5 Differences Between Narcissism and Self-Esteem

5 Differences Between Narcissism and Self-Esteem

Last update: 18 March, 2018

David Levithan once said, “Narcissism. You couldn’t believe I didn’t own a full-length mirror.” In reality, narcissism is to seek the legality of being, as well as self-esteem. It is therefore easy to confuse narcissism and self-esteem. However, there are irreconcilable differences between the two, and we are going to dedicate this article to them.

Both narcissism and self-esteem seek, in some way, the legitimization of being. So where is the difference? Why are they so easily confused? It’s simple, while narcissism looks for legitimacy through good image, self-esteem does so by simple, unconditional existence.

Differences between narcissism and self-esteem

Following the reasoning above, it is clear that narcissism and self-esteem are opposites in their motivations and the forms they create. First, let us consider two psychologists who have worked on this confusion – Pilar Mallor and Manuel Villegas.

woman looking in mirror

In their research we find clear differences between narcissism and self-esteem, despite the existence of behaviors that may, at first, seem similar. How do we differentiate between these behaviors? Read on…

The narcissist has  an exaggerated perception of themselves

The main difference between a narcissistic person and one that has high self-esteem is self-image. Narcissists are given to an exaggerated and distorted sense of importance. Those with good self-esteem experience, on the other hand, inner satisfaction that is less inflated but more legitimate.

The narcissist seeks welfare and security through an exaggerated self-image which, in reality, is a distorted self-perception. They show a true internal vacuum in which an insecure person hides.

On the other hand, a person with high self-esteem bases their well-being on satisfactory relationships. They do not give excess importance to their self-image. Being self-confident means not needing to exaggerate or highlight successes in front of others, but simply enjoying celebrating them.

“Don’t you think it’s weird when someone has pictures of themselves all over the place? It’s like they’re trying to prove that they exist.”

– Candace Bushnell

Assertiveness against the need for attention

A person with high self-esteem is assertive. They know how to listen and choose when to talk. They do this with knowledge and always add value to the conversation. They have emotional and social intelligence. In addition, they are patient and they know that, when their turn comes, they will have a valid opinion.

However, the narcissist, given their exorbitant worship of their self-image, needs attention. They will always try to be in the spotlight. The center of the party. Letting everyone know they are there. They need constant worship from others.


In addition to the previous point, a way in which narcissists and self-confident people differ is in their ability to be empathetic. A person with healthy self-esteem can develop, through social interaction, the patience and empathy that is essential for active listening.

men hugging

While a narcissist only thinks about themselves and their image. Therefore, a person with healthy self-esteem is in a better position to connect with others. By not having the imperious need to please, you can focus on putting yourself in the “shoes” of others. This will make it easier for you to understand different points of view, ideologies, and feelings.

Selfishness and cooperation

Another key by which we can differentiate a narcissist from a person with healthy self-esteem is selfishness. It is easy to think that someone who thinks only of themselves is full of self-love. In reality, this person is so full of self-doubt that they are their own worst enemy.

While a person with high self-esteem knows when and how to show generosity and is cooperative, the narcissist is incapable of this. If they are not going to benefit, it is difficult for them to make an effort.

“What makes the pain of jealousy so acute is that vanity can not help but support it.”


Arrogance versus compassion

Arrogance is also a difference in narcissistic people and those with healthy self-esteem. While the former does not show compassion for anyone, except perhaps for themselves, people with self-esteem really love others and have a sense of value. They appreciate the beautiful challenge of helping others.

women who have disagreed

Thus, the narcissist, in their arrogance, is usually aggressive, envious, and needs to dominate others in order to feel good. They cannot accept criticism and, however neutral it may be, will tend to take it personally. They will not learn from their mistakes, because they have great difficulty in seeing them and, above all, accepting them.

A narcissistic person and a person with healthy self-esteem can, at first glance, seem very similar. However, as time passes, we can clearly see the differences between the two personalities. 

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.