As the recent hullabaloo about Democratic National nominee Hillary Clinton versus Senator Barrack Obama reveals itself to be a sham and Obama as the most feasible alternative to the Democrats, many people are asking the question: What is the difference between narcissism and self-esteem? Many social scientists argue that narcissism and other related personality disorders are rooted in a lack of respect for others. Whereas, on the other hand, self-esteem, especially in the American context, is grounded in a respect for the individual’s dignity and a belief that one is entitled to the dignity of their own self. Without accepting a higher status than oneself, a person with a low degree of self-esteem cannot effectively participate in society, much less win the support of others to that person’s detriment.
Is the difference between narcissism and self-esteem the result of social media? Apparently not. In a recent study published by Oxford University, the psychologists published findings which indicate, “Narcissistic behavior appears to have its roots in early childhood, when exposed to rejection by others or feeling vulnerable.” In essence, children with narcissistic parents are more likely to exhibit these behaviors than otherwise identical children whose parents have low self-esteem.
So then, is there a link between narcissistic behavior and self-esteem or just the other way around? It seems that in both situations, a lack of self-esteem is not conducive to healthy interaction. For narcissists, the only people they need are those who will validate their inflated view of themselves, whether it is in an intimate relationship or in public. When someone rejects them, it sends them into a state of panic because they believe that rejection is not only painful but is a sign of weakness. Thus, they will attempt to increase their sense of self-worth either through increasing their body size (a sure-fire method of gaining popularity) or through exaggerating their talents so that their lack of acceptance is minimized. While these actions do not require the narcissistic person to put in any conscious effort, there is always a subconscious search for self-acceptance in the back of the mind.
As strange as it may sound, the lack of self-worth that accompanies narcissistic personality traits can actually be detrimental to one’s social networks. Consider this. Imagine a pair of friends who felt inferior about themselves and went out to create social networks. Now imagine them as well-off with high self-esteem who chose to join a group where other members were also convinced that they were better than others. It is clear that joining a social network with low self-esteem invites the narcissist into a situation where he or she will feel insecure and will therefore attempt to sabotage the social network.
It has been noted that narcissists tend to have difficulty starting and maintaining meaningful relationships. Because of their lack of self-evaluation and the grandiose beliefs they possess about themselves, the insecurity that they experience when rejected by others results in them engaging in behavior such as stalking, harassment, and infidelity. Narcissistic personality traits such as grandiose beliefs and the need for excessive admiration are also common among self-esteem challenged individuals. This lack of self-evaluation is in addition to the lack of self-evaluation that accompanies narcissism; therefore, the two behaviors create an incredibly unfeasible combination.
Lack of self-esteem and social isolation are problems that plague the generations of today. Thankfully, there are things that both youth organizations and parents can do to help alleviate these issues. One great step that I believe has been very beneficial to combating the isolation, instability, and narcissism in youth is to provide them with a healthy sense of self-esteem. The way that we teach our children self-esteem is through role modeling. It is up to us as parents to instill in our youth the value of having and maintaining healthy self-esteem.
Unfortunately, some of the methods that are used to teach self-esteem to our youth have proven to be counterproductive. Methods such as telling our children to “fake it until you make it” are not only damaging to the self-esteem, but also to their mental health. This method is used to teach them that they should put on a happy face in front of others to get the approval of others. It is absolutely absurd for a person with such narcissic personality traits to suggest that happiness must be forced. When instilling a healthy self-esteem in our youth, we must focus on character traits such as respect, honesty, kindness, compromise, and responsibility instead of teaching them false beliefs that only serve to isolate them and allow narcissists to flourish.
The solution that has been provided by researchers in the behavioral sciences is the development of new approaches and technologies that support healthy interpersonal relationships. This includes the use of brain wave technology to enhance the brain’s capability to detect and respond to changes in their environment. Additionally, there are programs that can help them grow a sense of self-awareness and self-management. This allows them to make choices that align with their values and talents. Ultimately, a better understanding of narcissists and their destructive behavior is only realized when an attempt is made to gain a healthy balance between the old and the new in order to truly achieve success. A new awareness of Self-esteem vs. narcissism provides a path for the future of this precious species on earth.