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The Differences Between Narcissism, Arrogance, and Confidence

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Because of the elections for United States President the term narcissism has been bandied about in describing Donald Trump’s personality.

Knowing something about narcissism can be helpful in understanding how some people operate in the world. No matter what you do for a living you are bound to run across a certain number of people who exhibit narcissistic, and arrogant traits and you will be better off knowing what their fears are and how to deal with them.

In the simplest of terms Narcissism may simply describe the way a baby relates to the world or it may be a set of personality characteristics that describes the way some adults relate to themselves or others. In some people it may be mild and in other people it might be a severely dysfunctional and diagnosable mental disorder that seriously interferes with their life.

In this article I will do my best to cover the territory of narcissistic behavior, arrogance, and confidence so you can understand them better. Some of this important information you will not find anywhere in the psychological literature for reasons that you will find evident.

Characteristics of Narcissism

Let’s start with babies. Infants and very young children can be said to operate quite naturally from a narcissistic point of view. They are completely self-absorbed, crave attention, and act as if the whole world should respond to their every need and demand and in this way they do get their needs met as they should. We could say they are totally self-centered and are unable to distinguish themselves from everything else they encounter. The whole world exists just to be put into their mouths. This type of narcissism is completely normal for an infant and small children because it is geared for their own survival and that is the key difference between a child and an adult. We think it is normal for an infant to be totally demanding and self centered but when we see this behavior in an adult it makes us uncomfortable and we think it is inappropriate and even weird.

Most of us do not realize that when we see narcissism in an adult we are actually looking at one of the main characteristics of soul age. We think that if a person has an adult body they must be mature but of course this is not the case at all. At this time fifty percent of the world population is in one of the three younger stages of development, infant, toddler, and child stages. People in any of these stages are going to exhibit some forms of narcissism. Why? Because they are not yet adults no matter what their biological age is. Psychologically they are exhibiting the dynamics of a small child. Me and not me, me and other me’s, and me and you and I win. In these three stages of human evolution there is no access to an internal life. There is virtually no insight, there is no actual relating to another person as an equal because they are simply not capable of putting their feet in another’s shoes.

My four-year-old granddaughter does love having her new little one-year-old sister and begs to play with her. But when adults backs are turned she climbs up and sits on her trying to ride her like a horse, never mind that her sister’s head is smashed into the floor and she is screaming in pain. She just isn’t old enough to get the concept that her younger sister is actually a human being and has real feelings of pain. For her, her sister is more like a moving doll all for her own pleasure. This is normal and age appropriate. This is why adults must watch small children playing with one another and help them to learn how to care for and not hurt others.

However if you look around the world at how many adults treat each other you will clearly see that they are similar to four year olds. They can say all the right things but then hack other people to death, incinerate them, blow them apart, behead them, be completely oblivious to their suffering and so on.

When you see narcissism in an adult you are a looking at some version of a younger soul. So let us look at narcissism a little more.

Narcissism may show up in a variety of ways in an adult. Generally you might find yourself thinking that they are self-centered, selfish, egotistical, vain, arrogant, or conceited. You may also notice that they seem to have little or no compassion for other people less fortunate even though they spout politically correct phrases to the contrary.  They have no compunction about owning a huge opulent house or castle even though the townspeople are poor and scrabbling for a living.

They may exhibit rather blatant selfishness often demanding pampering and special treatment that others do not receive, in other words exhibiting high maintenance behavior. They may crave admiration, praise, and applause, with a grandiose view of their own abilities and talents even if they poorly execute their performance.

They may physically admire themselves in the mirror and be excessively obsessed with their own bodies, with their weight, their good looks, fashion, clothing, and style. This may extend to their vehicles, homes, and their whole lifestyle. They want people to notice them, write about them, take their pictures and so on. They demand the best food, the best seats in the house, first class treatment on planes and hotels. In a word they feel entitled. We have some names for this type of person: Princess, prince, royalty, high maintenance, 1%ers.

In some cases they will try to affect the appearance of some celebrity or famous person or pass as one.

Sometimes they erotically get caught up in their own eroticism or physical prowess in bed.

When this behavior is extreme we call it a mental disorder.

The keynote characteristics are 1. Inflation. They exhibit an inflated sense of their own self-importance, of their own influence, or impact on others and so on. 2. No compassion. A total lack of empathy for others to the degree that they will demand service from others at all hours of the day and night or fail to notice that someone is exhausted and needs to eat before they can render service. They may berate others even though they are trying as hard as they can to be responsive, even though the other person may be passing out in the hot sun, fainting from pregnancy, have gone without sleep for days in their service. 3. Brittleness. A narcissistic person is quite inflexible and will turn extremely nasty if they even whiff insubordination, humiliation, or the slightest criticism. It would appear that their superior behavior masks extreme insecurity and that their self-esteem is actually very fragile. Sometimes their motivation to become extremely successful is actually to take revenge on people who formerly were critical of them. They may wish to destroy their former oppressors or lord over them their own success.

Examples of Narcissism

Here are some examples from my own experience:

Although rather late in the evening a houseguest went on and on about what an absolutely fabulous musician she was and how she was going to take the musical world by storm and how she was going to make a fortune. Although she knew my wife Lena and I had worked extremely hard the last couple of days and were in desperate need of sleep she simply did not seem to notice our fatigue. She so desperately wanted attention and approval that she went on and on. Never once did she show any interest in what we were up to or did she ever ask us one question about ourselves.

Two fashionable ladies booked an hour with me and left their driver with limo running outside. As became readily apparent they were only interested in hearing the most flattering information about themselves. They were not at all interested in the truth. After about twenty minutes one stood up and announced to her friend that it would be more fun to go shopping and they both rose and walked out. Perhaps that is why they left the limo running.

A man booked an hour with me and then proceeded to spend the entire hour telling me how great he was and how he had no difficulties in this life and had solved everything. In fact even though he was an engineer he announced how people with problems all came to him and how he had saved all their lives. The end of the time came and I had told him nothing because he had talked the entire time. He seemed pleased with himself and left saying he was glad that I agreed with him that he did not need any help.

A woman client came into my office and glowered at me. She then looked around my office and began to criticize everything about it, the color of paint on the walls, the leather sofa she was sitting on, my décor and even how I was dressed. I asked her why she was there and she said that the problem in her life was that the men in her life were all assholes. I asked her if she thought maybe she had any responsibility for her choices in men. She went into a rant and pulled out a wad of single dollar bills and proceeded to throw them at me as if I was a prostitute. They sailed around me and landed in disarray all around me and on me. Then she walked out head held high and never made eye contact with me. It was as if she had planned the whole episode in advance.

A CEO claimed that due to some setbacks no employee would be receiving any bonuses that year even though they had worked eighty to ninety hours a week and had broken their backs to make the business successful. A few weeks later the CEO bought a $250,000 car and invited the staff out to admire it. He could not understand why they were so ungrateful and critical of him. He decided that what they needed was less vacation time and harder schedules. No matter how much I counseled him to see their point of view he could simply not do it. In fact he turned on me and attacked me for defending these jerks. He was angry at them for not admiring his car and he did take his revenge. When they left his employment he was totally bewildered and decided they were lazy and incompetent. He hired replacements and the same thing happened over and over again.

I could go and on and on but you get the idea. Narcissism shows up in various forms.


Arrogance is a fear pattern that has many elements of Narcissism. There is a difference between the two however. Most younger souls have narcissistic traits. The vast majority of older souls do not. However older souls may struggle with arrogance. When a younger soul is arrogant it tends to be the kind I have been describing: braggadocio, inflation, selfishness, lacking in empathy. When an older soul has arrogance it often shows up as shyness. Arrogance is the fear of being judged so a person who has been subject to criticism as a child and has been regularly compared to their more successful siblings, may be highly motivated to perform well in order to be loved. For them being judged and criticized is extremely painful. So they may withdraw in social situations and act distant and aloof. They do this to avoid criticism but they do not feel superior. In fact if anything they are in doubt about themselves and are trying to hide it. Therefore an older soul with arrogance knows they are not better than others. A narcissistic younger soul actually thinks they are better. It may be obvious to others who are insightful that this younger soul has low self-esteem but they themselves do not see this at all. This is a key difference to take note of.


Recently someone asked me to explain the difference between arrogance and actual confidence. I told her this.

The basic difference between the two are that arrogance is based in fear and is therefore egoic whereas confidence is not and is based on knowing. Arrogance is a cover-up, a defense mechanism, based on the desire to appear knowledgeable or in some cases superior to the other person. It is based in insecurity and a fear of being seen as stupid, ignorant, foolish or what have you. Often this person has been cruelly judged and put down earlier in their life.

Arrogance is often seen in shy people. Confidence comes from knowledge, experience, and a desire to be of service. If I have had my car serviced or overhauled recently then I can probably say with confidence that my car is working fine and I can take everyone in it. On the other hand I might arrogantly say that my car is better than everyone else’s and will go anywhere when it actually needs work. It is just a boast to be seen as competent or capable.

Having struggled with arrogance as a teenager I have a lot of compassion for people who need to inflate themselves in this way, even though it can be quite annoying. They do not need judging so much as support to feel more self-worth. Like begets like so when a person acts arrogantly they tend to invite even more judgment from people around them, their worst fear. When these people respond with judgment they are actually becoming arrogant themselves so the whole thing can devolve into quite a mess. Humans have an amazing capacity for projection, to see in the other what in fact they themselves are exhibiting. This results in blindness and is the root cause of so much misunderstanding in the world. In fact the real pisser is that the worst thing you can do is to accuse someone of being arrogant, stubborn, impatient, greedy or what have you. All it does is create enormous defensiveness. And it is true that all these behaviors create more and more isolation, something that the ego absolutely loves. I hope this little explanation is helpful.

Many Blessings, Jose Stevens

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José Stevens

José Luis Stevens, PhD is the president and co-founder (with wife Lena) of Power Path Seminars, an international school and consulting firm dedicated to the study and application of shamanism and indigenous wisdom to business and everyday life. José completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol (Wixarika) Maracame (Huichol shaman) in the Sierras of Central Mexico. In addition, he is studying with Shipibo shamans in the Peruvian Amazon and with Paqos (shamans) in the Andes in Peru. In 1983 he completed his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies focusing on the interface between shamanism and western psychological counseling. Since then, he has studied cross-cultural shamanism around the world to distill the core elements of shamanic healing and practice. He is the author of twenty books and numerous articles including Encounters With Power, Awaken The Inner Shaman, The Power Path, Secrets of Shamanism, Transforming Your Dragons and How To Pray The Shaman's Way.