Narcissism Versus Self-Esteem: Can You Tell The Difference?

Narcissism Versus Self-Esteem Can you tell the difference

Is the fear of looking like a narcissist standing in the way of one having high self-esteem?

Many people have heard the saying, "Oh that person is full of themselves" and many have mixed feelings and opinions regarding that statement.

Some people have developed somewhat of an unspoken fear to not be correlated with having high self-esteem so they would not be mistaken as being a narcissist or "full of themselves".

Can one who has high self-esteem be a narcissist? Or does a narcissist really have high self-esteem?

Learning how to differentiate the two might help one to put some pep in their step and feel alright allowing their self-esteem to shine through.

Let us take a look at the differences between high self-esteem and narcissism. 

Differences Between High Self-esteem & Narcissism


In order to look at the differences, one must understand the meaning of each subject narcissism and self-esteem.

Narcissism can derive from a few different avenues…

Heredities: family traits (In the DNA)

Upbringing: extreme idolization or extreme condemnation caregiver-child relationships which are oblivious to the child's understanding (Parents abuse the child, expect the child to always be perfect, or the other extreme is to overly love on the child and always praise them regardless of their accomplishments or lack thereof, they see their child as perfect and could do no wrong)

Neurobiology: the connections between the brain and behavior and thinking 


Narcissism is defined by the google search definitions as…

selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, as characterizing a personality type. 


Self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects, either in very young babies or as a feature of mental disorder.

Narcissism has nine conditions in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-V)…

  1. Grandiose sense of self-importance (Put themselves first or has more significant needs or claim, takes advantage of others to get what they want)
  2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions. (will only associate with people of their believed worth whether this is true or not "I would like to see the manager" "The CEO wants all of my plans and thoughts on this project", "I can only be with the "big wigs")
  4. Need for excessive admiration (Requires continuous praise and positive regards from others even if the individual has not done anything for such recognition)
  5. Sense of entitlement. (has a sense of power regardless of one's accomplishments or efforts to achieve)
  6. Interpersonally exploitive behavior (One has the behavior that they are superior or have authority over others by monopolizing conversations, interrupting conversations, patronizing people, expecting/demanding unsolicited submission from others)
  7. Lack of empathy (They have no comprehension or desire to acknowledge other humans have emotions and needs as well).
  8. Envy of others or belief that others are envious of him or her. (Imagine others are just as jealous of them as they are of other people)
  9. Demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes. (constantly thinks of themselves as better than or more deserving than others, Must have the mentality where they must "have all the top-of-the-line items", having a high and mighty attitude)


Self-esteem, confidence, pride in oneself is a form of motivation and a way one sees themselves.

Self-esteem is derived from the experiences one has and the nurturing/responses or lack thereof of the experiences from trusted people in a person's life as one grows.

The nurturing one really needs are being treated with respect and for one to be heard.

Anyone can listen, yet not everyone hears, and this is where the "pay attention" phrase comes from.

One feels valued when they are heard/respected. It means someone took the time to put aside what they are doing and not just listen to the words one is saying but hear what one is saying and respond back in a nonjudgmental way.

The individual was given empathy and encouragement to try again when they failed at something and not scolded.

Self-esteem is defined as one's own perception of their biased judgment of their value to themselves and others.

There is also explicit self-esteem and implicit self-esteem. Explicit self-esteem is determined by what we say about ourselves such as "I am unwanted," "I am ugly,", "I am a disappointment, "and "I am good-looking".

Implicit self-esteem is determined by one's unconscious reactions or implications one makes about themselves based off of other people's statements made such as "You are silly" and the individual then acts silly or like a "class clown" or one thinks, "yes I like to tell jokes when I am happy," or "You are smart" then the person thinks they have to be perfect or have all the answers to everything, or "I can be resourceful and find the answers to things I do not know about.

I can be creative or figure out answers to things many times".

There are two levels of self-esteem: high self-esteem and low self-esteem. 

Low Self-Esteem

People with low self-esteem did not have the support they needed to develop proper implicit and explicit self-esteem because the people they trusted did not offer or give the support required to know how to have positive explicit and implicit self-esteem/talk.

A person with low self-esteem more than likely had trusted people make them need to be perfect (failure is bad or not allowed), analyzed them ruthlessly, and possibly abused them.

The lack of opportunity to have an environment to experience or learn empathy or failure was not present.

The individual did not learn it is alright to ask for help, make mistakes, set boundaries, accept feedback, and trust their own opinions, thoughts, and values.

High Self-Esteem

Someone with high self-esteem had the experiences of having nurturing/supportive people in their lives who treated them with respect and heard them or paid attention to them when they spoke, hurt, failed, or were scared.

These people provided the guidance on how to not be afraid to try again, to talk nice to oneself, to not criticize oneself, or try to be perfect, yet to roll with life and everyone makes mistakes because after all… we are all just humans on a journey call life.

Someone with high self-esteem holds these characteristics…

  • Knows failure does not define them and is not afraid of failure (after all failure is success turned inside out)
  • Is confident in/accepts themselves flaws and all
  • Is not afraid to ask for help/support from others
  • Is able to set healthy boundaries for themselves and toward others
  • Is emotionally intelligent
  • Is able to know the difference between assertive and aggressive communication and uses assertive communication
  • Is not afraid of confrontation or feedback
  • Is content with being imperfectly perfect (not a perfectionist)

The complications of being a Narcissist 

Narcissists face many complications in life they do not always recognize because their egos tend to be inflated with their perception of themselves. Narcissist's complications are…

  • Not always receiving the attention or compliments they feel they desire from others
  • Not ever being able to stay in any long-term and fulfilling relationships
  • Having fragile high self-esteem
  • Lacking the motivation to work because of entitlement beliefs
  • Unaware of other people's capabilities of having feelings
  • Home and work complications
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Health problems

The complications of having Low-self-esteem

  • One is unable to see the value in their uniqueness
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Work, school, home complications
  • Fear of feedback
  • People pleaser
  • Fear of conflict/confrontation
  • Health issues
  • Perfectionism
  • Scared of failure
  • Unable to see the value in one's opinions and value

Seeking Help

When is it a good time to seek help? Should I seek help if I have low self-esteem or might be a narcissist?

The answer is, yes. If your life functioning is being disrupted and you are noticing that you do not have a life that is satisfying in the sense that you are feeling continuous patterns such as…

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Sleep problems
  • Negative self-talk
  • Relationship difficulties (not having any lasting relationships, lack of deep relationships, lack of trusting relationships, trauma bonding relationships, non-existent)
  • Perfectionism issues
  • Desires to have self-esteem met by other complimenting you and "lifting you up in praise"
  • Lack of empathy

Or any other issues that keep one from being able to live one's life mentally healthy should seek counseling.

Talk therapy is just one form of mental health therapy that can benefit a person to gain the tools to feel better about themselves and learn/gain high self-esteem. 


So now that one knows the difference between narcissism and high self-esteem, one could go ahead and practice feeling good about themselves.

A little self-pride, self-esteem, or self-love in feeling oneself as a valued unique human being can go a long way in how one responds to one experiences along their journey in life.

A moment of failure does not set the person back, or an unkind word does not set them recoiled in a fetal position on their couch for a week, or a breakup from a long-term partnership does not send one emotional eating for a month; nor does it mean one will never be able to succeed in life when the long bumpy road seems endless.

It means one with high self-esteem says, this is not fun during the times of hardship; yet seeks people for support, sinks their feet in, gets creative, still practices self-care still sets healthy boundaries, still speaks assertively, and says, no matter how long the trial is; and says this trail is not forever.

Having high self-esteem is knowing life is full of richness and joy even during the times of struggle and pain; it is sharing a tender vulnerable moment with someone when you feel your life is too crazy at that moment as well; it is saying, success is not in monetary things such as homes, cars, investments, retirement funds, and so on (those are good to have); they are in the quality and vibrancy of the friendships, family, and work relationship created.

High self-esteem is experiencing the tough times yet remaining positive and not giving up. It is your time to decide… narcissism, low self-esteem, or high self-esteem.

Call a counselor today and see what tomorrow brings. 

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April 15th, 2024

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