I've always had a semi-fascination with words since I was four years old. One of my earliest and most-vivid memories is being slightly less than five years old (I do know I was not in kindergarten) and writing in a little notebook with a pencil my parents had given me.
The problem is that I did not know how to write, so I just scribbled. Later, I asked my father if any of those scribbles looked like words. He said one looked like "deer," or perhaps "dear." Either way, I was in awe. I had made a word!
Later, I became interested in the roots of words, and how one word was related to another.
So imagine how impressed I was when I found that the words "holy," "whole," "healthy," and "hale" all came from the same root word.
It means that when you are healthy, you are whole and happy.
At the opposite end you have words made from the root "di," such as "divide," "disease" (dis-ease), "diabolical," and "devil."
When you're healthy you're happy and whole, and when you are not you are diseased (lack of ease), and divided within yourself. If this lack of wholeness becomes profound, then you can become diabolical...devilish.
This dis-ease that can become diabolical has been noticed for a long time. I like to use this: "Then Jesus asked him, 'What is your name?' 'My name is Legion,' he replied, 'for we are many.'"
A Roman legion at that time was 6000 men (sometimes "Mob" is used instead of "Legion." I prefer "Mob" myself).
Either way, it points out that when you have splits within your personality, then you have problems. The more split you are inside, the worse the problems.
And that brings me, at long last, to the concept of narcissism.
A narcissist is someone who is split inside. The best researchers can describe it is that the self of a narcissist is like a bunch of islands in a sea: none are connected, and each self does not know about the other.
This is why someone at the outer limits of splitting, say a psychopath, can murder someone, mutilate them, have sex with the corpse (which is what many serial killers do), then sit down to eat dinner with their family as if nothing happened. The self that committed the horrors is not connected to the self eating dinner.
Scary, huh? You bet.
The least split are narcissists. The more split are borderlines, and the worst are the psychopaths. The worst of psychopaths are so shattered and lacking in "selves" that researchers have often described as them a mask with nothing behind it.
All of this is why I smile and shake my head when someone deludes themselves when they defend the Dark Triad as a good thing. They have no idea what they are doing.
I'll quote from Wikipedia (which actually got it right):
"The Dark Triad is a group of three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy, all of which are interpersonally aversive.
"The narcissistic personality (in the clinical sense) is characterized by a grandiose self-view, a sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, and egotism. Some theories, such as those of Heinz Kohut, associate it with the protection of a radically weak, shamed, or damaged self.
"The Machiavellian personality is characterized by manipulation and exploitation of others, with a cynical disregard for morality and a focus on self-interest and deception.
"The psychopathic personality is characterized by impulsive thrill-seeking, and in its 'primary' form by selfishness, callousness, lack of personal affect, superficial charm, and remorselessness."
Let's shorten that s a bit: when someone defends the Dark Triad they are saying splitting and being diseased and unhappy is really the same thing as being whole, healthy and happy.
This is right out of Orwell: Sickness is Health and Happiness.
What Kohut said about "the protection of a radically weak, shamed,or damaged self"? The narcissist covers up that self with arrogance and braggadocio - a "grandiose self." It's why there exists the old observation that bullies are cowards - their fragile grandiose self is easily destroyed, exposing their weak, damaged self.
The opposite of that narcissistic fragmentation is being whole, i.e. all your selves are connected and aware of each other. Then you can be on your way to be whole, healthy and happy.
The two men who studied narcissism most extensively in the 20th Century were Heinz Kohut and Otto Kernberg. Kohut spoke of a "positive" [healthy] narcissism"; however, it has its critics.
Again, from Wikipedia (and again, they got it right):
"Neville Symington challenged Kohut's belief in positive narcissism, arguing that 'we do not get positive narcissism without self-hatred.' He concluded that 'Kohut does not seem to be aware of this because he defines narcissism without this inner negative critic. I think this is why in some recent literature a distinction is made between negative narcissism and positive narcissism. As I said earlier, I do not think they ever exist dissociated from one another.'
"However he conceded that it 'may be just a semantic issue, in that someone talking of positive narcissism, for instance, may be talking about self-esteem or self-confidence....it makes some sort of sense to talk of 'healthy selfishness'. On the other hand, it is meaningless to talk about healthy self-centeredness...a tremendous confusion of tongues.'"
You can look at it as a continuum from wholeness to complete fragmentation - health and happiness as opposed to the worst disease ever. Every religion, in its good aspects, has completely opposed this narcissism and fragmentation, knowing what leads to - death and destruction for the narcissist and the innocent who are his victims. That's why the Greeks called it Hubris followed by Nemesis and in the Bible it reads, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
Another Biblical saying I like to use is this one: "For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" The correct translation of "soul" is "true self."
My opinion is that when one speaks of a "healthy narcissism" they are just adding to the confusion. In the past it has always been called "self-esteem" or most especially confidence. You can call it your True Self.
The word confidence is why I believe the Four Cardinal Virtues (at least 2200 years old) are the best way to get "self-esteem." Confidence (bravery, fortitude or perseverance), Prudence (choosing the best path out of many), Self-Control (not being impulsive) and Justice (giving everyone their just due) is the way to true self-esteem or true self-regard.
The narcissists and the psychopaths are lacking in Bravery, Justice, Self-Control and Prudence. The worst of psychopaths have none at all.
The worst thing you can be is fragmented in your self - a narcissist, a borderline, a psychopath. That's when your name is Legion...or Mob.