Some people believe narcissists are very insecure, while others argue that they are confident and secure in themselves. However, most of us don’t really know what’s going on inside a narcissist’s head.
Are they really as confident as they seem to be, or are they actually quite insecure deep inside? If so, what causes their insecurities? Why do they feel and behave this way?
To help us better understand, we asked experts, “are narcissists insecure?”
Here are their insights:
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Doctor in Integrative Mental Health
Narcissists can be secure
However, they do not have a sense of inner security. Their thought process, behavior, and attitude are far different from individuals with internal security.
People with inner security feel good about themselves and do not need external stimuli to feel this way. On the contrary, narcissists need others to serve as mirrors so they can appear suitable to themselves and others they want to impress.
Narcissists will use people to fulfill their inner insecurities
Narcissists will use people to feel good about themselves and fulfill their inner insecurities. Individuals with internal security can self-regulate and have enough self-esteem. Narcissists’ self-esteem depends exclusively on how people see them.
They love power and being around influential people
Their self-regulation depends on their external environment. They love power and being around influential people. Therefore, you can easily spot narcissists in the personas of well-succeeded professionals, artists, executives, and politicians.
Narcissists lack empathy and consideration for others
Individuals with inner security are empathetic; contrary, narcissists lack empathy and consideration for others. They quickly dispose of others when they are no longer useful. However, when they want to keep them, they know how to seduce them while they are of their interest.
Individuals with inner security have more coherence between their thoughts and actions and tend to be guided by their values. Narcissists can be charming and speak beautifully about values, ethics, and morals.
They have a sense of entitlement
Still, they believe that those do not apply to them. Their sense of entitlement makes them act according to their instincts, no matter how much it might be detrimental to others.
They find someone to blame for their actions
Individuals with inner security have a sense of integrity. Narcissists tend to be natural liars and rarely take responsibility for their actions; instead, they often find someone or something to blame.
They are typical chameleons; they shape their personalities to blend to get closer to their next target.
The sense of security of narcissists is nothing compared to individuals with inner security, and having a relationship with them can be detrimental to individuals’ physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Living with insecure narcissists can be challenging
Living with individuals with inner insecurities like narcissists can be challenging and unhealthy because they are seldom trustworthy and accountable and will never recognize their mistakes.
Victims who have lived with narcissists often experience high anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. They are often left empty, broken, and fulfilled with insecurities.
Paul DePompo, PsyD, ABPP
Psychologist and Researcher | Founder, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Institute of Southern California | Author, “The Other Woman’s affair“
They are pretty fragile deep inside
Just like a vase, a narcissist is happiest when you see them as someone with a whole bouquet. Yet, at the core, they are pretty fragile. They feel empty when they have nothing to tote. A narcissist cannot manage relationship pressure with confidence (only arrogance).
When set with a request, have them deal with someone who has authority over them, or, if they are in a position where they cannot escape actual vulnerability, the glass will shatter.
You can find their low esteem if you unravel them more
A narcissist may seem so purely confident it may be hard to discern whether poor self-esteem is at the core.
Still, the more you unravel and strip them of the pomp and circumstance behind their crown and praise, you will find the low esteem hiding beneath it all.
They suffer a wound if they lose something they need
This is why when a narcissist loses a job or relationship they need; they suffer a wound. If they will make any change, it has to be done before they dust themselves off and find someone else to see the emperor’s new crown.
They cannot be supportive if they feel intimidated by someone
When a narcissist feels intimidated (this could be an attractive restaurant server, a colleague, a successful friend, or a family member), they cannot be genuinely supportive. Only appear supportive.
Related: How to Make a Narcissist Fear You
Behind their back, they will put them down, mob them with subtle stories of how they have “issues” all for you, well, for them. Their core insecurity makes them predictable critics for anyone that may be competing.
They do their best to appear confident and secure
Outwardly the narcissist does their best to appear confident, assured, intelligent, charming, and secure. However, underneath the mask of congeniality is the potential for burning rage at any slights, inattention, and criticism or blame.
They unconsciously suffer from a feeling of emptiness inside
The narcissist is silently and perhaps, unconsciously suffering from a feeling of emptiness inside that they perpetually seek to fill through external confirmation and applause.
The childhood of a narcissist may have featured performing in some ways for their narcissistic parents who needed the same external admiration and sought that inevitably from their child.
That child wouldn’t easily form their own identity as worthwhile as a separate individual. This leads to a lifelong struggle to figure out who the person is, that is, to find a core sense of self.
Without that core self-being, reliable and constant the narcissist is most likely on edge, forever seeking recognition rather than internal worth to figure out him or herself.
Someone who wishes to be revered and followed as if they were some kind of ideal, even a leader, is a great burden.
This person may even have brain anatomy differing from the norm so that they are incapable of empathy toward others who would then genuinely feel connected to this lost soul.
Founder, Join the Island
They will do whatever they need to feel superior to others
Narcissists need to feel superior to others in some capacity, just like everybody on the planet.
The difference between narcissists and everyone else is that narcissists will try to make themselves feel superior to another person even if they are not superior to this person.
They will do whatever they need to to get this feeling, even if it means lying about their social and/or financial status, to satisfy this need.
They will want attention if they don’t get the result they want
Imagine that you are someone who is not getting the results you want in life, be it financial, physical, etc. You are tired of seeing other people get recognition for their achievements. You want that attention over these other people.
If you were a narcissist, you would buy a big house with a large mortgage or buy a new fancy car without having the money to pay for the vehicle with the hopes of stealing the attention away from the people having success.
Narcissist gets more people to despise them
When the narcissist tries to do these things, most people that the narcissist is trying to please, notice what the narcissist is doing, and they tend to ignore them since they aren’t adding any value to their lives.
So what ends up happening is that the narcissist gets more people to despise them rather than get them to like them, which was the intent of buying those things.
Since the narcissist has a considerable need to have a sense of superiority over others, they’ll find a way to pretend that they are superior over others when this need for superiority isn’t seen through results in real life (ex. getting promotions, being in better health than someone, etc.).
Narcissists do this without doing anything to improve themselves. Hence, they make the situation worse for themselves, not just financially, but in their mission to make friends and get people to like them.
I remember when I was in high school, and I was the biggest liar ever! I remember not having this sense of superiority satisfied and having to try to please people by any means necessary to get this sense of superiority satisfied.
I lied about my SAT scores, the classes I was taking, and the fact that my parents were wealthy. This got me nowhere, and even two girls I wanted to date pointed out my behavior.
Realizing that my insecurity was driving me to become a narcissist, I slowly changed this behavior through college and into adulthood. I don’t concern myself with how people perceive me, and I always improve myself daily. I am genuinely interested in other people.
As a result of making these changes that are the opposite of how a narcissist acts, I am happier and more people seem to like me. If you have narcissistic behavior or would like to know how not to become an insecure narcissist like I was.
Here are four tips that I encourage you to employ:
- Don’t worry about what others think of you. Be you and go your own way.
- Improve yourself every day (ex., reading, exercising, etc.). You will become more valuable in the world, and others will want to be friends with you once they see the results you get in the real world.
- Don’t brag. Let your results speak for themselves. Of course, if you are selling a product or service, you will need to brag about how you can benefit them to close the sale. But aside from this, no bragging. It adds no value otherwise.
- Be genuinely interested in other people. You will make more friends this way than by trying to get others to like you.
Founder & CEO, Icon Medical Centers
Deeply unsettling characteristics are present in narcissistic personalities, but what if they served as a form of defense? What if they were merely a front to keep people at bay and conceal weaknesses?
Why wouldn’t a narcissist have weaknesses if even the most self-assured and polished individuals do? We need to figure out why these people are so uneasy.
They feel unworthy and unsatisfied
They constantly feel completely unworthy and unsatisfied with their employment. They deceive and exaggerate their sense of self because they never think they live up to the expectations of others.
They will never confess they are in a job they despise and will instead pretend to be the CEO out of fear of being judged and looked down upon.
They frequently had a difficult childhood
Our personalities are products of our environments, and our formative years are when we are young. Adolescence and childhood solidify low self-esteem.
A person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) was probably told as a young child that they were inadequate and useless. Although their difficult childhood does not excuse their behavior, it does explain why they are such cunning adults.
They panic when they become overwhelmed in relationships
They worry about their relationships because narcissists are unsure of how to handle either romantic or professional relationships.
Narcissists make terrible partners. When they become overwhelmed, they panic and flee without thinking, which only leads to additional problems and suffering. Their destructive cycles and toxic relationships cause serious damage.
Related: Can Toxic Relationships Be Healed?
They are always judgmental of others
Because they lack confidence and are unwilling to accept others as they are, narcissists are always judgmental of others.
Because of what kids see on social media, they construct walls around themselves and won’t allow others in. None of their interactions are sincere because of their hard hearts.
They are weak because they don’t understand emotions
Due to their difficult upbringings, they rarely got love, affection, or instruction, which prevents them from expressing their emotions as adults. They also think that to be respected, they need to come across as strong. What’s worse than not being valued?
CEO and Lead Therapist, Naya Clinics
They cannot enjoy something without praise and compliments
Narcissists usually seem to live overconfident and charmed with themselves, but these actions shout their insecurities out loud.
A confident person doesn’t feel the need to be validated by others. At the same time, narcissists cannot enjoy anything or even themselves unless they receive praise and compliments about these things. In fact, most narcissists’ actions are out of their insecurity.
Narcissists who don’t accept they are suitable for their partner will fear rejection in relationships. Consequently, they may become pretentious in an attempt to stay ahead and retain control.
These narcissists’ impositions of overconfidence are just a façade to cover up their true feelings and perspective of their surroundings. However, it’s very unusual for a narcissist to recognize their own insecurities as they are incapable of seeing their faults.
They are constantly shaming inside their heads
Their insecurities which trigger a constant shaming inside their heads, are only manifested towards others in a manipulative way. Ultimately, this manipulation is a defensive mechanism that destroys their insecurities and validates their self-image.
Kat Smith, MSCMH, NCC, LPC-C
Trauma Therapist, Emdrokc
They are born from insecure attachment early in life
I believe that narcissists are born from insecure attachment early in life — something we can refer to as attachment trauma.
One could look at it as a protective mechanism to ensure that powerful emotions tied to fear of abandonment, rejection, or shaky self-worth do not permeate what feels like a safe microcosm we have created for ourselves.
They hold onto negative beliefs about themselves
Our life experiences often lend themselves to the creation of negative beliefs about ourselves that impact how we interact with the world around us — and our minds create ways to protect ourselves from the sting of that perceived reality.
If your worse fear is “I have no control over my life” or “I cannot keep myself emotionally safe,” these maladaptive traits block anything that may prove these beliefs to be true.
Founding Partner | Trial Lawyer, The Snapka Law Firm
Narcissists might be insecure, but not all of them
While narcissists might be insecure, not all of them are so. A lot of narcissists have a fragile sense of extremely high self-esteem. This weakness is the source of their insecurity. They feel the need to talk about themselves highly, very frequently.
This need comes from the dreadful feeling of not being enough for people around them. They fear that people will see through their words and notice how they are not enough.
This high self-esteem is also hurt very easily. They end up realizing that people do not enjoy being around them.
They convince themselves that they aren’t good enough
While people dislike them because of their excessively boastful attitude, they end up convincing themselves that it is because they aren’t good enough.
Insecurity starts setting in, and their self-esteem shatters. It is a harmful cycle because they tend to boast harder, and people distance themselves even more.
Some narcissists aren’t insecure about themselves
There, however, can be other types of narcissists who are not insecure about themselves. They not only boast about themselves, they believe it too. These narcissists usually don’t see the problem in themselves.
Unlike the former narcissists, they blame their relationship strains on the other person. Even if they realize that they have certain traits of a narcissist, they might not see an issue with it and refuse psychological help.
Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy | Director of Marketing & Content, Divorce Answers
Narcissism and insecurity share similarities
Those who are narcissists in nature and insecure people do have a lot in common, especially when they are in romantic relationships.
Among them include:
- The inability to deal with their emotions or their partner’s.
- Touch childhoods or experienced traumatic experiences.
- A lack of trust in their significant others, jealousy, and even fake empathy.
Covert narcissists are insecure in nature
There are two types of narcissists:
- Overt Narcissists
- Covert Narcissists
Covert narcissists are usually more reliant on people for self-validation, unlike Overt ones, who have an inflated sense of self. They crave admiration and build self-esteem through others by first putting themselves down.
Insecurity drives narcissism
A new study from the University of New York has found that narcissists “Engage in unpleasant behaviors, such as self-congratulation” for social validation and performative self-elevation.
All of these imply insecurity plays a crucial part in explaining why narcissists resort to specific actions or behavior.
Founder and CEO, Practice Health
It depends on the underlying cause of their apparent narcissism
Some narcissists are insecure, and some are not — it depends on the underlying cause of their apparent narcissism.
The narcissistic behavior itself is merely a symptom; it can be caused by simple insecurity or an actual psychological condition such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Sometimes insecure people will behave as if they think they are great at everything to garner positive attention and cover up their insecurity. With such people, their underlying insecurities will usually creep out sooner or later.
They may not be insecure if they have Narcissistic Personality Disorder
If someone has a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, they may not be insecure. This disorder is often characterized by a highly inflated sense of self-importance, accompanied by a strong need for attention and a general disregard for the feelings of others.
When such a person behaves as if they think they are wonderful, it is likely they really think they are. You are less likely to be able to reason with such a person, nor are they likely to be open to your point of view.
They are always trying to cover up their insecurities
Those with narcissistic personalities overcompensate for their insecurities by flexing a lot. They are desperate to show off the knowledge or the skills they think they have. They do so to cover up what they’re deficient in.
They try to make people believe they’re an authority on a subject
Narcissists who don’t have a breadth of knowledge on a particular subject will try to make people believe they’re an authority on the subject. They’ll try to have the first, middle, and last word on it.
They will try to end the conversation before anyone else has a chance to say anything
They will try to end the conversation before anyone else has a chance to say anything about it — and they do this to avoid looking silly or stupid.
Narcissists constantly have to cope with their insecurities. It’s a big part of what drives their behavior. Observant people are not fooled by it.
They seek attention for fear of becoming obscure
Narcissists are insecure. They display an array of egocentric behaviors that seek to validate their insecurity. Ideally, they seek attention for fear of becoming obscure.
Their inflated sense of self-importance is common, especially in crowds where they are either loud, proud, or aggressive to ensure they are in the limelight.
They hate those people who have achieved their significance
They easily hate those who have achieved and feel they ought to have what gives them significance among the masses. Unlike most insecure people who cower in silence or isolation, narcissists thrive in open antics of unnecessary strength.
For example, they may be bullies as children and dominate bosses as adults. They take credit despite the inability to perform and always ensure they appear essential even when they are not needed. The fragile ego of narcissists forces them to strive for recognition.
They make the other person live in fear to maintain attention
In most cases, this provides a cover for their problems which include stress disorders and fear of the unknown — living without any importance. In marriages and relationships, they fear being left alone.
When threatened with a breakup or divorce, they can either be violent or play victim despite being aggressive, obsessive, and violent with their partners. They can drag a break up or make the other person live in fear to maintain their importance and attention in that person’s life.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Narcissism Due to Insecurity?
While it is true that many people with narcissistic tendencies may experience feelings of insecurity, the relationship between insecurity and narcissism is not as simple as a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Research has shown a complex interplay between various psychological and environmental factors that contribute to the development of narcissistic traits.
Insecurity is often considered a key factor in developing narcissistic tendencies. Individuals who feel insecure may seek to boost their self-esteem by putting others down or presenting themselves in a grandiose or exaggerated way. However, it is also important to note that other factors, such as childhood experiences, social and cultural influences, and personality traits, can also play a role in the development of narcissistic tendencies.
How to Spot a Narcissist?
Grandiose sense of self-importance: They constantly talk about their achievements and abilities and expect to be recognized as superior to others.
• Need for excessive admiration: They strongly need admiration and praise from others and feel entitled to it.
• Lack of empathy: They have difficulty understanding or caring about the feelings and needs of others and may use others for their own gain.
• Exploitative behavior: They often use others to meet their own needs without considering the impact on the other person.
• Entitlement: They have an entitled attitude and expect special treatment, privileges, and exceptions to rules.
• Jealousy: They are often envious of others and may feel threatened by the success or accomplishments of others.
• Arrogance: They display an arrogant or haughty attitude and may look down on others as inferior.
• Preoccupation with fantasies of power, success, and attractiveness: They constantly need to prove their worth through their image and status and often have unrealistic expectations for themselves.
It’s important to note that not everyone who displays these traits is necessarily a diagnosed narcissist. However, if someone consistently exhibits several of these behaviors, it may be a sign of narcissistic personality disorder. It is best to seek the advice of a mental health professional for a proper diagnosis.
What Are the Insecurities of a Narcissist?
Despite their exterior confidence, narcissists often have underlying insecurities that drive their behavior. Some of the most common insecurities of a narcissist include:
• Fear of rejection or abandonment: Narcissists often have a deep-seated fear of being rejected or abandoned, and they may go to great lengths to avoid these outcomes. They may manipulate others or engage in controlling behaviors to ensure they are always in a position of power.
• Insecurity about their abilities or accomplishments: Despite their claims of superiority, many narcissists are plagued by self-doubt and insecurity about their abilities and accomplishments. They may constantly seek validation from others to reassure themselves of their worth.
• Vulnerability to criticism: Narcissists have a fragile sense of self and are often hypersensitive to criticism. They may react angrily or defensively to even the slightest perceived slight, as they see it as a threat to their image of superiority.
• Difficulty forming genuine relationships: Due to their lack of empathy and self-absorption, narcissists often struggle to form meaningful, genuine relationships with others. They may use others for their own gain and have difficulty maintaining close relationships over time.
• Difficulty dealing with failure or setbacks: Because narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, they have a hard time accepting failure or setbacks. They may react with anger, denial, or depression as these events threaten their image of perfection.
What Trauma Causes Narcissism?
One of the most common causes of narcissism is childhood trauma, such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Children who experience these traumatic events may develop feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, and a need to compensate for these feelings by trying to appear superior to others. This can lead to the development of narcissistic traits as a way to protect themselves from being hurt again.
Additionally, individuals who grow up with parents who are overly critical or abusive may also be at risk for developing narcissistic traits. If a child’s needs are unmet, and their self-esteem is consistently damaged, they may turn to narcissism as a way to cope and feel better about themselves.
It’s important to note that not all individuals who experience childhood trauma will develop narcissistic traits. There may be other contributing factors, such as genetics and life experiences. Nevertheless, understanding the role that trauma can play in the development of narcissistic personality disorder can help in its diagnosis and treatment.
Is It Possible for a Narcissist to Change and Become Less Insecure?
Yes, it is possible for a person with narcissistic traits to change and become less insecure, but it is a challenging process that requires self-awareness and a strong commitment to personal growth.
Research shows that narcissists can learn to regulate their emotions and behavior, improve their relationships with others, and reduce their need for admiration and validation. This typically involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication, if necessary.
However, the likelihood of successful treatment depends on the individual’s motivation to change, the severity of their narcissistic traits, and the presence of any co-occurring mental health conditions.
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