“Due to global media coverage and the Internet when the world’s citizens see America, they see narcissists. This clearly isn’t all there is to it, but how would the rest of the world know?” — Jeanne M. Twenge, Ph.D. and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., “The Narcissism Epidemic.”
During a holiday gathering, I had a long discussion with a friend who believes high self-esteem and narcissism are the same thing. It all started when someone mentioned Donald Trump. This friend believes that Trump has high self-esteem because of the way he acts. I tried to convince her that people with high self-esteem don’t act the way Trump does — that what he demonstrates is full-fledged narcissism and we certainly don’t need to have a president with such an affliction. I don’t know if I convinced her of anything, but maybe she will give the issue some thought.
The next day, I went to my book closet and found three of the latest books on the subject. Besides “The Narcissism Epidemic” (2009), was “The Narcissist Next Door” by Jeffrey Kluger (2013) and “The Narcissist You Know” by Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. (2015). These authors very clearly explain what full-fledged narcissism is and why it is not a good thing. Then I found a couple of books from the 1980s that contain excellent explanations of how it differs from high self-esteem.
In the 1980s, state assemblyman John Vasconcellos tried to straighten us out about the concept of self-esteem. He established “The California Task Force to Promote Self-esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility.” At a symposium he held, he emphasized that many people’s concept of self-esteem is faulty. He said: “Self-esteem is the kind of pride which arises from healthy self-regard based on a realistic grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses. It is not the same as false pride or pseudo self-esteem, an all too common condition in which vanity and arrogance overshadow a person’s true self and identity, masking shame at myself.”
Dorothy Corkhill Briggs wrote in “Your Child’s Self-esteem”: High self-esteem is not a noisy conceit. It is a quiet sense of self-respect, a feeling of self worth. When you have it deep inside, you’re glad you’re you. Conceit is but whitewash to cover low self-esteem. With high self-esteem you don’t waste time and energy impressing others, you already know you have value.”
From “Building Self-esteem in Children” by Patricia H. Berne and Louis M. Savory: “Self-esteem is the daily food of emotional health. Healthy self-esteem is the capacity to see oneself as valuable and competent, loving and lovable, having certain unique talents and a worthwhile personality to share in relationships with others. Far from being conceited or self-centered, it means having a realistic awareness of oneself and one’s rights. Because people with healthy self-esteem are usually self-confident, they are able to build healthy relationships, see themselves as successful, and act toward others in unthreatening ways.”
Now fast-forward to the 21st century and the three insightful authors who cover the issue thoroughly. With an important election this year, it seems especially important to know the difference between self-esteem and narcissism. Twenge: “Narcissists see themselves as fundamentally superior — they are special, entitled, unique. Narcissists also lack emotionally warm, caring and loving relationships with other people. This is the main difference between a narcissist and someone merely high in self-esteem: the high self-esteem person who’s not narcissistic values relationships, but the narcissist does not. The result is a fundamentally unbalanced, self-grandiose, inflated self-image and a lack of deep connection to others.”
Kluger: “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), psychology’s universally relied upon field guide to the mind … defines the condition as, in effect, three conditions: a toxic mash-up of grandiosity, an unquenchable thirst for admiration and a near total blindness to how other people see you. But these are only the broadest features. There is, too, a lack of empathy in the narcissist — an utter inability not only to understand what other people are feeling but how they may be responsible for their feelings, especially when they are bad. Narcissists are afflicted with a bottomless appetite as well — for recognition, attention, glory, rewards.”
Of course, anyone who runs for any high office has to have a very high opinion of themselves, feel like they are well qualified, and think that voters will fall under their spell. So now, with Sarah Palin joining the Trump travesty, we have a pair of overt narcissists with mindless fans who, in their egocentric fervor are potential threats to our nation’s integrity and future.
“Despite appearances to the contrary, narcissism is the opposite of healthy self-esteem.” — Joseph Burgo.
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 800 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.