Elizabeth Lunbeck’s new book The Americanization of Narcissism, explores the fault line between healthy and unhealthy narcissism. (Me, Myself, and ID,” by Laura Kipnis, Harper’s Magazine, pgs. 80) In it she explores the question of narcissism’s origin. Is it nurtured by indulgent parents who insist their children are special or is it a defensive response to a “thin sense of self”? (Ibid pg. 77.) Either way, Lunbeck senses so much self-love abounds in the United States, it might be considered part of modern selfhood.
For my part, I cast a soft eye on narcissism. After all, the ego gives us our survival instinct and is the reason we strive to perfect ourselves and seek approval from others. True, some of us may be a little too absorbed in our mirrors. I know a man whose quest for a companion repeatedly fails because his virtues shine so brightly in his eyes that he’s blind to the virtues in others.
But isn’t art a form of self-love? I confess, I love to be in my head, to think my thoughts, make my observations and see how others react. When I’m rejected, like Shylock, do I not bleed? I do. Then vanity makes me work harder. I am a woman who has struggled 30 years on a single play, for example.
Simply put, self-love gives me confidence. It allows me to forgive myself and when I can do that, I can forgive others. “Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so,” Hamlet tells his friends Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. (Hamlet II, ii.) In the case of self-love, I think it is a good trait, in the main. If I’m in error and someone proves me wrong, then I’ll forgive them and myself, as well.