People with strong narcissistic tendencies and similar dark personality traits have low and unstable self-esteem, and because of this, they feel insecure and will constantly compare themselves with others. This psychological mechanism elicits certain emotional and behavioral reactions.
How Narcissists See Themselves and Others
Highly narcissistic people perceive others as either inferior or superior. Since their sense of self-esteem is extremely low, there will always be something that they are envious about.
Another aspect to consider is how they see others. Generally, they perceive the world through a lens of toxic utility. The only question they have in their mind is this: how will you benefit me? For instance, how will you increase my social status? How will you help me have more money? How will you make me look better in the eyes of others? And so on.
People with strong narcissistic characteristics tend to idealize those who they see as useful or powerful. However, on a deeper level, a narcissistic person feels contempt for everyone. They feel contempt for those who they perceive as inferior because they are “weak,” “pathetic,” and “useless.” And they feel contempt for those who they perceive as superior or useful because “why do they have it and I don’t when I’m the one who actually deserves it?”
Below, we will look at some of the more common responses you may encounter when a narcissist is feeling inferior and trying to mask their envy and contempt for others. Sometimes they do that by accusing others of being envious of them—which leads us to the next point….
Entitlement, Paranoia, and Projection
A narcissistic person is quite concentrated on others because they see others as either hurting or benefiting them. And if you don’t benefit them, then by default you are hurting them. To put it simply, if you don’t give them what they want or don’t act how they want, they perceive it as an attack on them. They consider you an enemy even if you didn’t do anything to them.
People who have this mindset are often highly paranoid, too. They are suspicious of others’ motives and think that others work to undermine them. Meanwhile, they themselves are the ones doing it to others. The narcissist is the one who is constantly lying, pretending, plotting, sabotaging, triangulating, grifting, hiding, harassing, cheating, abusing, and so on—all the while accusing others of doing so.
Read more on narcissistic projection in my article titled 5 Ways Narcissists Project and Attack You.
Superiority Complex and Pretending
Superiority complex is defined as an attitude of superiority which conceals actual feelings of inferiority and failure. This is why people sometimes think that a person with strong narcissistic tendencies has a high self-esteem while in fact they don’t. It just may appear that they do.
Narcissists convince themselves, often unconsciously, that they are actually better than their target, despite constantly feeling inferior. They often express it externally: by demeaning, slandering, ridiculing, shaming, and otherwise attacking their target. Or, by showing off and lying about their own achievements.
The most common narcissistic strategy is to pretend to be better than you actually are in order to impress, deceive, and manipulate others.
Actually, some of these things are taught in business, like buying a nice suit or a fancy car to appear more successful. And while it’s decent advice to go to a job interview looking good, we have all probably encountered a person who is broke yet drives a luxury car and wears expensive clothing all so that you would invest in their scam.
Narcissists also like to pretend to be more than they actually are: by lying about who they are and what they’ve done. For example, they will say that their business is booming while it’s actually failing, that they are very busy while they actually have nothing important to do with their day, that they have so many customers or clients while in fact they have only a few or none at all, that they have done so much while in reality they have done very little, that they are very generous and helpful while actually they are conning and using others, that they are caring and loving while actually being abusive and cruel, that they are incredibly virtuous while in fact they lie, cheat, and callously harm others—and so on.
Those who don’t know how to evaluate these things sometimes fall into the narcissist’s trap and think, “Wow, this person is so wonderful and successful!” But those who know how to read people can easily see the façade because the lies are very clear or there are many inconsistencies.
Sometimes it’s so evident that it’s laughable. For example, the narcissistic person pretends to be somewhere doing something and even posting pictures to prove it and to show off. Yet a simple Reverse Image Search can show you in seconds that the picture is taken from a website. Or, they pretend to be authentic, happy, and successful, but if you bother to do a quick investigation, you can find a well-documented trail of lies and disgusting or downright anti-social behavior. Or, if they pretend to be an expert in something and you ask them for more details, it’s quickly clear that they are lying and don’t know what they are talking about.
That’s how pathetic it is sometimes, but since narcissists feel contempt for everyone, they think that other people are really stupid and will never figure it out. “How can anyone be as smart as me?” And they also think that they can get away with it because social rules don’t apply to them.
When the narcissistic person faces the consequences of their actions, they become enraged. They feel—or simply pretend to be—mistreated. They cry injustice, abuse, and persecution. They say, in so many words, “You don’t understand, I’M the victim here!” Often doing it while at the same time accusing the other party of playing the victim.
I write more in depth about how narcissists play the victim in this previous article.
The Bottom Line
People with strong narcissistic tendencies regulate their low, shaky sense of self-esteem by pretending to be superior, and by putting others down. Lying and pretending also has a different purpose: it helps the narcissistic person trick, manipulate, and abuse others.
Don’t fall for it!