Blurry Boundaries: Untangling Narcissism from High Self-Esteem in Relationships

Are they extremely confident, or just concerned with tasks revolving around themselves? As the word enters our everyday language, the line between where self-esteem ends and narcissism begins gets harder to spot. Many of us may have the understanding that narcissism is just a case of extremely high self-esteem. With their charisma and confidence, people on the spectrum of narcissism simply come across as people who are sure of themselves. However, there are some stark differences between these two concepts. This distinction becomes especially important as we navigate our social worlds. 

What is Narcissism?

Narcissism is a little more complex than just having high self-esteem. It involves an increased sense of self, consistently looking for authentication of actions and feelings, along with a diminished sense of empathy or relating to others. As a personality trait, we all possess some hints of narcissism to varying degrees. So, we can better understand the concept as existing on a spectrum. 

In layperson terms, people who are on the spectrum of narcissism seek to be the centre of attention in all situations. With a reduced sense of concern for others, they are often perceived as being preoccupied with tasks limited to themselves. They might hold the belief that they are entitled to certain privileges and think they are better than others, even without any concrete proof of the same. 

These aspects defined alone aren’t a cause for concern since we all have them in differing capacities. However, in very extreme cases, narcissism leads to dysfunction and severely impacts several areas of one’s life. Here, it might be recognized as Narcissistic Personality Disorder by a mental health professional. 

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem refers to how we evaluate and perceive ourselves. When we talk of self-esteem, we think of words like confidence and self-respect. Having positive beliefs about our abilities and our worth has many good outcomes, from more positive relationships to better health! 

Why is the Distinction Important? 

Why is this distinction important to understand in the first place? People with narcissism often have difficulties empathising and may put their own needs over others, often making their relationships very volatile and in some cases, abusive. Plenty of research points to how people with this trait often don’t take others’ perspectives and only take their own views into account. However, because of their ability to speak confidently and make a good impression, it is hard to recognize their preoccupation with themselves for what it is. 

The emotional toll such relationships can take can be very taxing for those who have to navigate them. Let’s take a look at the contrasts that exist between narcissism and high self-esteem:

  1. Feelings of Superiority

While narcissism involves feeling a sense of supremacy over others, that doesn’t translate into positive evaluations of how they view themselves. People with high self-esteem, however, do not perceive themselves as superior to the rest and are more accepting of themselves. 

  1. Need for Intimacy

People on the spectrum of narcissism also often don’t seek a lot of closeness in their relationships. They may crave admiration, causing them to neglect the needs of others in their life. High self-esteem entails a desire to form close, intimate bonds with others, marked by empathy. So, while narcissists do not view other people very favourably, people with high self-esteem are able to recognise the importance of close bonds with others more. 

  1. Childhood Origins

Both of these traits originate from our childhood experiences, especially concerning how we were raised. While narcissism might be rooted in one’s caregivers overestimating their child’s abilities, high self-esteem stems from parental warmth and a realistic evaluation of the child’s talents. 

  1. Source of Validation

While people with narcissism rely on others' opinions of them to feel admired and valued, people with high self-esteem derive their sense of fulfillment internally. They might not necessarily need others’ approval to feel validated.

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Blurry Boundaries: Untangling Narcissism from High Self-Esteem in Relationships

Blurry Boundaries: Untangling Narcissism from High Self-Esteem in Relationships