There is a vast difference between self-esteem and narcissism. On one hand, they are two sides of the same coin. They are both unstable forms of human psychology that do what is necessary to remain in power, but are at odds over what is moral or right. Narcissists are convinced that they are right and are “special” and others are losers, sick, or simply lacking in self-esteem.
The left-wing authoritarianism of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Iran’s President Ahmadinejad represent slightly different varieties of self-esteem, but they are both trying to increase social dominance through the media and other outlets. No one should be surprised when narcissists try to manipulate social norms in the hopes of increasing their own power. But there are some important differences.
One major difference is that narcissists value right-wing authoritarianism above all else, while self-esteem and self-love are much more pragmatic. In fact, they believe in democratic norms more than social dominance – they are instead attracted to democratic socialism, as long as it isn’t replaced with anything too fascistic. This would be a refreshing change from the usual right-wing authoritarianism of most modern politicians. Unfortunately, Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales are two leaders who would probably view their social dominance as worthy of admiration.
On the other hand, self-esteem and narcissism are not mutually exclusive entities. Indeed, many narcissists use social media and other outlets to bolster their sense of self worth. And they can certainly benefit from increased social media traffic to their blogs, articles, and vlogs (videos). While it is true that narcissists cannot create the dazzling images that draw people into their websites, they do have excellent use cases – as most other people who use social media do.
They can draw people in by using words, pictures, and videos to captivate their followers. Social media provides them with the chance to form and keep lasting relationships. The only thing lacking is that social media is not primarily a communication medium, at least not for narcissistic personality types. Narcissists who have good self-esteem have little use for social media, even if they have great content to share.
It may appear to be in conflict with much of social media theory, but it is really just a matter of degree. The extent to which a person dominates his or her environment depends largely on the degree to which they can project themselves as a supremely important or relevant personage. Those who cannot do this are forced to run on an empty stomach, resort to crutching, and resort to lying much of the time in order to avoid the painful gaze of those who notice them.
In the case of self-esteem vs. narcissism, it is those who cannot make their lives seem worthwhile that are consumed by self-aggrandizement. Narcissistic people who cannot feel worthy of respect are bound to seek self-aggrandizement in all of the wrong ways. They will lie about accomplishments, exaggerate their talents and skills, and otherwise engage in activities that would make others wonder about their motives. In short, self-aggrandizement is the psychological equivalent of self-pitying – and nothing less than narcissism.
This does not mean, however, that all people with low self-esteem are engaged in narcissism. Indeed, many of the people who engage in social media activity are very positive, happy people. They simply use social media to celebrate their achievements, interact with others, and offer feedback to those who need it. Their self-esteem may even be higher than most of us realize. The solution, then, is to work on improving self-esteem in people whose lives look otherwise great.