What is the difference between self-love and Narcissism and how does it affect the capacity to love others?
There are two differences: (a) in the ability to tell reality from fantasy, and (b) in the ability to empathise and, indeed, to fully and maturely love others. As we said, the narcissist possesses no self-love. It is because he has very little True Self to love. Instead, a monstrous, malignant construct – the False Self – encroaches upon his True Self and devours it.
The narcissist loves an image which he projects unto others and which is affirmed by them. The projected image is reflected back at the narcissist and, thus, he comes to be reassured both of its existence and of the boundaries of his Ego. This continuous process blurs all distinctions between reality and fantasy.
A False Self leads to false assumptions and to a contorted personal narrative, a false worldview, and to a grandiose, inflated sense of being. The latter is rarely grounded in real achievements or merit. The narcissist’s feeling of entitlement is all-pervasive, demanding and aggressive. It easily deteriorates into open verbal, psychological and physical abuse of others. Maintaining distinction between what we really are and what we dream of becoming, knowing our limits, our advantages and faults and having a sense of true, realistic achievements in our life are of paramount importance in the establishment and maintenance of our self-esteem, sense of self-worth and self-confidence. Reliant as he is on outside judgement – the narcissist feels miserably inferior and dependent. He rebels against this degrading state of things by partly escaping into a world of make-belief, daydreaming, pretensions and delusions of grandeur. The narcissist knows little about himself – and finds what he knows to be unacceptable.
The second difference is even more important. Our experience of what it is like to be human – our very humanness – depends largely on our self-knowledge and on our experience of our selves. In other words: only through being himself and through experiencing his self – can a human being fully appreciate the humanness of others. The narcissist has precious little experience of his self. Instead, he lives in an invented world, of his own design, where he is a fictitious figure in a grandiose script. He, therefore, possesses no tools which enable him to cope with other human beings, share their emotions, put himself in their place (=empathise) and, of course, engage in the most demanding task of inter-relating, love them. He just does not know what it means to be human. He is a predator, rapaciously preying on others for the satisfaction of his narcissistic cravings and appetites for admiration, adoration, applause, affirmation and attention. Humans are Narcissistic Supply Sources and are (over- or de-) valued according to their evaluated contribution to this end.
Self-love is a precondition for the experience and expression of mature love. One cannot truly love someone else if one does not first love one’s True Self. If we never loved ourselves – we never experienced unconditional love and, therefore, do not know how to love. If we keep living in a world of fantasy – how will we notice the very real people around us who ask for our love and who deserve it? The narcissist wants to love. In the rare moments of self-awareness that he has he feels ego-dystonic (unhappy with his situation and with his relationships with others). This is his predicament: he is sentenced to eternal isolation precisely because he needs people too much.