Narcissism does not only exist on a spectrum but also in types. While there is mild to severe narcissism, there is also pathological and healthy narcissism. Before you know what makes some narcissists pathological and others healthy, let me first briefly define both of them.
Pathological narcissists are the mentally ill type of narcissists. Most of them are verbally, emotionally and sometimes physically abusive. They learn several manipulation tactics through their life that they use to control people around them to their own advantage. In other words, these narcissists get their narcissistic supply through socially unacceptable ways.
Healthy narcissists are the opposite of pathological ones. They are not abusive and they do not use covert manipulation tactics. They may be controlling as well but they usually control someone with intentions of directing him or her in the right direction not because they just want to feel superior and in control of them. Unlike the pathological ones, these narcissists try to get their narcissistic supply in a socially acceptable way. Remember that narcissistic supply is anything that boosts a narcissist’s self-esteem and makes him feel superior or important in one way or another.
How are pathological and healthy narcissists born
Before I proceed any further I would like to make it clear that narcissists are made and not born. I totally disagree with people who try to look at narcissism from a biological rather than a psychological point of view saying that narcissism is genetically passed down.
I’m a fan of the subfield of psychology that tries to understand how a person’s environment shapes their personality . It’s actually the environment that a person grows up in that shapes their personality rather than their genetics. Of course children with narcissistic parents have higher chances of becoming narcissistic but not because of genes but because they learnt those traits from their parents.
So why are some narcissists pathological and others healthy?
1. Healthy narcissists have courage while pathological ones lack it
Lack of courage plays a big role in many psychological disorders. Here I’m not talking about the courage to climb up a mountain or to do skydiving but the courage to face life problems.
Narcissists who have courage learn to solve life problems and what they want through the legit difficult way. Like other narcissists they also have a deep desire for achieving superiority but they seek superiority through healthy means like striving for financial success or being popular at something for example.
On the other hand, narcissists who lack courage are too afraid to face life difficulties to get what they want. Therefore, they prefer using short-cuts to get what they want. To satisfy their deep desire for superiority, they may try to dominate someone weaker or put someone else down to feel superior over him or her. For example, a narcissist who lacks courage may become a racist, by putting down a certain group of people of different colour, ethnicity or religion; he tries to convince himself and others that he is better, superior or more important than those people he puts down.
Those who have courage develop healthy means of coping while those who lack it develop maladaptive ones. Although this does not mean that courage or lack of it can make a person who was not a narcissist develop narcissism from scratch. See: why do narcissists gaslight.
2. Being in favourable conditions or not
A person who is living a satisfying life will behave very differently from a person who is going through hard times, even if they have the same personality. When a person is happy, he is likely to be more social, outgoing and positive. On the other hand when someone is facing difficulties, they are likely to deal with situations, especially social ones in a negative way.
Some narcissists display healthy narcissism as long as they are in favourable conditions but when life problems arise they become pathological.
Again, courage plays an important role here. Those who choose to fight back and seek real solutions remain healthy while those who run away because they perceive the problem as “too big” may find themselves using alternative short-cut solutions for getting what they want.
Although, the favourable or unfavourable condition must be long-term or severe for it to alter a narcissist’s personality. See: why are some narcissists so mean.