantage of others for their own benefit. 

Both egotism and narcissism are considered personality traits or a way of thinking and can be detrimental to your relationships and interactions with others.

However, when narcissism is excessive and debilitating, it is seen as a personality disorder, known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Individuals with NPD have a grandiose sense of self-worth and a preoccupation with fantasies of power, success, and attractiveness. 

Egotism vs. narcissism vs. self-love can be viewed as a spectrum, with narcissism being an extreme form of self-love, egotism being somewhere in the middle, and self-love having a healthy relationship with oneself and others.

Beware Spiritual Bypassing

Spiritual bypassing is the use of spiritual practices, concepts, beliefs, or ideals to avoid dealing with difficult emotions, psychological issues, or past traumas. In other words, it’s a way of using spirituality as a coping mechanism instead of a tool for personal transformation and healing.

Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani, co-founder of Mindvalley and author of Becoming Flawesome: The Key to Living an Imperfectly Authentic Life, explains that the extra special problem with spiritual bypassing is not only the fact that the person is engaging in harmful maladaptive behavior. It is also extremely damaging to other people. “It may lead to judging other people and even spiritual narcissism“I am better than you because I practice spirituality, I meditate, I do yoga, I don’t drink alcohol” — you get the drift,” she adds.

So, narcissism can be used as a form of spiritual bypassing, which can prevent a person from truly evolving and growing spiritually. 

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4 Steps to a Healthy Self-Love, According to Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani

No matter how full your life looks from the outside, you can lose yourself in the busyness of your days. And it’s paramount to find a way back to yourself because it’s the only way to be truly happy. “You can’t be happy with yourself unless you learn how to love and accept yourself the way you are,” Kristina says.

So here are four steps to healthy self-love:

1. Practice moments of awareness 

Awareness is one of the most fundamental skills of personal growth as it stops the autopilot mode. One way to develop it is to set alarms on your phone and when it goes off, take a pause and remind yourself that you are practicing a moment of awareness. 

Kristina also suggests taking more time to close your eyes, notice your breath, and become aware of your body and surroundings. It may take just one minute, but it can help to develop the superpower of awareness.

Most importantly, don’t judge your experience but be curious about what’s happening within and around you.

— Kristina Mand-Lakhiani, trainer of Mindvalley’s 10 Questions for Self-Love Quest

2. Switch off perfectionism

Perfectionism is what prevents you from loving and accepting yourself as you are, and it can also mess up your relationships with others.

Kristina elaborates that we don’t allow ourselves to feel “wrong feelings” such as anger or overwhelm because they don’t fit into a perfect vision of ourselves. As a result, you get what psychologists call “emotional leakage.”

So, if you don’t want the feelings or thoughts you push down to explode when you least expect it, it’s important to switch perfectionism off.

3. Cultivate emotional awareness

We can’t avoid pain in life, and in many ways, it’s what makes our life meaningful. So you have to learn how to live with your painful emotions, instead of trying to eliminate them or cover them with toxic positivity.

The trick isn’t in not feeling pain. The trick is to learn how to feel it properly. 

— Kristina Mand-Lakhiani, trainer of Mindvalley’s 10 Questions for Self-Love Quest

On top of that, when you feel bad about yourself for not feeling good, you become a prisoner of the tyranny of positivity. 

According to Harvard psychologist Susan David, modern society promotes the wrong message that one should focus on happiness and positivity at all times but this attitude may inadvertently result in greater levels of unhappiness.

Cultivating emotional awareness is key to accepting all your emotions and accepting yourself in any emotional state. 

Ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?” during the day and try to spot it. Even if you don’t feel anything intense, there is always something in the background — subtle, hardly unnoticeable. 

The more you practice it, the more unapologetic self-love you will have, especially when you experience pain. 

4. Embrace your dragons

These are your weaknesses, living in the darkest corners of your psyche, also known as shadows, including emotions you shame yourself for.

You can’t shame yourself out of emotions. But you can turn your dragons into your friends and value things you used to be ashamed of.

It does require profound inner work. But the first step is to become honest with yourself and look at your dragons with compassion. When they surface, try not to shy away from them. Be patient and kind with these aspects of you — because they need your love the most.

Kristina Mand-Lakhiani, co-founder of Mindvalley and author of Becoming Flawsome: The Key to Living an Imperfectly Authentic Life

Taking Self-Love to Another Level

With all the great tips on self-love, it’s easier said than done. Why? We live in a society that permeates the idea of fixing ourselves. In other words, the more you strive to be perfect, the less self-love you will have. 

But what if your imperfections are the secret to becoming whole, happy, and free? According to Kristina, you can love yourself even more — when you embrace your imperfections and become flawesome.  

Self-love is a journey that only you can take. And if you’re ready to take it, check out a new book by Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani, Becoming Flawesome: The Key to Living an Imperfectly Authentic Life

In her book, you will learn how to take self-love and self-care to a whole new level. Most importantly, it’s written as a roadmap to radical self-acceptance and genuine self-love.

Enjoy your journey.

Written by
Irina Yugay