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S2 EP116 – Vast Difference Between Self-Love and Narcissism

Episode Summary

Self-love and narcissism are actually opposites! But the ego wounded self in all of us exhibits some degree of narcissism, and discovering where you fall on this continuum can lead to deeper learning and healing. Also, discover how you can likely know a narcissist in advance of getting involved.


Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding podcast, and today I want to talk about narcissism, and the very big difference between narcissism and self-love.

The ego wounded self in all of us is narcissistic in that the wounded self is all about having control over getting what you want – it’s all about you. Narcissism is on a continuum, from mild and covert ways we try to get what we want, to malignant or violent ways. Since we all operate in our wounded self at times, I call the more mild ways of trying to control, garden variety narcissism, and this is very different from the other end of the continuum, which is narcissistic personality disorder – NPD.

People with NPD think they are better than others. They have an inflated sense of their own importance, along with a pervasive need for attention, approval, and admiration. The hallmark of the narcissistic personal disorder is a complete lack of empathy for others. These people, who operate from a young ego wounded self, have no capacity for empathy. As a result, they have relationship problems because they constantly blame others when they are upset. While they seem confident, they actually have very low self-worth and are very reactive to the slightest criticism.

With garden variety narcissism, we have the capacity to operate from our loving adult, but with NPD, there is often no capacity to be a loving adult. While they may at times be able to act loving and say loving things, this isn’t coming from their heart. Instead, it’s coming from what their wounded self has learned to do to get what they want, and when you become sensitive to energy, you can tell the difference between this act and genuine loving energy.

People with NPD have no capacity to love themselves, so there is a huge difference between self-love and narcissism

Dr. Erika Chopich, the co-creator of Inner Bonding, and I, were talking about this big difference, and here is what Erika said about this:  

“Self-love leads to service. It leads to giving to others and being of service, while narcissism sucks all the air in. It sucks the life out around you. Sometimes people are afraid that self-love leads to conceit, but it doesn’t at all. Self-love leads to the fruit we bear for us to share with others. It’s loving, giving, kind, and empathic. Conceit is an aspect of narcissism. The conceit in the narcissist is all-consuming. Narcissists are like a black hole in space, sucking up all the life and energy around them.

“So how do you tell if you’re loving yourself or you’re narcissistic? it’s simple. It’s about how you treat the people around you. Are you a breath out with them or a breath in with them? A breath out means that I notice your needs. I noticed your struggles. I am right there at your side. I notice how to cherish you, how to adore you, how to appreciate everything you do. That’s a breath out. A breath in and says, ‘Well I did this for you so why aren’t you doing something for me?’ The narcissist has a checklist running in their head all the time, a scorecard that says, ‘Well I gave to you twice today, so where’s mine?’ They’re consumed with what they’re getting rather than what they’re giving. When I’m a breath out I don’t have a scorecard, I don’t keep score. I don’t even think about it. It would never occur to me because I want to be at that person side and bring out their best and support them in their journey and their highest good, and with whatever they’re struggling with, or share their joy and my joy for them, even when their joy has nothing to do with me. I just want to celebrate their joy with them.  And I can’t do that unless I’m loving myself and connected with my source of love.

“Self-love is God connected because you’re constantly filling your tank from God, loving your inner child, and then giving to others. That’s self-love. It runs right through you with no obstacles and no agendas, no scorecards. Narcissists have no spiritual connection, so they’re trying to fill with love from other people. That’s why narcissists are completely consuming. They have no empathy and don’t see the people around them at all. They just see only what they can get.

“The difference between narcissism and self-love is the difference between putting a wild bird in a cage or setting it free. The narcissist will cage anyone around them to control them because they think they have a limited source of love, but the person loving themselves wants to see that bird soar and be all it can be and fulfill itself.

“When you’re raising entitled kids or an entitled generation, you are in fact raising narcissists. They think that everything should be done for them. They wait for it to be done for them. They don’t pursue their own highest good because they think they’re entitled to have it given to them.

“Parents who help their children recognize the deep joy and satisfaction in giving to others are raising a child to love themselves and others.

“The effect of raising children with entitlement has long reaching fingers into our society. For example, I just read where Tennessee’s answer to homelessness was to pass bills creating any encampments or camping in public areas or parks to the level of a felony. That tells me the lawmakers who pass those laws and signed them into laws lack empathy, understanding, and compassion. They are not willing to lift others up. They treat them as discardable human beings that should be hidden. That is the height of narcissism. On the other hand, Colorado, where we live, just signed into new law, two new laws regarding homelessness, where the encampments they have built for them using tiny homes, make available to them healthcare and mental health care. They get showers and laundries. They get job training to help them transition back into the workforce and back into a living arrangement that is lifting them out of the darkness. That is an example of the giving to others that can result from self-love.”

This brought to my mind the difference between oneness and separateness. What Colorado is doing is seeing all of us as one, and that we have to care for each person. Each person counts, each person matters. Whereas in Tennessee. its separateness. It’s all for me and I don’t care about you and you’re not important. It’s just about what’s important is me. And of course, this goes into sexism and racism.

Erika went on to say that “Narcissists will always see themselves as separate, and one up. A person loving themselves will see all beings, including our planet, equal in the eyes of God. All the great spiritual leaders that the planet has ever seen talk about oneness, and a person loving themselves experiences the oneness with all that is. A narcissistic person sees only for themselves. They don’t experience oneness. They see themselves as better than others and everyone else is there to serve their needs one way or another.

“Narcissism is exclusive, while self-love is inclusive, and this is the difference between Tennessee and Colorado. So Tennessee seems narcissistic while Colorado is coming from caring.”

It’s interesting to me how often people confuse self-love with narcissism.

Ramona asked a question about this issue:

“How do I know if I’m narcissistic? How do I differentiate between self-care and narcissism? For so long I’ve denied myself love and care and now that I am working on loving myself – hearing my inner child and taking care of myself – I sometimes feel narcissistic for focusing on me. I can’t tell if I am being narcissistic or if I am focusing on my self-love and self-care in a healthy way. Thank you for clarifying.”

Self-love and self-care are about taking responsibility for your own feelings and many of your own needs. It’s about learning to see and deeply value your essence – your inner child – and to be at least as loving to your inner child as you would be to an actual child whom you adore.

While you might have learned to believe that narcissism relates to loving yourself, it’s the opposite: i.e. narcissistic people do all they can to get others to love them. Instead of validating themselves, they manipulate in many ways to get others to validate them. Because they feel very empty and insecure inside, they are constantly trying to have control over getting others’ attention and approval – by talking on and on about themselves, by pulling for attention in many different ways, by getting angry and punishing when they don’t get what they want, and by being critical and blaming of others. They take no responsibility for their own feelings and needs, instead pulling on others to give them what they are not giving to themselves.

People who are on the path of learning to love themselves are generally open to learning with others. They want to learn and grow, so instead of getting angry when someone points out something about themselves, they get curious. The opposite is true of narcissists. They feel attacked and generally attack back when confronted with their self-centered and manipulative behavior.

Being self-centered and selfish and being self-responsible and self-loving are also opposites. We are being self-centered and selfish when we expect others to give themselves up for us, and we are being self-caring when we love ourselves enough to be able to share our love with others. Self-responsible people who are learning to love themselves and take responsibility for their own feelings enjoy sharing their love with others, while narcissistic, self-centered people are just focused on getting love, attention, and approval from others, and of having power and control over others.

Your intent determines whether you are loving yourself or being in your narcissistic wounded self. When your intent is to love yourself and share your love, you are operating from your loving adult, and you are connected with your spiritual source of love and truth. When your intent is to get love from others, you are operating from your wounded self, completely disconnected from a spiritual source of love and truth. Like I’ve said, the garden variety of narcissism is when you do this sometimes – when you are triggered into your wounded self, but NPD is when you operate like this all the time.

I would say this to Ramona: “Even the fact that you are questioning whether you are coming from self-love or narcissism indicates that you are open to learning and that your intent is to learn to love yourself. Narcissists rarely question their own behavior. You need to let go of worrying that focusing on yourself is narcissistic. You need to focus on yourself to learn to love yourself and focusing on yourself is very different than trying to get others to focus on you – which is what narcissists do.”

The more you learn to give yourself the love, attention, and approval you have been trying to get from others, the more the garden variety of narcissism of your wounded self gets healed. Learning to love yourself is what eventually heals this narcissism of the wounded self.

Are you aware of your level of narcissism?

Try to be honest with yourself – but not judgmental – regarding the presence and intensity of your narcissism as I go through this list of narcissistic characteristics. While someone suffering from NPD likely exhibits all of these characteristics, the first seven are also the garden variety characteristics we exhibit when we are triggered into our wounded self, while the last six are generally ongoing characteristics of NPD.

  • I generally take others’ rejecting, critical, harsh, shutdown, or diminishing behavior personally. I tell myself that when others choose to behave in uncaring ways toward me, it is my fault – it is about me not being good enough or me doing something wrong. I make others’ choices – to be open or closed, loving or unloving – about me.
  • I frequently judge and shame myself, trying to get myself to do things “right” so that I can have control over getting others’ love, attention, or approval. Getting others’ love, attention and approval is vital to me.
  • I make others responsible for my worth, value, sense of aliveness and fullness. Others have to be kind, loving, approving of me, or sexually attracted to me, for me to feel that I’m okay. When others ignore me or are not attracted to me, I feel unworthy, depressed, or empty inside.
  • I have a hard time having compassion for myself, so I expect others to have compassion for me when I feel anxious, depressed, angry, shamed, or guilty, rather than taking responsibility for my own feelings. If others lack compassion for me or criticize me, I turn things around onto them, and blame them.
  • When someone offers me valuable information about myself, or ‘tough love’, I see it as an attack, rather than as a gift, and I generally attack back.
  • When in conflict with someone, or when someone behaves in a way I don’t like, I often focus on getting them to deal with what they are doing, rather than focus on what I’m doing. I make them responsible for my choices and feelings, and I believe things will get better if I can get them to change.
  • I often try to get away with things, such as not having to follow the rules or the law, and I’m indignant when I’m called to the carpet.
  • I lack empathy and compassion for the feelings of others, especially when I’ve behaved in ways that may be hurtful to others. I have a hard time recognizing or identifying with the feelings and needs of others.
  • I feel entitled to get what I want from others – whether it’s money, sex, attention, or approval. Others ‘owe’ me.
  • I see myself as special and entitled to do what I want, even if it’s harmful to others.
  • I believe I should get credit for what I do and I should be recognized as superior, even if I do a mediocre job.
  • I am so unique and special that only other unique and special people can understand me. It is beneath me to associate with people who are not as special as I am. While some think I am arrogant, it is only because I’m truly so unique and special.
  • Because I’m so special, I have the right to demand what I want from others, and to manipulate others – with my charm, brilliance, anger, or blame – into giving me what I want.

Again, all of us have some of these characteristics and it is important to learn about them, rather than judge ourselves for them.

Narcissism can be healed. You will heal when you learn and consistently practice the Six Steps of Inner Bonding and are devoted to learning to love yourself and learn to define your own worth, and to give yourself the love and compassion you need to feel full inside, and to share your love with others. Many people with garden variety narcissism heal, but most people with NPD don’t, not because they can’t but because they don’t think there is anything for them to heal so they are not open to learning to love themselves. They believe that all their problems are someone else’s fault.

Often my clients ask me how they can tell the difference between someone who is narcissistic vs. someone who is loving themselves. They want to know if there is a way to tell early in a relationship if someone is suffering from a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

If you are a caring, empathic person, you might be vulnerable to a narcissist. And generally, people with NPD are smart and charismatic, which makes it hard to know what you are really dealing with.

But there are often some early signs that may point to NPD.

  1. If someone tells you early in the relationship how special you are, be cautious. People with NPD seem to have a 6th sense regarding what you want to hear. If you are not taking responsibility for loving and validating yourself, you might be very vulnerable to someone who tells you how incredible you are, how special and unique you are, how he or she has never met someone like you. In addition, the NPD person might, at first, be an excellent listener, making you feel even more cherished and special.
  2. The NPD person often comes on very strong very early in the relationship, professing undying love for you. You are the love of his life. You are the person she has been looking for all her life. He wants to meet your parents, your siblings. She might even become fast friends with your parents. He wants to move in together very quickly, as there is no reason to wait. She makes it clear that she knows what she wants – you.
  3. BUT he might say he will call and doesn’t. She might consistently be late and have every excuse for it. If you get upset about it, he gets angry, having no empathy for having kept you waiting. In fact, you notice that there are numerous situations where this person lacks empathy – like toward a waitress or other service people. As I said, this lack of empathy is one of the hallmarks of NPD. NPDs often choose people who are very empathic, hoping to get their narcissistic supply met from the other’s caring. If you are an empathic person, you can feel the small, abandoned child within the NPD, and if you are a caretaker, your heart-strings will be pulled by this abandoned child. So, if you find yourself feeling badly for the person when you are actually the “injured party” in the situation – like if he or she is late or doesn’t call when they say they will, and is defensive about it with many excuses – be cautious!
  4. Small things may trigger unreasonable rage, leaving you completely confused. The NPD has a strange kind of logic when having become rageful – a way of blaming you that makes you scratch your head and wonder about yourself. It is a crazy making kind of logic. If you often find yourself very confused about an interaction, be cautious!
  5. If the person is married and tells you how disconnected he is from his partner, how much she wants out of the marriage but can’t do this to their partner or children, beware. This lack of integrity of pursuing another relationship while married is common with NPDs. The person generally has no intention of leaving the marriage. He just wants more attention, admiration, or sex than he is getting in his or her marriage. While not all of these situations may occur, even if one of them does, be cautious. Even one of these can indicate that the person is suffering from NPD, and you will likely end up hurt and bewildered.

The more you learn to love yourself and define your own self-worth, the less vulnerable you will be to the charms of the narcissist. You will become sensitive enough to discern the vast difference between someone who is loving themselves and sharing their love, and someone who is narcissistic and acting loving as a manipulation.

Learning and practicing Inner Bonding will go a very long way in not only learning how to love yourself, but it will protect you from the pain of falling in love with a narcissist and suffering from the deep hurt that generally comes when that relationship ends.

Please be assured that loving yourself has nothing to do with narcissism!

I hope you join me for my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”

And you can heal your relationships with my 30-Day online video relationship course: Wildly, Deeply, Joyously in Love.

You can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:

And we have much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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