I’ve been wondering about something. If you don’t have enough symptoms or they’re not severe enough to qualify for the NPD label, is it still possible to have a false self?
I feel like I do have one, but it’s more permeable than in someone who is high spectrum. It’s easier to “get through” to the TS. It was relatively easy for me to do that once I made up my mind to do so. If narcissism is a spectrum disorder (which I definitely think it is), then wouldn’t it follow that the false self is on a kind of spectrum too? A non-narcissist who nevertheless is high in N traits would have a permeable false self and the TS is somewhat more functional than in a bona fide narcissist.
D. W. Winnicott believes that the false self does lie on a spectrum, ranging from the normal “social self” that almost all normal people display in public (such as being polite to people we don’t really care for), all the way to a true false self that completely stands in for the original true self, which is the situation for high spectrum narcissists.
As an aside, I’ll also mention I think the need for supply also lies on a spectrum. We all need narcissistic supply and love getting it, but a narcissist uses others to get it and can’t live without it because it feeds the false self. Normal people feel secure enough in themselves that they don’t deflate like a popped balloon without it. Healthy narcissism is a good thing. It becomes bad when it’s excessive.
There are different developmental levels of the false self (Winnicott, 1996). At one end of the spectrum, the false self is seen by the self and others as the true self. A less extreme example is the individual who is aware of his or her true self, but keeps it hidden most of the time and allows it a “secret life” (Winnicott, 1996, p. 143). An even healthier example is where the false self is looking for conditions that can assist the true self to express itself. Further down the spectrum is the false self that is built on identifications in the person’s life. However, the healthiest “false self” is the social self used to interact with others in socially appropriate ways, because the true self cannot.