We Are All Narcissus

Many years ago, when I first began my training in psychotherapy, one of my professors told the class, “I honestly think we are attracted to people who are the highest versions of ourselves.” From the moment she uttered those words, I began to examine the accuracy of her statement through my own experience and of others I knew or observed.

According to Carl Jung, people unconsciously live a myth. Conversely, it can also be said that a myth lives within people - in their unconscious, which drives them to uncertain forms of experience and behavior.

Many of us know about the myth of Narcissus, the young man who became enthralled with his own reflection in a pool of water. However, contrary to popular belief, Narcissus was not in love with himself, but with his image.

So, with regards to my professor’s statement, I now understand that what she meant was we are attracted to those that reflect back to us what we most love (or see) in ourselves. Therefore, it is not just Narcissus who falls in love with his image. We all do. Therefore, all of us possess Narcissus’ traits and tendencies.

Hence, the myth of Narcissus, is not merely about self-love, but on a deeper level, about self-discovery and an inevitable process towards individuation, which is the process of bringing the personal and collective unconscious into consciousness in order to generate an autonomous whole being with incomparable uniqueness. Many of us fail to recognize this, because we’re taught that to be a narcissist is a bad thing.

However, we are all Narcissus. In knowing your beloved and your beloved knowing you, both long for the other’s longing and yearn for a profound connection with the other - the other who is like your Self. As psychologist, Christine Downing indicates, reflecting on a reflection (like Narcissus) takes us out of self-absorption, not merely into it. In doing so, we are brought to the theme of mutuality, where we long for a reciprocal relationship. Therefore, though narcissism, as most of us know it today, has negative connotations, it cannot completely be negative since those who are emotionally well-adjusted possess healthy narcissism, which consists of a mature balance of self-worth and self-esteem. On the other hand, pathological narcissism is based on a need for approval from others because the sick narcissist has no self-worth or self-esteem.

Abraham Maslow indicates, every person is born with the drive to reach their full potential, or special individuality; consequently, there is a narcissistic component in striving for this self-realization. However, the key is knowing how to differentiate between narcissism and individuation.

Therefore, in being attracted to another and loving them, you also take steps towards individuation, and begin to understand what being human is about. For nothing matters more in life than how we love. For it is in loving and being loved that we become truly ourselves.

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