In this article, I want to compare self-esteem and narcissism in the context of human relations and leadership. In general terms, I believe we can draw three basic conclusions about human nature and its relation to leadership: narcissists are inferior; self-esteem is good; and, narcissists are more successful than others. But, it may be argued that these conclusions are driven primarily by definitions of what is narcissism or self-esteem. Does this mean that there are no other dimensions of human existence? Not necessarily.
narcissistic individuals display characteristics of social dominance, vanity, and grandiose expectations. Narcissists may brag about their achievements and may project an image of self-confidence and power. However, these attributes do not come from a healthy self-esteem or self-image. They arise from feelings of social inferiority and lack of self-worth that are rooted in self-evaluation of their own self-worth as compared with others, especially those whom they perceive to be better than themselves.
Those who share a similar narcissistic parent and temperament are also likely to develop similar self-esteem dynamics. Additionally, people who embrace socially right-wing authoritarianism are also likely to lack self-esteem and narcissism. Indeed, those who embrace socially right-wing authoritarianism are also likely to lack self-esteem and narcissism.
With narcissists and those who are part of the far right wing authoritarianism movement, “I am great” becomes a mantra. It becomes an ideology. Unfortunately, it is not always an ideology that encourages healthy self-esteem and self-image. Self-esteem and self-image depend on positive relationships with others, particularly healthy and fulfilling relationships with people we admire and respect. Narcissistic partners are unlikely to offer these things to their victims.
However, there are some healthy relationships based on appreciation and empathetic sharing with those we love. Self-esteem and self-image can rise from such meaningful relationships. There are healthy self-esteem building and relationship strategies that work when people have narcissism or a similar personality disorder. When people who are lacking in self-esteem and self-image get into healthy and fulfilling relationships, however, the narcissists’ grandiose ideas and behaviors that mask their pathological lies usually win out.
One of the most common, yet destructive relationships built on self-dignity and low self-image is the one in which people have to go through multiple layers of denial to avoid facing the pain of abandonment, rejection, and humiliation. Such a person is likely to have low self-esteem and narcissism. This person will likely build his self-esteem on right wing authoritarianism – the idea that the state is capable of protecting the vulnerable against the dark forces that threaten them. And that includes members of his own family.
Another common type of toxic relationship includes the one in which people have to go through multiple layers of denials and distortions in order to preserve a distorted version of their self-image and mask their true narcissism. In this type of relationship, the narcissist uses the family as his proxy and uses it to convince others that he has the right to abuse them and be dishonest about his intentions. And that includes his lover, if she’s not a right-wing authoritarian. In this type of relationship, the person who is suffering from narcissistic personality disorder usually lacks self-confidence and often feels inferior to those who perceive him as highly successful and capable.
Self-esteem and self-image can be a crucial part of healthy relationships. Those with low self-esteem must work to rebuild and recover. Narcissists, on the other hand, cannot help that they have such a low self-image. Their grandiose sense of self serves only to make them more powerful and confident. But healthy relationships require that partners both share in the feelings and behaviors that make each other special – and not allow these to be threatened by a partner’s self-doubts and fears.