By Joanna Kleovoulou, clinical psychologist and founder

So many of my adult patients loosely refer to their ex-partner, boss or family member as being “a real narcissist!… It makes me so angry when he is patronising!” we all know of someone that winds us up the wrong way, gets under our skin because they believe they are just fabulous and they make sure the world know about it.

Part of my loving service to my patients is to facilitate personal growth, with a deep sense that they are worthy and that they work on self-love. Two essential ingredients to a healthy self-esteem – that you are loved and that you are capable with your imperfections – not to provide a false platform to appease you or give you an inauthentic sense of greatness as this will not serve you. There is a fine line between feeling good about yourself and constantly thinking you are “the best” and “Ain’t I just awesome!”

So why is it important to recognise whether you have a good self-esteem or whether you are bordering on a personality disorder? Basically, both low esteem and a highly inflated sense of your self can cause major distress in all areas of your life. Poor or failed relationships in the work-place and in your personal life, depression, anxiety and substance or drug abuse is rife as these are compensatory ways to buffer the underlying negative feelings of yourself.

A professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, Prof. Jessica Tracy, has spent much of her career researching pride, found this association through many studies. “Feelings of authentic pride are related to having high self-esteem, while hubristic pride is related to narcissistic traits like entitlement, arrogance and egotism,” says the professor. “Think of authentic pride as the way you feel when you’ve poured hours into a work presentation that goes really well, and hubristic pride as the bragging by the colleague who barely helped but got equal credit.”

An authentic sense of self-pride can be very motivating, as these types of people recognise their efforts to reach their goals, recognise their mistakes, and work towards improvement and growth. They are creative, inspiring and successful and others genuinely admire them for their efforts and determination.  To stay in the realms of a healthy sense of pride focus on your efforts to have earned the sense of pride and not just getting preoccupied with feeling pride in and of itself. Inauthentic self-pride people do not have healthy relationships, are generally not admired nor respected, and come across as arrogant, egotistical and smug.

So, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as a personality disorder in which there is a long-term pattern of abnormal behaviour, often transpiring from adolescence, characterised by an excessive need for admiration with no evidence of earned efforts, exaggerated feelings of self-importance and a lack of empathy or understanding of others’ feelings. Other cluster of symptoms includes a preoccupation with unlimited success, exploitative of others, is arrogant, and is jealous of others and these can cause significant distress in a person’s life. Narcissistic personality disorder affects more males than females.

Some researchers believe that the cause of NPD can be biologically vulnerable children, parenting styles that overemphasise the child’s specialness and criticise their fears. This then unconsciously prompts the child to disguise underlying feelings of low self-esteem by developing a surface level illusion of grandiosity, a sense of perfection and behaviour that shows a need for constant admiration.

What is self-esteem?  I tell my parents and patients who come to me for guidance that self-esteem has basically two elements – your perception of your level of capability in what you do, and how much you feel you are loved. These two ingredients measure how you value yourself and your worthiness. Your thoughts and feelings and underlying beliefs about yourself and your place in the world. A balance of these two components is needed for healthy self-esteem. Why is healthy selfesteem important? Your level of self-esteem influences all aspects of your life: your health, the decisions you make, your happiness, your relationships, your motivation and your success. Healthy self-esteem allows you to feel relaxed, capable, lovable and loving. Low self-esteem can make you feel worthless, demotivated, dissatisfied, anxious, depressed, incompetent and unlovable. Even striving for constant perfection can be a sign of low self-esteem.

We all have something we would like to improve about ourselves (unless you are a narcissist!) There is a big difference in saying that it would be a nice to have rather than there is something fundamentally flawed about me where we miss the mark about ourselves.

Whether or not low self-esteem warrants consulting a psychologist depends how distressed you feel and how your insecurity affects your everyday life – from the decisions you need to make, to taking care of yourself and your loved ones, self-acceptance, mental stillness, to fulfilling your dreams.

If you are displaying symptoms of narcissism, (although asking for help may be a big pill of pride to swallow), it may help to:

  • Get treatment as soon as possible for childhood wounds
  • Participate in family therapy to learn healthy ways to communicate or to cope with conflicts or emotional distress
  • Attend parenting classes and seek guidance on how to be a more understanding parent
  • Get assistance from your HR department if you find that your colleagues are distancing themselves and finding you difficult to work with.

You can contact us at PsychMatters Centre on 0114503576 or pop us an email to book for a consult with one of our psychologists on info@psychmatters.co.za.

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