I read a compelling description of narcissism recently. It was shared in the context of discussing the personality of Donald Trump, the presumed Republican presidential candidate, but I am not discussing that mess – today! Independent of that, narcissism has come up in general conversation the past few weeks with friends, a couple who are licensed psychologists, because everyone seems to have one in his life. (Note: I’ve only had enough psychology courses to be dangerous, not practice!) So it was more than timely for me, and for this post, that I read a description from author Lisa Firestone, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and contributor to Psychology Today. Firestone explained narcissism in a way I had not considered before and that helps clarify narcissism as the difference between or absence of self-esteem.
Firestone writes, “Narcissism encourages envy and hostile rivalries, where self-esteem supports compassion and cooperation. Narcissism favors dominance, where self-esteem acknowledges equality. Narcissism involves arrogance, where self-esteem reflects humility. Narcissism is affronted by criticism, where self-esteem is enhanced by feedback. Narcissism makes it necessary to pull down others in order to stand above them. Self-esteem leads to perceiving every human being as a person of value in a world of meaning.”
Whew and boy howdy, did that hit the nail on the head for me and perfectly describes a recent encounter. It not only clarifies narcissism, but it clarifies self-esteem. Once again, Mom and Dad did it right. I got the healthy compliments and encouragements but never in a context of competing with anyone else and never so as to promote arrogance or superiority. After all, self-confidence doesn’t require anyone else. Arrogance is a camouflage for a lack of self-worth that needs to feed on other. (OK, maybe I am thinking of Donald Trump a little.)
Time and again I have had narcissists close me and I didn’t see it until it bit me. Other friends had their share of encounters, too. It’s been suggested social media has magnified the condition’. (Think Kardashian selfies.) You’re bound to encounter one because narcissists are social by the nature of their under-developed self-esteem. They can be pleasant company, on a superficial, social level. They’re often the strutting peacock in the room, more cover for their insecurities.
As Dr. Firestone implies, narcissists use people and prop up their self worth with others smart, talented and entertaining people, but always keeping others in their place with well-placed insults. Those who aren’t narcissists need to keep their distance, if possible, or it will result in being used or abused. They can be hard to spot. And I assure you, there’s not a chance any narcissists reading this will think it describes them. Not a chance. Besides lacking self-esteem, they lack self-awareness.