Narcissism vs. Self-Esteem: How Are They Different?
If I were to ask you to define self-esteem, what would you say? Well, aside from telling me to do my own homework! And how would you define narcissism? Would you associate narcissism with an abundance of self-esteem? In other words, would you say that narcissism is the equivalent to “inflated self-esteem” or that narcissists have “defensive high self-esteem”? 1
Though Dr. Eddie Brummelman and colleagues observed that “A common belief, both in psychology and in popular culture” is that “narcissism represents a form of excessive self-esteem,” they suggest that narcissism differs from self-esteem in many ways, including in its origin, development, observable characteristics, and consequences.
Doesn’t that sound intriguing? It did to me, which is why I read the study “Separating narcissism from self-esteem” as soon as I came across it and reached out to the lead author for an interview.
Dr. Brummelman holds a PhD in developmental psychology and is currently the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at University of Amsterdam and Stanford University. His research focuses on socialization processes that shape the views of the developing self in children. His published and forthcoming work focuses on narcissism in children and the differences between narcissism and self-esteem.2
EMAMZADEH: Thank you very much Dr. Brummelman for agreeing to do this interview. Before discussing their differences, may I first ask you to define both self-esteem and narcissism?
BRUMMELMAN: Self-esteem and narcissism are both part of the self-concept. They refer to how people see and evaluate themselves. High self-esteemers see themselves as worthy individuals, neither better nor worse than others. Narcissists don’t necessarily see themselves as worthy individuals; rather, they see themselves as superior to their fellow humans. They think that they’re better than others. As Morris Rosenberg put it: “When we deal with self-esteem, we are asking whether the individual considers himself adequate — a person of worth — not whether he considers himself superior to others.”
EMAMZADEH: It was difficult for me to read your paper and not assume connections between self-esteem and narcissism. Such as when you say that narcissism entails “positive views of the self”, but that “many narcissists do not have high self-esteem,” or that narcissists “see themselves as decidedly better” than others and yet “are not happy with themselves.” It is hard to imagine someone who thinks s/he is better than others and yet is not happy with who s/he is. Can you elaborate a little more on the relationship between self-esteem and narcissism?
BRUMMELMAN: People intuitively infer that narcissism and self-esteem are intimately linked. Psychologists have defined narcissism as a form of “excessive self-esteem,” “inflated self-esteem,” “exaggerated self-esteem,” “unwarranted self-esteem,” or “defensive high self-esteem.” Media reports have labeled narcissism as “self-esteem on steroids” or “blown-up self-esteem.” The conclusion seems obvious: Narcissists like themselves a little too much.