Self-esteem or self-image has to do with our perception of ourselves as it relates to how we see ourselves and the confidence that we have in our ability or character to do and achieve things. It’s a balance. However, many people view self-esteem as being synonymous with narcissism.
Well, let me be the first to stand up in protest. In fact, let me tell you what I see as being the opposite of self-esteem. It is characterized by a sense of social dominance and by the absence of empathy.
The absence of empathy, and I use the word benignly here, allow room for a variety of wrongdoings and acts to take place. That doesn’t mean, of course, that all of them would be okay if it weren’t for narcissists. But they wouldn’t be allowed to take place if the person had a healthy self-esteem and good self-evaluation.
So, there are two concepts I’d like to point out here. First, there is the concept of narcissism. The narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by grandiose thinking and an intense need for admiration. There is also a social dominance attitude which comes coupled with acting on impulse and having a disregard for other people’s feelings. The combination of these traits can make a person act in a dangerous way.
But there is another set of people that should be concerned with self-esteem and narcissism. Those who have a healthy self-image and high self-esteem are in touch with their values and their capabilities. They don’t feel threatened by other people’s views or opinions. They have positive social dominance attitudes, and they think critically.
These people have healthy self-esteem and self-evaluation. So, the question that follows from this is – who are those people? And what makes them vulnerable to the seduction of narcissists? The answer of course is – every human being has potential.
A healthy self-esteem and self-evaluation require one to value and take responsibility for one’s own life. It requires one to set goals, to seek opportunities and to look for people who have similar goals and ambitions as you. It also requires one to be able to communicate effectively with others and to recognize when one’s own goals are not aligned with those of others.
Those who have this healthy self-esteem and self-evaluation are in touch with their values and their authentic essence. They are not driven by the need for power and privilege – or even a feeling of being needed. Those with self-esteem and self-evaluation are in touch with their core values and they do not need to manipulate others to maintain these values. Narcissistic leaders and their followers have nothing to offer those who have the ability to find real happiness and fulfillment through authentic connections with authentic sources of happiness and fulfillment.
Self-esteem and self-evaluation are closely linked. On one hand, narcissists rely on the illusion of omnipotence to control others. On the other hand, authentic leaders rely on building meaningful relationships to gain the trust of their followers. If the leader allows his or her followers to feel that they are vulnerable – that their needs are trivial and their goals unattainable – then followers are much more likely to succumb to the narcissist’s agenda. Thus, a true leader must be able to foster and encourage a sense of belonging and value in followers – in order to reduce narcissistic leader potential to the point of removal from power.
In many respects, the concept of self-esteem and self-evaluation are similar to the definitions of healthy self-esteem. A healthy self-esteem and self-evaluation are characterized by a sense of personal worth, a favorable view of one’s own self, and realistic confidence that can be nurtured. People with high levels of self-esteem and self-evaluation are typically confident, goal-oriented, and motivated – and therefore more capable of taking on and coping with social situations and obstacles. In contrast, people with low self-esteem and low self-evaluation are usually insecure, do not set goals, and care more about appearance than achieving goals.
The primary difference between narcissism and self-esteem is the degree of control involved. The former relies on an object to gain power and control, while the latter relies on internal mechanisms and frequently relies on emotional isolation to protect the ego. In narcissism, the leader relies on others to follow his lead; in self-dramatic disorder, it is the victim who provides the audience with validation. In both cases, however, the outcome is problematic, and the narcissist and the follower are rarely on the same page.
The good news is that controlling narcissism requires more effort than simply shielding a narcissist from negative feedback. Because it is an emotional issue, it is best to treat self-esteem as a condition to be managed, instead of a disorder. When you think of self-esteem as a “self” and treat it as such – a “self-esteem” – instead of a “soul,” you will begin to develop the tools necessary to become a more successful “self” – a healthier “self.” This requires becoming a “self-evaluator” and understanding that the person you want to become is inside you already.