What Is the Difference between Narcissism and Self-Esteem?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 February 2019
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Narcissism and self-esteem are two terms that relate to a person's self-perception and resultant behavior. Though they may sound superficially similar, narcissism and self-esteem are actually nearly opposite patterns of thought and behavior. While narcissism involves an unrealistically high self-perception and the driving desire for attention and admiration, healthy self-esteem a realistically balanced view of the self, and a desire to receive attention only through merit.

One of the key distinctions between narcissism and self-esteem is how well self-perception holds up to reality. The narcissistic person will assert his or her talents, achievements, and goals without reference to the objective reality of the situation. For instance, a narcissistic person might be certain he or she is the best runner on a track team, despite coming in fourth in every race. A person with healthy self-esteem is able to accurately judge his or her abilities, and does not tend to allow flights of fancy to vastly and unrealistically inflate expectations.


Another important difference between narcissism and self-esteem is how failure or disappointment is managed. With healthy self-esteem, a person may be able to look at a poorly resolved situation and discover ways in which he or she could have done better. Additionally, good self-esteem can prevent a person from allowing a failure to destroy or threaten overall self-image; while disappointment may occur, it does not drastically skew the person's view of him or herself. One of the most classic signs of narcissism is the inability to accept blame for failures. With a precious self-image under threat, the narcissist is likely to become defensive and seek ways to blame others.

How a person regards and treats others can also be important to distinguishing narcissism and self-esteem. Since a narcissist tends to view him or herself as the paramount concern, others may appear as pawns or tools to be used, rather than equally important individuals. A narcissist may be quick to drop friends or family members that do not give the required amount of praise or admiration or have skills in competition with his or her own. Narcissists may also be prone to lying or manipulating others to get what they want, since their own advancement is often their primary consideration. While a person with healthy self-esteem is unlikely to accept poor treatment, he or she may be better able to view other people as equals, and treat them with the same measure of respect and ethics they desire for themselves.


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Post 3

Of course self-esteem and narcissism are not the same thing. People with narcissism don't have empathy or care for others and they can ridicule others to make themselves feel better. Someone with self-esteem doesn't do that. It's kind of a paradox -- the less self-esteem one has, the more he or she has to manipulate and degrade others to feel better.

Even though narcissism and self-esteem are different, I do believe that they both have one thing in common. They both develop in childhood and have a lot to do with how our parents treated us when our personality was still developing.

Post 2

@ZipLine-- It can be easy to confuse narcissism and self-esteem because of the characteristics of narcissistic disorder.

Narcissists don't have high self-esteem, they have low self-esteem like the article said. But narcissists want to create an image to the outside world that they have high self-esteem. They want people to think that they are smart, talented and better than other people.

That's why when one meets a narcissist for the first time, he or she may appear as someone who just has high self-esteem. But when one gets to know them better, it becomes apparent that this person actually has low self-esteem and self-worth.

Post 1

Thank you for this explanation. I always thought that narcissism is when someone has too much self-esteem. Self-esteem is a good thing but narcissism is not.

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