If you look online to find the traits of narcissism, you will see that includes; a self appraisal that you are a natural born leader, That you have more talent than skill, and you are overconfident about your intelligence, looks, etc. But at what point does it become narcissism? I want to hear your thoughts.

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    Although I marked to close as too broad, I hope you come back with more questions like this. Have you seen M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie? Questions specific to that book or some other may be narrow enough for a question. – Frank Hubeny May 2 '18 at 16:12
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    If you have access to a good library, even a public library, they should have dictionaries and encyclopedias of psychology. There is also the DSMs. Maybe you have already looked into this, but if not, it may be a place to start. If you are using a public library, it may be necessary to go to the main branch for the best reference section. – Gordon May 2 '18 at 16:33
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about psychological vocabulary without important philosophical content – user9166 May 2 '18 at 19:54
  • You can be narcissist without being confident. – Beanluc May 2 '18 at 21:18
  • That is true, but besides the questions. Thank you for your comment. – Flavor May 2 '18 at 22:28


I'd say self-confidence tips over into narcissism (which we nearly all display at least at times and in areas of our lives) when self-confidence transforms itself into :

  • denial
  • rationalisation
  • self-aggrandisement
  • attributional egotism
  • sense of entitlement
  • anxiety

Just a list, of course, but it can be expanded into fair detail as follows (Andrew D. Brown, 'Narcissism, Identity, and Legitimacy', The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Jul., 1997), pp. 646-7) :

Denial has been described as "a primitive and desperate unconscious method of coping with otherwise intolerable conflict, anxiety, and emotional distress or pain," which can lead to increased confidence and feelings of invulnerability (Laughlin, 1970: 57). The narcissistic personality often is characterized by the denial of a difference between the ideal and actual self. Through denial, narcissistic individuals seek to disavow or to disclaim awareness, knowledge, or responsibility for faults that might otherwise attach to them (Gabriel et al., 1994; Lax, 1975; Rothstein, 1980; Shengold, 1995).

Rationalization is an individual's attempt to justify or find reasons for unacceptable behavior or feelings and thus present them in a form consciously tolerable and acceptable. This mechanism involves a measure of self-deception, which is required in order to make what is consciously repugnant appear more creditable (Laughlin, 1970: 251). For the narcissistic personality, the resort to rationalization may involve the (unconscious) alteration of meanings of people, things, and events when self-esteem is threatened (Akhtar & Thompson, 1982; Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995).

Self-aggrandizement refers to a general tendency of an individual to overestimate his or her abilities and accomplishments (American Psychi- atric Association, 1980, 1986; Shengold, 1995; Tobacyk & Mitchell, 1987; Westen, 1990). Such overestimates often are described as fantasies, which are emotionally significant unconscious wishes for fulfillment or gratifi- cation (Laughlin, 1970: 110). In the narcissistic personality these fantasies may be accompanied by extreme self-absorption, a tendency toward ex- hibitionism, claims to uniqueness, and a sense of invulnerability. A fur- ther manifestation of this need for self-enhancement is an individual's tendency to distort reality through selective perception. For example, an individual might judge others on personally relevant criteria only, selec- tively seek out positive information about themselves, and selectively remember events that support their self-concept (Gecas, 1982; Markus & Wurf, 1987; Wood, 1989).

Attributional egotism refers to the tendency of an individual to offer explanations for events that are "self-serving" or "hedonic" and that typi- cally involve the attribution of favorable outcomes to causes internal to the self and unfavorable outcomes to external causes (Bettman & Weitz, 1983; Bradley, 1978; Dunning & Cohen, 1992; Dunning, Meyerowitz, & Holz- berg, 1989; Dunning, Perie, & Story, 1991; Greenwald, 1980; Hill, Smith, & Lewicki, 1989; Miller & Ross, 1975; Staw, 1980; Zuckerman, 1979). The idea that narcissists likely will display attributional egotism and thus make self-serving attributions to protect vulnerable self-esteem generally is acknowledged (Brown & Rogers, 1991; Emmons, 1987; Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995; Tennen & Herzberger, 1987; Westen, 1990). Kunda (1987) has sug- gested an alternative explanation of attributional egotism: it is the result of cognitive bias in the search for and mental processing of information, rather than ego defensiveness. Although it seems likely that both ac- counts of the causes of attributional egotism are valid, my emphasis in this article is on attributional egotism as it relates to the preservation of self-esteem.

The narcissist's sense of entitlement often is associated with both a strong belief in his/her right to exploit others and an inability to empa- thize with the feelings of others (American Psychiatric Association, 1980, 1986; Lasch, 1978). Somewhat curiously, the narcissist's lack of interest and empathy for others is accompanied by an insatiable eagerness to obtain their admiration and approval (Reich, 1960). The narcissist, thus, is faced with the dilemma that she/he "holds in contempt and perhaps feels threatened by the very individuals upon whom he or she is dependent for positive regard and affirmation" (Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995: 18). Most of the other aspects of the narcissistic personality, such as denial, rationaliza- tion, attributional egotism, and especially self-aggrandizement, bolster this predisposition.

Anxiety is not an ego-defense mechanism but what the ego-defense mechanisms (are designed to ameliorate. The idea that narcissists suffer from feelings of dejection, worthlessness, and hypochondria (Reich, 1960); are despairing, empty, and fragile (Bromberg, 1986; Miller, 1986); and are hypersensitive and fraught with feelings of worthlessness (Akhtar & Thompson, 1982) is well documented (Rothstein, 1980). Lasch admirably captures this aspect of the narcissistic personality when writing that the narcissist "cannot live without an admiring audience. His apparent free- dom from family ties and institutional constraints does not free him to stand alone or to glory in his individuality. On the contrary it contributes to his insecurity" (1978: 10).


If these traits define the narcissistic personality, then as I said at the start none of us is totally free of them : we all deny, rationalise, self-aggrandise, display attributional egotism, cherish a sense of entitlement, and experience anxiety. I also doubt if there are any determinate, objective tests by which I can decide if (say) I'm excessively in denial about other-harming traits in my personality ('faults').

Otherwise said, I think that what counts as narcissism is largely a matter of social judgement and social norms. But that doesn't stop you from checking out the list and seeing whether you or others fulfil the criteria of narcissism on your own assessment.


There is no precise consensus among clinicians or the public at large on what the traits of narcissism are or even whether there is such a condition. And, of course, I have ventured no aetiology of narcissism. Still Brown's criteria appear to agree with a reasonable body of clinical literature. It's a useful starting point.


Banaji, M. R., & Prentice, D. A. 1994. The self in social contexts. Annual Review of Psychology, 45: 297-332.

Akhtar, S., & Thompson, J. A. 1982. Overview: Narcissistic personality disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 139: 12-20.

Cooper, A. M. 1986. Narcissism. In A. Morrison (Ed.), Essential papers on narcissism: 112-143. New York: New York University Press.

Gabriel, M. T., Critelli, J. W., & Ee, J. S. 1994. Narcissistic illusions in self-evaluations of intelligence and attractiveness. Journal of Personality, 62(1): 143-155.

Gendlin, E. T. 1987. A philosophical critique of the concept of narcissism. The significance of the awareness movement. In D. M. Levin (Ed.), Pathologies of the modern self, postmodeRm studies on narcissism, schizophrenia, and depression: 251-304. New York: New York University Press.

Pulver, S. 1970. Narcissism: The term and the concept. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 18: 319-341.

Teicholz, J. 1978. A selective review of the psychoanalytic literature on theoretical conceptualizations of narcissism. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 26: 831-861.

  • what you said in your first line, "I'd say self-confidence tips over into narcissism", sparks a question for me. If someone is very self-confident does that mean that they are a narcissist? Or if they were very self-confident but also very kind to others, and over a good person, but they thought very highly of themselves, are they a narcissist? – Flavor May 2 '18 at 18:36
  • Thanks for comment. I'm inclined to say that narcissism needn't be an overall personality trait. I can be narcissistic in one area of my life, in one set of relationship, and not in another. I might be 'very self-confident' in business dealings and 'very kind to others' in family or friendship relationships. That help ? Best - GT – Geoffrey Thomas May 3 '18 at 10:42
  • That is a very eye opening comment, I couldn't agree with you more, thanks for your comment! – Flavor May 3 '18 at 12:10

First, i would like to refer to self-confidence as self-esteem which seems to me as a more of an abstract of an idea of self-confidence (A person with high conscious and unconscious self-esteem will be aware of his true abilities without under/over-estimation and will be satisfied with his abilities but not to the degree to stagnate his development)

The clinical narcissist is someone with only conscious self-esteem, but deep down they self-pity.

This narcissist wants to prove to himself, that he's something. When you try to prove something, this is a proof that you are not yet.

This narcissist will avoid anything that makes him feel different from his ego-ideal, (For example, instead of taking an exam to measure his skills, and then self-improve, he will avoid that. But on the other hand, the person with real self-esteem, won't matter a realistic evaluation of his abilities in order to improve.)

The real self-esteem is an abstract and radical idea that shapes the whole mind.

  • What if you didn't pity yourself, but instead you are a great person, and you acknowledge that fact, but you don't dwell on it, and you still improve yourself for yourself? – Flavor May 2 '18 at 17:11
  • I mean on the unconscious level, the narcissists hate themselves. What you describe corresponds to people with real self-esteem. – Themobisback May 2 '18 at 17:56

One way to look at it is to take into account what you (or another person) are measuring yourself against - other people or the universe.

When I embraced political activism, I began doing my homework with a passion and probably knew more about politics than 95% of my colleagues and neighbors within a couple months. How can one not feel somehow arrogant or superior? It makes me appreciate the ancient Greek philosophers, who, from what I've read, weren't terribly humble.

On the other hand, the more you learn, the more you realize how much more there is to learn.

Carl Sagan probably felt that he was smarter than about 99.9% of the people on the planet (because he was), yet he spoke of astronomy as a deeply humbling discipline.

I think people who study philosophy or engage in political activism have to make an ongoing effort to keep their feet on the ground.

I would suggest that a narcissist is a person who adores themself for something they never worked for; their physical appearance, for example. People who admire themselves for the talents they've developed through hard work - be it athletics, the arts or intellectual pursuits - strike me as less narcissistic...though there's always a risk of self-admiration getting out of control.

I would further suggest that there's a big difference between people who think they're absolute gods or goddesses versus those who are impressed with certain abilities but at the same time are keenly aware of their deficiencies. Is a person who wishes they had another shot at life so they could avoid some of the mistakes they made a narcissist?

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