Narcissism is a personality disorder that is becoming more widely known about, but how can you spot a narcissist from someone with genuine high self-esteem?
That’s what this article aims to answer by laying out some of the main differences in narcissistic behavior and that which is driven by healthy self-esteem. Hopefully, by the time you have finished reading, you’ll be better equipped to distinguish between those who are narcissists and those who are not.
This skill will allow you to work out who you should avoid in life and who is perfectly safe to be around.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the primary differences between narcissists and those with high self-esteem.
1. They Have Very Different Root Causes
One of the ways you can tell a narcissist from someone with real self-esteem is by looking at their lives, their accomplishments and their future beliefs.
Narcissism grows out of fear; it shows itself as a fear of failure, deep-seated feelings of inadequacy, and an acute desire to be seen as hugely successful. High self-esteem, on the other hand, grows out of actual life achievements, the following of one’s values, and the realization of pragmatic expectations.
If you can get an accurate picture of a person’s life – through whatever means possible – then you will be able to get an idea of what they have actually achieved, and where they have embellished the truth. Often the life of a person, as seen from an outside perspective, gives clues as to whether narcissism or high self-esteem is present.
You can also ask them about what they dream of and envisage in their future. A narcissist will tell you nothing but grandiose plans of success, whereas you’ll receive more realistic goals and an acceptance of uncertainty from most other people.
2. Narcissism Breeds Competition, Self-Esteem Breeds Cooperation
The second way to tell a narcissist apart from someone with a healthy self-esteem is by observing how they think about other people.
A narcissist will almost always seek to be crowned champion in something, regardless of what it is. They will suffer great envy and inner pain if they see a “rival” doing better than themselves and will try to diminish the achievements of others.
Someone with good self-esteem will often do the complete opposite. They will show compassion and seek cooperation to get the best for everybody. They will applaud the success of others and be genuinely pleased for them.
3. Narcissists Loathe Criticism While Others Welcome Feedback
A quick way to tell whether someone might be harboring narcissistic tendencies is to mildly criticize something about them and gauge their reaction.
A narcissist will be physically impacted by the criticism; they will feel pain and will usually show it by going on the defensive before launching a counter-attack.
Someone with high self-esteem, on the other hand, will take the criticism on board and use it as feedback to improve in future. Or, if they disagree with you, they will be more likely to just brush your statement aside and move on with the conversation.
4. Narcissists Are Arrogant, Self-Esteem Makes You Humble
When a narcissist achieves anything, you can be damn well sure you’re going to hear about it, and not just once. They will regale you with the story of their success on many occasions and each time it will be told with even more emphasis on just how great it was and how much they fought for it.
As was discussed earlier, high self-esteem often stems from achievements in life, but non-narcissists will tend to be more self-effacing and will be somewhat reluctant to discuss their successes. They are more humble and don’t get off on the attention like a narcissist does.
More essential narcissist reading (article continues below):
- The Covert Narcissist: How Shy, Introverted Types Can Be Narcissists Too
- 4 Brutally Honest Things Survivors Of Narcissistic Abuse Want To Say To Their Abusers
- Love Bombing: An Early Warning Sign That You’re Dating A Narcissist
- 7 Healing Affirmations For Victims Of Narcissistic Abuse
- Are You Mistaking Machiavellianism For Narcissism?
- The Language Narcissists Use To Manipulate And Traumatize Their Victims
5. Narcissists Seek Dominance Where Others Seek Equality
A good way to spot the difference between a narcissist and someone with high self-esteem is to watch how they react among a group.
A narcissist will often try to dominate proceedings and put others down in order to make themselves look good. Snarky little comments, talking over others, and the desire to be the center of attention are all traits of a narcissist. The same can typically be said when narcissists are in a relationship.
For someone with a healthy self-esteem, the desire is more for equality and for everyone to get along as individuals and as a group. They place value upon each member and understand that the meaning of the group is built upon all individuals and not just one or two. You’ll often see them trying to include everyone, especially those on the periphery of the conversation/activity.
6. Narcissists Are “Addicted” To Praise, While Others Aren’t
One of the most obvious signs that you’re dealing with a narcissist is that they will have a constant need for compliments, attention, and praise. It is common for them to actually ask for your agreement regarding a virtue of theirs (e.g. “don’t you think I have a nice house/car/girlfriend/suit?”) just to quench their thirst for admiration.
This ongoing search for kind words and gestures actually reveals a hidden truth about narcissists: despite coming across as confident and pleased with their lives, they typically have low self-esteem.
Most other people enjoy a compliment now and again, but they will not feel the need to prompt others. They understand their self-worth and don’t rely on anyone else to bolster their self-respect.
Now that you are aware of 6 of the clearest differences between a narcissist and someone with genuine high self-esteem, you can be confident of spotting who’s who in your daily life and reacting accordingly.