However, narcissists and those with high self-esteem view their social world very differently, and this greatly colors the way they think about themselves and others. And mostly, this view is actually far from reality in the case of narcissism.
Narcissists have a vertical view; they view everyone else as either above or below them. There are no equals. Thus, the goal of the narcissist is to get ahead—by hook or by crook—and he or she will use everything under their control to rise the ladder of success.
Those with high self-esteem, however, view their social world as horizontal. Here, all members of the group are on an equal footing. They seek to get along, not get ahead.
They desire to form deep and intimate connections with other individuals. Other way, they view relationships as ends in themselves, not as a means to achieving supremacy or bolstering their fragile sense of self-worth.
In sum, narcissists view themselves as superior, grandiose, powerful, omnipotent; whereas people with high self-esteem view themselves as worthy.
Signs of both self-esteem and narcissism begin to appear at around age seven. This is a time when children begin developing a subjective sense of self as well as the social perception skills to judge how they compare with others, and how others view them. By adolescence, the Jell-O of personality sets into either a healthy self-esteem or narcissism mold.
To test this theory, the researchers conducted a long-term study in which they measured children’s personality and observed the ways their parents interacted with them. They found that children who developed high self-esteem also had parents who expressed fondness and affection for them—but did not overly praise them. They gave genuine feedback to their thoughts and behaviour. Parents of a child with healthy self-esteem always maintained a bias free evaluation of their children and reinforced them as much as required – verbally or otherwise.
However, children who developed narcissistic tendencies had parents who showered them with praise and constantly compared them to other children who had accomplished less than they did. Hence, this children grew up to be adults who constantly view themselves more worthy of everything as compared to other people, who, to them, are naive, useless and undeserving in every aspect.
In a nutshell, parental warmth led to self-esteem, whereas parental overvaluation led to narcissism.
Brummelman and his colleagues propose several interventions to help children develop high self-esteem while avoiding narcissistic tendencies.
First, they suggest that parents and teachers should reward and praise children for their accomplishments, independent of what their peers have achieved. Comparison should never come in the picture. The difference between “You did a great job!” and “You’re the best!” may be subtle, yet the first conveys worthiness—the core of self-esteem—while the second conveys superiority—the core of narcissism.
Second, parents should nudge children away from narcissistic thinking by encouraging them to think about ways in which they are similar to their peers rather than by promoting superiority in them by downplaying their peers’ potentials and achievements.
And lastly, the researchers propose is aimed at intervening children showing signs of low self-esteem. These children need the significant adults in their lives to help them properly interpret the remarks others make about them.
People with low self-esteem, whether children or adults, tend to dismiss praise and dwell on criticisms.
Elders need to reassure these children that they are worthy of the positive comments they receive from others and that they should take criticism as constructive feedback rather than a tool to humiliate and demean them.