These days, “Narcissism” is a commonly used term when talking about someone who lacks self-esteem or is self-centered. But what’s the difference between narcissism and self-esteem? How can you tell which type of personality disorder you have? It can be quite confusing and difficult to explain but in general terms, narcissists and self-esteem are similar.
Let’s start with a basic understanding of what narcissism and self-esteem are. Narcissism is defined as an inflated sense of one’s own importance – believing that you are superior to other people or that you deserve special recognition and esteem. Self-esteem is a self-concept that involves an internal belief in your own worth. It’s closely related to self-confidence and social dominance, and both are related to a person’s belief in his ability to act appropriately.
In contrast, a healthy self-image is related to the maintenance of realistic self-image and social relationships. It is not narcissistic or self-destructive. A healthy self-image facilitates happiness, freedom and relationships. Self-esteem usually accompanies social dominance and is usually the result of the presence of others with whom we are more comfortable in our relationships.
In addition to comparing narcissists and self-worth, it’s important to look at their behaviors. For instance, how do they treat you if you’ve flat out told them that you don’t think they’re smart or worthy? Narcissists tell you that you don’t matter, that your opinions don’t matter, that you are insignificant and need to take things from them, that you are dishonest and incompetent and that your only worth is as a commodity – that you exist only as a sex object. Compare this to a healthy self-image and self-esteem approach wherein you are respected for who you are and for your capabilities. In this case, a narcissist is not only threatening, but he is lacking in true ability and love for you.
In contrast, healthy self-esteem is grounded in a recognition of your worth as an individual. It is based on a sense of personal worth that is not dependent on other people. It relies on your ability to lead a meaningful life and set aside your own needs and desires in favor of those of others. A narcissist’s need to place himself first and place others second places him in a hierarchy of human beings, far removed from a healthy self-image and self-esteem.
There is no way to eliminate narcissistic behaviors and beliefs without confronting them head-on. However, you can work to increase your self-worth by developing and implementing healthy alternatives to narcissistic behaviors. This includes learning to respect and understand democratic norms, the importance of maintaining healthy relationships, and developing and maintaining open lines of communication. Healthy self-worth is rooted in realistic expectations about how you will relate to others and the impact of your actions on other people and their well-being.
The difference between healthy self-worth and self-love is a fundamental question of how we understand ourselves and our place in the world. When comparing the traits and behaviors of narcissists with those of healthy self-evaluators, it is important to remember that many narcissists place great value in their own image. They may brag to others about their accomplishments and their “net worth.” These individuals place greater value on their appearance, money, power, and intelligence than they do on their actual, underlying qualities. Those who love themselves, and have healthy self-esteem, recognize and understand this and work to enhance their self-evaluation in order to achieve a balanced self-image and self-esteem.
As this discussion of self-esteem and narcissism reveals, there is a deep connection between these two psychological disorders. One of them is frequently characterized by an obsession with one’s image, a lack of concern for others’ well-being, and a disregard for democratic norms and their ability to maintain a healthy self-image. The other frequently involves a need to criticize others, a grandiose sense of one’s ability to influence events, and an inability to accept criticism. In order to overcome these disorders, we must first understand and appreciation how they develop and the ways in which they can be overcome.