Self-Esteem Vs Narcissism

In the realm of personality disorders, right-wing authoritarianism and narcissism appear to be psychologically close cousins, though they are indeed far from similar. In fact, both of these personality disorders are expressions of pathological narcissism, an increasing problem in our culture today. Narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, is characterized by grandiose beliefs about one’s self, zero regard for others, and a lack of concern for what others think or feel.

In contrast, right-wing authoritarianism also displays narcissistic behavior. It is, however, a relatively moderate form of narcissism. With right-wing authoritarianism, the person believes that he or she is a powerful and special human being above all other humans, and that this power is derived from biological causes (e.g., genetic predisposition, neurological mechanisms, and social conditioning). Right-wing authoritarianism often leads to an inflated sense of one’s own importance and the inability to see the needs and desires of others. Narcissistic personality disorder, on the other hand, involves excessive self-esteem and a distorted view of one’s own flaws or shortcomings. When left unchecked, narcissists can be dangerous to themselves and others.

Both forms of narcissism are rooted in an inflated sense of self-worth. Narcissistic personality disorder is positively related to self-esteem, especially confidence, and so it is clear that the absence of self-esteem depletes the ability to make good choices and refrain from taking risks that might jeopardize their belief in their superiority and social dominance. In this context, it may be noted that those who suffer from narcissism also seem to lack the self-discipline necessary to pursue a goal successfully. This pattern of procrastination and failure is indicative of left wing authoritarianism. Those with this personality disorder are ruled by a set of values and beliefs rather than by the logic of social competition and the rule of law.

To understand these two seemingly opposite types of narcissism, it is important to understand the differences between healthy self-esteem and unhealthy self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem is reflective of the self and its abilities and it is the foundation upon which healthy self-conceptualization and self-confidence can grow. On the other hand, unhealthy self-esteem and its corrosive form of narcissism are the breeding grounds for the destruction of one’s self and the endangerment of that self’s ability to create and enjoy life.

It would be inaccurate to say that narcissists lack self-respect. They do not lack self-esteem, but they have a different form of self-esteem and it differs from healthy self-esteem. In the work of clinical psychologist Dr. David Burns, narcissistic personality disorder is defined as a psychological disorder in which there is a persistent grandiose fantasy that involves an inflated view of one’s ability to control or influence others. The distorted self-image is coupled with an intense sense of self-confidence, an absence of guilt and an avid need for admiration. When these traits are combined, it is a recipe for disaster.

Self-esteem and self-conception are closely related and depend on the beliefs, values and opinions of the individual. Healthy self-esteem depends on the value one ascribes to one’s own self and it is independent of one’s actual worth. Healthy self-esteem does not depend on the appraisal of others or the acceptance of societal conventions. Healthy self-esteem is based on genuine confidence in one’s ability to live up to potential and one’s innate strengths.

A healthy self-image and self-esteem are also related to the emotional intelligence of an individual. Narcissistic personality disorders develop in individuals who believe they are superior to everyone else and refuse to accept others’ views, standards and opinions as reality. Those with narcissistic personality disorder do not accept other people as they are, they view everyone else through the narcissistic perspective and have little regard for other people’s feelings, needs or opinions. Their view of life and reality is so distorted that they have no use for empathy or feelings.

It is clear then that healthy self-esteem depends on healthy self-image. Healthy self-image depends on a positive self-image and healthy self-image depends on healthy perceptions and the ability to change those perceptions when necessary. Healthy self-esteem is a crucial ingredient to a fulfilled and successful life. Narcissistic personality disorder is no exception. As a therapist I work with clients suffering from narcissistic personality disorder and I have observed that many of them suffer from low self-esteem because they see themselves as “less than” others.