How to tell the difference between a confident person and a narcissist

How to tell the difference between a confident person and a narcissist

So, you have a friend who just loves to snap those selfies (and post them all over their socials).

Plus, they’re not afraid to assert themselves (when needed) and are super comfortable sharing their achievements with others.

Does that make them a narcissist?

Or are they simply confident?

If you’re struggling to spot the difference, I don’t blame you. There’s actually a ton of cross-over between these two traits (on the surface at least).

But upon closer inspection, they’re very different.

Understanding and recognizing the difference is incredibly important to ensure you steer well clear of toxic relationships.

You have to also remember that not all confident people are narcissists, and not all narcissists are confident.

Even more confused?

Don’t worry, I’ll explain exactly what I mean. Plus, I’ll show you how to easily spot the difference between a confident person and a narcissist.

But first, let’s dive into these two personality types in more detail.

What is confidence?

Confidence involves self-assurance, self-belief, and generally having an optimistic outlook in life. It’s often associated with a growth mindset and a genuine can-do attitude.

Your level of confidence isn’t set in stone. It’s dynamic and can be developed through practice, learning, self-development, and the life experiences you have.

7 traits of confident people

Here are seven typical traits associated with confident individuals:

  1. Comfortable: Having a positive self-image, being comfortable in their own skin, and viewing themselves favorably.
  2. Resilient: Not giving up easily, bouncing back from failure, and seeing setbacks as learning opportunities.
  3. Assertive: Being comfortable expressing their honest thoughts, opinions, and needs (with a respectful tone).
  4. Adaptable: Having no problem dealing with change and even enjoying being put in unfamiliar environments.
  5. Optimistic: Looking at the glass as half full. Focusing on solutions rather than problems and seeing opportunity rather than risk.
  6. Modest: Not bragging or blowing their own trumpet. Having a realistic sense of both their strengths and weaknesses.
  7. Accountable: Admitting fault and happy to hold up their hand when mistakes are made. Accepting responsibility.

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is characterized by having a strong sense of self-importance or extreme self-involvement (in a negative way), often at the expense of others.

It exists on a spectrum and manifests itself in several different ways (so chances are we all have at least some narcissistic tendencies). The two main types are grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism.

Grandiose narcissism

Grandiose (or overt) narcissists have a superiority complex and feel like they’re above everyone else. They’ll often brag about accomplishments and in some extreme cases become aggressive or defensive when challenged. 

They’re incredibly confident and lack empathy.

Vulnerable narcissism

Also known as covert narcissism, this type is more emotional. They usually have experienced neglect in their childhood and lack self-esteem, so tend to over-compensate in social groups to avoid feeling inadequate. 

This comes in the form of bragging and talking about themselves without really listening to anyone else. 

Vulnerable narcissists generally appear less confident than grandiose narcissists and often play the victim card to get the attention they desire.

6 traits of narcissists

Wherever they fall on the spectrum, all narcissists typically have these six things in common:

  1. Crave attention: Constantly need validation and affirmation from others to feel good about themselves.
  2. Selfish: Put themselves first and struggle to feel empathy for others. Their relationships are often one-sided.
  3. Manipulative: Exploit others to achieve their own goals (even if it comes at the cost of friends and family).
  4. Narrow-minded: It’s their way or the highway. They’re generally bad listeners and become defensive when challenged.
  5. Deeply insecure: Despite a hard exterior, they actually have low self-esteem. They’re easily hurt or offended.
  6. Delusional: They have an inflated ego and tend to over-exaggerate their strengths, accomplishments, and skills.

Comparing confidence and narcissism

pic1438 How to tell the difference between a confident person and a narcissist

While both confident people and narcissists demonstrate self-assured behavior, there are some key differences to bear in mind:

Confident people genuinely want to help others. They show empathy and are great at building strong bonds. Whereas, narcissists lack empathy and prefer to manipulate others for their own benefit. They struggle to form lasting relationships due to their selfish agenda.

If you ask a confident person to talk about their strengths and weaknesses, they’ll give you an accurate and humble assessment. A narcissist, on the other hand, will tend to exaggerate their strengths and overlook their weaknesses (because they seek admiration or validation). 

We all make mistakes, but how you react to an occasional misstep says a lot about your character. A confident person will likely acknowledge fault and welcome any constructive criticism. A narcissist will point the finger and refuse accountability to avoid pain (and protect their ego).

Truly confident individuals appreciate recognition but don’t proactively seek validation from others. Narcissists absolutely crave attention and can become obsessed with obtaining it.

If you challenge a confident person on a belief, they’ll likely be happy to engage in a conversation to hear you out (and maybe compromise their own view accordingly). A narcissist, however, may become deeply affected by criticism and display anger towards you.

Confident people generally don’t manipulate or exploit others for their own personal gain. Quite the opposite, they often want to help others achieve their goals. But a narcissist won’t think twice about getting their elbows out (or worse still, go behind your back) to get to where they want to be.

How to spot a narcissist (5 big giveaways)

Still not sure how to distinguish between genuine confidence and narcissistic behavior? Take a look at these 5 telltale signs:

1) They hardly ever ask you questions about yourself

If they seldom ask how your day’s been (or struggle to actually listen for more than a few seconds before interrupting) the sad fact is, they don’t really care (because they’re a narcissist).

This reflects their complete lack of empathy and shows they’re more interested in their own (incredibly important) life.

2) It feels like you’re walking on eggshells around them

Perhaps you need to broach a difficult subject with them. It could be something as trivial as not locking the gate or never doing the dishes. But you’re reluctant to challenge them on it (through fear of them exploding with anger). This could be because they’re a narcissist!

Narcissists don’t take criticism well and often become super defensive in order to protect their fragile ego.

3) Most of their stories are about their accomplishments

Do you find that their anecdotes all boil down to the same thing? Yes, you guessed it… How amazing they are, their incredible achievements, and their wonderful life successes.

People who brag and blow their own trumpet are usually secretly insecure and only do so in order to reinforce their fake self-image.

4) They fish for compliments (and validation) from you

One extremely common narcissistic trait, is that they absolutely LOVE hearing compliments and being validated by everyone around them. You might even find that they only hang around with people who continually offer positive affirmations.

Narcissists will often try to get people to say nice things. For example, show you a photo of themselves saying “Oh, I look really ugly in this photo!” expecting you to argue with them and say how beautiful they are.

5) You feel drained after spending time with them

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to listen to friends and family. But absorbing constant brags and not getting a word in edgeways, for hours on end, takes its toll! If you leave the conversation feeling tired (rather than positive and inspired) it’s probably because they’re displaying narcissistic behavior.

They may even make you feel like you’re the bad guy (despite them clearly being in the wrong), after challenging them on something.

How to deal with a narcissist

If you suspect a friend or romantic partner is a narcissist (rather than just confident) you need to take action. It’s no fun being in a relationship with someone so self-centered, and can actually affect your own well-being.

Here are three ideas on how to deal with a narcissist:

  • Create boundaries: Be clear about what’s OK and what’s out-of-bounds (emotionally, physically, and psychologically). Sure, you may risk offending the narcissist, but that’s a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.
  • Think about your tone: We’ve already established that narcissists don’t take criticism well. So try to be careful how you word things. Go for the positive angle, but be assertive and don’t back down.
  • Remain emotionless: By staying calm you keep a level of control and avoid being manipulated. This can be easier said than done, so try this – treat them like a 6-year-old child that doesn’t want to go to bed (their behavior is actually not that different from an infant).

Final thoughts

Remember this, a narcissist isn’t a confident person. A narcissist is a person who pretends to be confident.

Deep down, they’re actually incredibly insecure.

If you care about someone who displays extreme narcissistic behavior, always consider seeking professional help. Just like anything in life, they can improve and change their attitude with practice, time, and plenty of support from friends and family.

Picture of Leila El-Dean

Leila El-Dean

Leila is a passionate writer with a background in photography and art. She has over ten years of experience in branding, marketing, and building websites. She loves travelling and has lived in several countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Spain, and Malta. When she’s not writing (or ogling cats), Leila loves trying new food and drinking copious amounts of Earl Grey tea.

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