Healthy confidence or destructive narcissism? 10 warning signs

Although some features of a narcissistic personality may look like confidence or healthy self-esteem, it’s not the same. Narcissism crosses the border of healthy confidence and turns into a self absorption that puts your leadership at risk. 

Now, instead of a healthy confidence that is attractive to followers, you come across as “conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may have a sense of entitlement. And when you don’t receive the special treatment to which you feel entitled, you may become very impatient or angry,” according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

How can you tell the difference?  Here are ten warning signs. While all of us could probably see something of ourselves in this list, identifying closely with more than five of these characteristics could signal an overactive ego and an at-risk leadership style.

10 Symptoms of Narcissism

  1. Believing that you’re better than others.
  2. Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness.
  3. Exaggerating your achievements or talents.
  4. Expecting constant praise and admiration.
  5. Believing that you’re special and acting accordingly.
  6. Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings.
  7. Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior.
  8. Being jealous of others. Believing that others are jealous of you.
  9. Setting unrealistic goals
  10. Having a fragile self-esteem. Being easily hurt and rejected.

Regaining your balance

Is your ego on overdrive?  If that’s the case, here are some suggestions for keeping things in perspective.

Practice humility.  Mathew Hayward, author of Ego Check recommends that before you make any big decision, ask yourself three questions.  “Am I getting the right input into this decision?”  “Do I have someone whom I can trust to tell me when I’m wrong?” “Am I the very best person to be making this call?” 

Be curious. David Marcum and Steven Smith, authors of Egonomics encourage you to, “Give yourself permission to test what you think, feel, and believe to be true.  Remember that you aren’t expected to know everything about anything.”  They also recommend that you seek the truth. Find out what is really going on.  It helps close the gap between your perception and reality.

Practice self-compassion. Authors Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell of The Narcissism Epidemic remind you to be kind to yourself while accurately facing reality. Also, be mindful. Practice living in the present. It keeps the self from entering every experience in your life. Mindfulness quiets the self-absorbed voice in your head so you can see the world more clearly. Finally, acknowledge commonalities with others.  Research shows that when narcissistic personalities discover something in common with others, egotism dissipates.

Best-selling business author Ken Blanchard often tells his audiences that EGO stands for Edging Good Out.  Don’t let an overactive ego limit your effectiveness as a leader.  Keep things in perspective for best results.


Narcissistic personality disorder symptoms from Mayo Clinic website

Ego Check by Mathew Hayward

Egonomics by David Marcum and Steven Smith

The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell



9 thoughts on “Healthy confidence or destructive narcissism? 10 warning signs

    • Hi Roman–thanks for the link to the Guardian article. Political leadership is probably one of the more susceptible professions for narcissism, but leaders in any position need to be on guard. Thanks for your comment!

  1. I just left a job that I loved because of a narcissistic “leader” and the resulting sycophantic behavior and other forms of torment. I am posting because this experience has made me want to leave a mark somewhere that perhaps it can help someone, someday, somehow. And…being on my way to work under a much better leader with no backtracking in my career, though I struggled for a long time with the decision to look for another job, I need to do this as a piece of the cleansing process!

    I joined this organization under another leader, who left about a year later. Our choices for replacing her were limited, and considering the severe NPD of the person who was chosen to replace her, it was easy to see why the decision makers were blown away. She had the walk, the talk, the overblown resume, the resounding confidence.

    After several years of her reign, she is still in place, and has left a wake of destroyed self esteem in valuable employees. In my eye, she has a line… either fall above the line, as you are wealthy, pedigreed in some way, or powerful enough to further her ego or her career. If you fall below the line, she perceives you as beneath her, even though she knows nothing, really about you, even though you may do a superb job, even though (and this is a problem for her) others really like and admire you. She is incredibly skilled at charming those she sees as above the line. It can be money, a pedigree, or power that puts you above the line. The therapist I went to see to help me deal with this said “narcissists like sparkly things.” So….if you were sparkly either financially or due to your designer duds or your position in the industry, you fell above the line. I caught on and brought the sparkly too late, as well as the “yes ma’am” behavior, even when it was detrimental to the organization. So I was among the smart, the hidden pedigrees, the well-liked…the enemy. I watched for years as this person destroyed – and continues to destroy – wonderful people.

    An unfortunate organizational result of her NPD is the role of sycophants. As I’m no expert on narcissists (but feel like one sometimes), I don’t understand the process, but she has a number of sycophants who she completely tramples, but praises constantly, because they do her dirty work. They destroy the organization because they are not qualified in the industry, but since they do her sh*t work, they are valuable to her, so are allowed to remain in place and are disgustingly overpaid and over-rewarded, which angers and frustrates the qualified, the underpaid, the under-rewarded.

    When I was trolling the web for support before I enlisted a therapist (who completely validated our casual diagnoses – I said “My boss is a narcissist” and he proceeded to list everything she does, as I sat there in shock), I read a post on another boad saying “GET. OUT.” That scared me. I did not want to get out. I liked my job, my colleagues.

    Unless you fall above the line (regardless of whether you are useful to the institution or not) or choose to be a sycophant and catch on to that early in the process), GET.OUT. If you are a good person with a prominent enough role in the organization so that you cannot hide or fly under the radar, and you work with passion and integrity, GET. OUT. If you can’t due to your circumstances, find a way to cope. Therapy, exercise, something pleasurable. But I really recommend therapy. It’s nice having an expert validate your feelings.

    I loved my job, I loved my colleagues. When I announced I was leaving, they were sad. Sad that the organization was losing someone really good, and sad that they were being left behind. Not everyone has the mobility to leave a job – there are many different reasons for having to stay and deal with the misery, but it’s amazing how many of us victims have small libraries on NPD to help us cope. I am fortunate that the timing in my personal life and professional opportunities worked out well. Not without a bit of sacrifice, but overall, I am coming out ahead. My heart breaks for those who remain behind. Her manipulation, her stupidity to which employees are completely attuned to and to which those “above the line” are too dazzled to see, are destroying the core of the organization and the souls of those who are still there.

    I was in therapy and on stomach meds due to the anger I felt. I am free of both now, but not without sadness. For anyone still dealing with this, take action either by helping yourself or getting out. And KNOW that you are not alone – commiserating with colleagues you trust and learning about how many out there deal with this really did help.

    Onwards – to a better boss. I deserve it (and so do my left-behind colleagues – I will never forget how misery loves company). And I will never forgive NPD, and its carrier in this case, for making me leave a job I loved.

    Now, onto a good workout and the cleansing process will be complete if I have helped one person by writing this.

    • Dear Finally Free,
      Thanks for sharing your story. I know that it will help people now and into the future as they find this blog post and your response. Your experience is a great reminder to all of us about the destructive nature of self-serving behavior. Best of luck in your new company. We’ll be thinking of you!

  2. I wish I had seen this years ago and have suffered all my life. I have just had my gallbladder out and have diverticulitus, depression and much unresolved anger. I have now started to cleanse myself of all those who have hurt me and begin to value myself.

    I have a wasted life of low self esteem at the hands of other horrible behaviour and treatment. I had to stick it out or so I thought. But at what awful cost.

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