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What Is the Connection between Narcissism and Self-Esteem?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated May 17, 2024
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Generally, narcissism and self-esteem have a twofold connection. On the one hand, narcissistic people typically convey an inflated self-esteem, but on the other hand, this high self-esteem often is false. So, while a person with narcissism may seem extremely confident and sure of himself on the outside, he could feel fragile and inferior on the inside. Sufferers can seek help from experienced therapists or psychiatrists to treat both the narcissism and self-esteem issues.

To others, and perhaps partly to themselves, people with narcissism tend to showcase an extreme level of confidence. They often exaggerate or outright lie about the things they’ve achieved or accomplished. Such a high level of confidence can lead them to set goals for themselves that may seem easily achievable, but in reality aren’t realistic or even possible. Sometimes, the connection between narcissism and self-esteem leads a narcissist to believe he is better than or more important or special than other people. The effects of self-esteem inflation such as that which narcissists feel can also lead them to assume other people are jealous of them.

Although an unnaturally high self-esteem is one of the symptoms of narcissism, under the surface people with narcissism usually have fragile self-esteem. As a result, some of their inner feelings or personality traits seem conflicting with what they outwardly convey. For example, many people with narcissism assume others are jealous of them or believe they should be jealous of them. On the inside, though, some narcissists actually are jealous of other people. Other seemingly conflicting traits include insecurity, becoming easily hurt, and experiencing feelings of rejection.

Qualified mental health professionals can provide treatment for people with narcissism that targets both the narcissism and self-esteem issues. Generally, a therapist might rely on long-term psychotherapy to treat narcissism and self-esteem problems. Some patients might need medication for certain related symptoms. Group therapy, especially certain kinds of support groups, can help a narcissist learn to foster a healthy self-esteem. Some extreme cases of narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder might require hospitalization.

It’s important to understand that the symptoms that form a connection between narcissism and self-esteem aren’t cut and dry for each person diagnosed with narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder. Too, the extremity of various symptoms might vary from one person to the next. Simply put, it’s irresponsible to assume all narcissistic people have extremely high self-esteem, or that all narcissists suffer from low self-esteem.

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Discussion Comments
By literally45 — On Jun 19, 2013

I have a friend who has narcissistic personality disorder. Based on what this article is saying, should I help her build self-esteem or will that make things worse for her?

By ddljohn — On Jun 18, 2013

@fify-- I'm glad you said narcissistic disorder because we need to differentiate between the disorder and the personality trait.

Narcissism is a personality trait that many of us have. It's absolutely normal and individuals who have this kind of personality, generally do have high self-esteem.

Narcissistic personality disorder, is a psychological disorder where narcissistic feelings become excessive. It is true that individuals with this disorder have lower self-esteem than they portray to the outside world.

We should be careful about whom we label as narcissistic because everyone who has or appears to have high self-esteem does not have a disorder.

By fify — On Jun 17, 2013

I completely agree with the article author that narcissists do not have high self-esteem. The reason that they manipulate the people around them is because of this low-self esteem and the need to feel better about themselves.

It's so difficult to understand someone who has both narcissistic disorder and low-self esteem because he or she really don't seem that way from the outside.

I dated someone with narcissistic disorder for two years and for the most part I was confused about who he really was and what he truly felt. Narcissists put on a show of confidence, but it's just a show.

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