do narcissists have low self esteem

Do Narcissists Have Low Self-Esteem? New Research Says Not Actually

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Do Narcissists Have Low Self-Esteem?

When it comes to understanding the root cause of narcissism, people tend to fall into two camps. The first group typically believes that all narcissists are self-entitled jerks without any regard for other people. The second group tends to be more sympathetic- they think that narcissists are wounded souls who need more compassion and understanding.

As it stands, narcissism can be complicated. All narcissists crave power, control, and recognition. They all rely on shady manipulation tactics to ensure they meet their needs. And while some narcissists may be more charming than others, all can be dangerous. 

But do narcissists have low self-esteem? And if they think so poorly about themselves, how do they even become narcissistic? Let’s get into what you need to know. 

Are Narcissists Insecure?

The simple answer: some are, but many aren’t. 

The more complicated answer: Even if narcissists are insecure, they rarely reveal that part of themselves to others. They don’t make a conscious effort to try to improve their internal selves. Instead, they use their fragile egos as an excuse to continue harming people and focusing on self-preservation. 

In other words, narcissists aren’t interested in recovery from the inside out. Instead, they’re focused on maintaining their narcissistic supply and using other people for validating, affirming, and enabling their toxic behavior. 

If narcissists are insecure, they use those empty feelings to inflict harm on other people. At the same time, they still focus on making sure the world revolves around them. 

Why Do Some Narcissists Have Very High Self-Esteem?

Some narcissists are easy to spot. They are loud and boisterous; they demand attention from others, and they love being in the spotlight of everything. These narcissists tend to be obnoxious and grandiose. They do whatever it takes to feel important, even when their actions negatively impact others.

Make no mistake about it: many times, narcissists DO think highly about themselves. They DO believe they are better than other people, and they DO assume they are entitled to whatever they want when they want it. 

Narcissists who were overvalued as children simply grow up expecting that same level of admiration. In fact, contradicting most assumptions, parental overvaluation may even be a greater indicator of narcissism than trauma or other adverse childhood experiences.  

Furthermore, many narcissists have insight into their narcissism. They generally know that others might not perceive them as positively as they see themselves. They might also identify exactly how they distort reality to get what they want.

It’s important to be mindful of the tendency to feel sorry for narcissists. They might not be hurting nearly as much as you think they are. 

Why Do Some Narcissists Have Low Self-Esteem?

Some research suggests that narcissists simply use their ridiculous strategies to compensate for low self-esteem. They live by flexing to avoid dealing with their true feelings. But they do this so automatically- and so consistently- that their narcissism becomes more and more reinforced. 

By that point, they don’t even realize they are compensating. Instead, it’s just become a natural part of their identity. 

But covert narcissists are far more discreet when it comes to seeking power and control. They may present as passive, fragile, and even insecure around others. They may appear uncertain of themselves, and they might try to just blend into the background. In other words, their actions might seem completely counterintuitive to genuine narcissism.

Like overt narcissists, covert narcissists often struggle with envy, poor emotional regulation, and a lack of empathy. However, they may also have low self-esteem. That said, their low self-esteem fuels their self-absorption and neediness. 

For example, instead of trying to work on strengthening their confidence, they often focus on how they can tear other people down. These efforts often come across as passive-aggressive, and they may be confusing. For instance, an overt narcissist will argue back with someone who gives them negative feedback. A covert narcissist might appear to ignore the feedback- only to then spread nasty rumors about the person behind their back.

How Do Narcissists Lift Their Self-Esteem?

Unfortunately, their strategies aren’t very healthy. If you’re closely involved in their life, you may be prone to their manipulation and abuse for them to meet their bottomless needs.

Putting You Down

Narcissists feel better about themselves when they can pit someone below them. That’s why they often gravitate towards leadership positions- they love situations where they can control people.

In relationships, a narcissist might put you down by undermining your successes, laughing at your dreams, or sabotaging your efforts. They may also criticize or blame you for anything that goes wrong in their life.

Gaslighting Others

Narcissists undoubtedly cause tremendous damage, and gaslighting is one of the worst offenders. Gaslighting is a technique designed to make you question your reality. Narcissists gaslight by twisting the truth to make it seem like you’re overreacting or misunderstanding the situation.

Gaslighting may sound like this:

  • “I have no idea what you’re talking about! I never said that.”
  • “You’re being really sensitive right now.”
  • “Why are you so upset about this? It isn’t a big deal.”
  • “I was only kidding- no need to get worried!”
  • “You’re looking into this too much.”
  • “We already discussed this. You don’t remember?”
  • “I’m sorry that you’re mad about this. I’m always trying to make you happy.”

Many times, narcissists rely on gaslighting when their self-esteem feels compromised. They don’t want to give anyone else the upper hand, so they manipulate the truth to make you doubt yourself.

Escaping Reality 

Narcissists often try to feel better about themselves by detaching from the real world altogether. That’s why they have such high rates of alcoholism, extreme shopping or gambling, workaholism, and eating disorders. 

They engage in compulsive behavior to temporarily lift their emotions. And because they often think they’re above consequences, they often don’t realize the potential problems associated with their risky decisions. 

Of course, this cycle is devastating for loved ones. You might feel worried or angry about their behavior. But don’t expect any confrontations or interventions to go well- narcissists won’t change their ways unless they feel they absolutely must (and even then, their efforts tend to be short-lived). 

Bragging Incessantly

All narcissists brag. Overt narcissists do it outright. They showcase their accomplishments and go on and on about them. They seemingly have no filter (or awareness of others) when it comes to highlighting their greatness. 

Covert narcissists can be more subtle. They often humblebrag by making more self-deprecating statements. For example, they might post a picture of their beach vacation with the caption saying, what an ugly view. Or, they may boast about an exciting new job by making a comment like, Ugh! I guess I’m going to have to buy some real work clothes now. 

Soliciting Empathy

Narcissists love when other people feel sorry for them. It’s why they can present as incredibly strong in one moment- and totally fragile in the next. Even pity is a form of attention, and narcissists take all the attention they can get.

Sometimes, they may exaggerate specific issues to make it sound like things are worse than they really are. “My head has been killing me lately…I’m sure it’s nothing, but the doctor did seem a little concerned, so he wants to run more tests. There’s definitely the possibility of a brain tumor. I know we aren’t speaking anymore, but I figured you would want to know.”

Other times, they might blame external circumstances for their narcissistic behavior. “I know I keep hurting you. I have been talking about my trauma in therapy, and I’m realizing just how much my parents were never there for me. Nobody showed me how to love. I’m hoping you can just be a little more patient with me. I obviously don’t want to hurt you.”

Monkey Branching 

Narcissists need constant recognition and validation. They rely on other people and things to meet those needs because they can’t do it themselves. They depend on their relationships to help them feel whole- even though they never truly feel whole. 

Many narcissists like to hedge their bets and ensure they have exit strategies. Monkey branching allows them to avoid real commitment and hop around from relationship to relationship. 

This strategy also temporarily boosts their ego and self-esteem. It can feel gratifying knowing that someone else wants them. In addition, because narcissists feel entitled to whatever they want, fulfilling that need maintains their selfish motives.

Final Thoughts

Relationships with narcissists can be exhausting. Instead of asking yourself, do narcissists have low self-esteem, it’s much better to focus your efforts on this question:

Could they be acting this way for other reasons besides low self-esteem?

Because once you focus more on this, you’re more likely to recognize what needs to change. Narcissists can and will take advantage of your generosity and forgiving nature.

How to Finally Break Free From the Narcissistic Nightmare

Until I let go of the idea that narcissists were acting out of crippling shame and low self-esteem, I was powerless to stop the crippling doubts and traumatization I experienced.

Today, after healing myself through the exact steps in The Essential Break Free Bootcamp, I experience healthy happy relationships that are kind, supportive, and fulfilling, and I have absolutely no trouble in walking away from anyone who is manipulative or abusive because I feel safe and in ownership of my worth and power.

I want the same for you too.

If you want to become aligned with these truths to actualize your recovery out of the pain and into truly healthy, wholesome, and fulfilling connections, then I’d love to help you.

Get Started On The Stages of Healing After Narcissistic Abuse

One of my greatest passions is helping previously victimized people become empowered. If you are ready for this astounding upleveling, the best thing you can do is join the Break Free community. 

My best recommendation is to find an online program to keep you on track and to offer support.  The Break Free Program has been vetted by therapists and neuropsychologists as an effective step toward getting over narcissistic abuse. Aside from keeping you safe from narcissists, it also empowers you to go out into the world with confidence.

Join Break Free and learn to:

  1. ✅ Dramatically overpower your addiction to the narcissist so you can stop being their victim
  2. ✅ Get to a place of acceptance so you can stop doubting yourself over your decision to heal your life
  3. ✅ Set limits and create stronger boundaries against emotional manipulation that has caused you to act out of character
    + so much more!

Just click the link to join:

👉 Join now with a sliding scale and lifetime access.


Baumeister, R. F., Smart, L., & Boden, J. M. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review,103(1), 5-33. doi:10.1037/0033-295x.103.1.5

Glenn, A. L., Raine, A., & Schug, R. A. (2009). The neural correlates of moral decision-making in psychopathy. Molecular Psychiatry, 14, 5−6.

Nguyen, K. T., & Shaw, L. (2020). The etiology of non-clinical narcissism: Clarifying the role of adverse childhood experiences and parental overvaluation. Personality and Individual Differences,154, 109615. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2019.109615

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Karen says November 5, 2021

They like attention at every event. We had a birthday party for our daughters partner the narc was four months pregnant gave a list of food to eat even though the day before posted about eating big fat cakes. Our daughter at the time was so ill waiting for a massive heart op. Anyway the day arrive we had our orders for her food yes she had said she was sick but after arrival stuffed her face but the most alarming thing was she waddling in and huffed and puffed and grunting and complained about the big bump she was carrying at four months only not even showing and every few minutes asking our son to get her this and that. Our daughter did her a lovely meal no thank you. After said event the meal was put on media with no comment about it or effort. Christmas no better no thank you no help . I asked after baby born was she still visiting us for Christmas day lunch the answer back yes I can’t cook lunch . I was taken aback because I thought she might say I love seeing you all some sort of compliment but over the years she will give you a complement if you are lucky then in the next sentence take it away and you feel deflated. Nothing is every praised in fact if you get praised it will always be because it is useful to her. Every event she was ill made you feel guilty that she attended but she should have been in bed, or she will sulk or pick on something . Our daughter was drinking enjoying herself and she stated you are like my friend you drink too much. Thankfully daughter said back it is Christmas I am enjoying myself. On our Daughters birthday event the said she person announced the date of their wedding for attention on our daughters day which means so much to us all daughter is lucky to be well and not in a hospital bed most days. But again every event she has to take over either faking illness sulking or criticizing something or someone with little sarcastic jabs.

Jarred c. Fox says October 29, 2021

It seems as tho narcissism is Directed more towards being a mental illness in men.less than 3 weeks ago my wife of only 4 1/2 months put an order of protection against me and took everything from me.ive been trying to wrap my head around why and how a. Person can supposedly love you so much and then;( for what I thought was for no reason at all )decide to destroy not easily manipulated and conned but she had me completely fooled for almost 2 now finding out that she is a full blown narcissist.she lures men into believing that she’s falling in love with them,and in the process works her way into your life with the intent to take everything you own and then when she’s drained you dry she discards you and moves on to her next victim all the while making you believe everything was your fault.

Anne says October 15, 2021

I personally do not have a narcissist in my life, but my daughter is in the middle of a nasty divorce from one. Your website has helped me to come to terms with the years of abuse she has endured from this monster who totally charmed all of us. Thank you and God bless!

Julianna Hernandez says October 14, 2021

Great topic and well explained about NPD, have dealt with one for too long.

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