Does Overestimated Self-Evaluation Show Narcissism?

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior

By Mark Leary, Ph.D., Duke University

Overestimated self-evaluation results in a higher self-value than deserved. As narcissistic as it may seem, it is not always a symptom of narcissism. Seeing oneself as better than reality is a common trait. People tend to fool themselves to feel better, but why do they do that in the first place?

A selfish man with a crown is shown on a balance scale as heavier than three people opposite him.
Narcissists show many overestimated self-views and continuously hunt for compliments, but overestimated self-evaluation alone cannot be a symptom of narcissism. (Image: Prazis Images/Shutterstock)

People tend to see themselves above average, even when they are below average because it feels good. Self-serving biases are those that make people want to take full credit for their success and none for their failures and flaws. But are all these efforts and overestimated self-evaluation just to make someone feel better about themselves?

Impressing Other People

It may seem that people put so much effort into feeling good about themselves just to feel good. However, in reality, self-serving biases often reflect public impression management rather than biased self-beliefs. Overestimated self-evaluation is an attempt by someone to make those around them feel better toward them.

Being recognized by others as a good or successful person can increase the chances of having a better life. Thus, people talk more positively than they are about themselves, to convince others that they are worthy of a better life. Self-serving biases and their reflection in people’s behavior and thoughts are common until they get too much. Then, this is a narcissist.

Learn more about why we make mountains out of molehills.

Narcissism at High Levels

Narcissism has different levels, and people can be hospitalized for this disorder. However, there are some milder cases of narcissism that are not so rarely encountered and might not be clinically diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder.

A handsome, young man looking at himself in the mirror.
Narcissists show extreme self-serving biases and tend to exploit other people because they believe they deserve to do whatever they want. (Image: lunamarina/Shutterstock)

Symptoms of high-level narcissism include extreme self-serving biases and exploiting other people. Firstly, narcissists do not only view themselves as superior to other people, with high self-esteem, but they also require a level of attention and admiration compatible with their level of assumed superiority.

Second, narcissists exploit others because they think they have the right to. Being perceived as a uniquely talented and valuable person gives them the right to take advantage of other people. Researchers have not yet agreed on whether narcissists feel as good as they show, or whether it is just a show.

This is a transcript from the video series Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Grandiose Narcissists and Vulnerable Narcissists

Some believe that those who show narcissistic behavior view themselves so negatively that they act as if they are superior, just to defend themselves against the deep feeling of inferiority. Evidence, so far, suggests that there are two types of narcissists: grandiose narcissists and vulnerable narcissists.

Grandiose narcissists really believe that they are superior. They feel just like they show, and they spend a lot of time proving to others how superior they are to receive the admiration that they deserve. Bragging is a common thing with them, and not being noticed as they should be, makes them upset.

On the other hand, vulnerable narcissists are fundamentally insecure about themselves. The big difference is that they do not look like narcissists. They can even seem anxious and withdrawn, not boasting the whole time. However, they still believe they are special, and they are not treated as they should be. Perhaps, at the other end of the narcissism continuum, humble people must be sitting.

Learn more about why self-control is so hard.

Being Humble and Underestimating Oneself

Despite common belief, humble people do not underestimate their abilities. In fact, they have a very accurate view of themselves and their abilities and do not show the same self-serving biases as most people.

Group of young friends socializing in the kitchen.
Humble people do not underestimate their abilities and talents; they just know themselves as they really are and they accept it. (Image: bbernard/Shutterstock)

They know about both their strengths and weaknesses, but they do not try to fool themselves and others to feel better. They simply accept themselves as they are. Even when they are better than others, they do not expect better treatment from other people.

Bernard Baily once joked, “When science discovers the center of the universe, a lot of people will be disappointed to find they are not it.” All the narcissists, at different levels, will be among the disappointed ones.

Even though overestimated self-evaluation and self-serving biases cannot necessarily represent narcissism, they can definitely ruin a person’s view about themselves and trick them into believing they are better than they are. Maybe for someone to know what they really are and to accept it would bring them more luck in finding the right path, rather than aiming at things that are beyond their capabilities.

Common Questions about Overestimated Self-Evaluation

Q: Why do people overestimate their own competence?

People tend to overestimate their abilities in the same way that they see things associated with themselves as better than they really are. Overestimated self-evaluation is an attempt by someone to feel good about themselves and to reduce the distress caused by knowing they are not as good as they think.

Q: Is overestimation a symptom of narcissism?

Overestimated self-evaluation can be a symptom of narcissism, but not always. Up to an extent, it looks normal to overestimate oneself to feel better about oneself and stay motivated, even though there are better ways to do that.

Q: Do humble people underestimate themselves?

Being humble is not equal to underestimating oneself. Humble people know their abilities for what they really are, and usually have no overestimated self-evaluation in the face of success.

Q: Does success cause narcissism?

No, success does not necessarily cause narcissism. Many unsuccessful people are narcissists, and many successful people are not. Things like overestimated self-evaluation can be a symptom of narcissism, but success alone cannot lead to it in a normal and psychologically healthy person.

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