Narcissism has as its essence a belief in the “story of I”, which inevitably creates a fascination with this separate I.
There is a belief in stories, which creates a sense of I and Other, and we naturally wonder, and sometimes becomes obsessed with, what will happen to this separate self. Will I get what I want? Will I avoid what I don’t want? How can I improve myself? How do I appear to others? How do my actions, or this situation, compare to the identity I have made for myself? I am right, and I want it my way.
Said another way, there is an identification with this human self, and we don’t notice what we really are (awakeness and whatever happens), so everything is filtered as if we are this human self which typically means a certain absorption into and obsession with it.
From there, it can be filtered and expressed in many different ways. Mainly, it can be more or less obvious (usually to others!) and more or less mature.
It seems that in its more mature expressions, there is a recognition of it arising here now, which offer some perspective and disidentification with it. And here is a recognition of it as a universal pattern which makes it less personal and also helps release identification. There is more freedom from being in the grips of it. Our circle of care, concern and compassion is expanded which balances out our concern about ourselves. In general, there is less belief in stories and attachment to identities, so also less need for love, appreciation and approval.
So defined broadly, a sense of separate self naturally gives rise to narcissism, which can be expressed in more or less overt ways, and more or less mature ways. Defined more narrowly, we have the conventional definitions: the lose way it is used by most people in everyday language, and also the psychiatric diagnosis of narcissism.
And as with all of these things, when we see it out there in others, it is because we recognize it from right here, in our human selves. And if attention is glued to it in others through aversion or attraction, it means we don’t quite see it here. Obsession about it in others, one way or the other, is a pretty sure sign of blind projections.