The Differences Between Being Self-Centered And A Narcissist

Self-centered, according to Merriam-Webster, is the act of being "concerned solely with one's desires, needs, or interests." Sometimes it's healthy to indulge in your favorite activities, whether shopping, hiking, or spending time alone. Self-care is essential, and you shouldn't feel guilty about it. However, the more you focus on just yourself and your needs, the more self-centered you become — far beyond mere selfishness. One shouldn't become too self-centered, as it could hurt the people around them, including themselves.


According to the Mayo Clinic, persistent grandiosity, desire for admiration, and lack of empathy for others are the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a mental health condition. While everyone exhibits narcissistic traits occasionally, those with NPD do so to harm their relationships. They frequently manipulate people because they have an intense need for attention.

Understanding the differences between being self-centered and a narcissist is crucial. While self-centeredness may be considered a less severe personality trait, NPD is a mental health condition significantly impacting a person's ability to function in many areas of life. Self-centered people may be annoying or frustrating, but it does not imply that the person has a personality condition. While NPD requires professional treatment and therapy, self-centered people can look into themselves and seek advice. By separating the two, we can advance a better understanding of mental health and inspire people to get the treatment they need.


Focus on self

Everyone prioritizes and works toward specific needs, wants, and objectives. Some people carry this self-focus a little far, which can severely impact their personal and professional relationships. Self-centered people definitely tend to put their needs and wants first. While they focus on their issues or successes, they might not actively strive to elevate themselves over others. Although it can annoy people around them, this behavior is typically not as harmful as that of narcissists.


According to Psych Central, narcissists, on the other hand, have an exaggerated feeling of self-importance and think they are superior to others. They feel "entitled to special treatment" or attention. They frequently take advantage of — and manipulate — others around them to further their interests. Narcissists' intense self-focus can be harmful to their relationships and general well-being. Due to their actions, they may become socially isolated and experience emptiness and loneliness.


Empathy is the act of understanding someone else's emotions, even if you can't necessarily relate to the issue at hand. While everyone has different amounts of empathy, some self-centered people have trouble understanding others. "Self-centered people usually lack empathy, maybe not entirely, but at least enough that they struggle to put themselves in others' shoes," Emily Simonian, LMFT, tells Insider. Self-centered people may also be more preoccupied with their troubles or successes, making it challenging to be present and involved with others.


Narcissists, on the other hand, are known to lack empathy. But according to a study on narcissistic personality disorder shared on PubMed Central, it's not that narcissists are fully incapable of being empathetic — it's just "subject to a diverse set of motivational and situational factors." Since they think they are better than everyone else, they may have a difficult time (or simply don't care to) see things from another perspective. Narcissists may exploit others for their gain, with little thought of the consequences. Broken relationships and destructive behavior may result from this lack of empathy.


Narcissists and self-centered people put their interests ahead of others, but there are significant differences in how they see others. According to Up Journey, although self-centered people put their needs and wants first, they can show compassion for those around them and develop meaningful relationships. They may have trouble juggling their demands with those of others, but they can still empathize and build strong bonds.


On the other hand, per Psychology Today, narcissists see people as resources to satisfy their needs and desires. They frequently "manipulate" and take advantage of others around them. They may use flattery, presents, or other techniques to win people's respect and attention, but their relationships are frequently hollow and devoid of sincerity. Narcissists may find it difficult to keep relationships going since they put their demands above those of others. When they don't feel that their wants are satisfied, they could act violently or abusively, ruining relationships and tarnishing their reputation.


There are so many benefits to having a healthy dose of self-esteem. After all, a 2022 study published by the American Psychologist found that "individuals with high self-esteem tend to perform better in school." They also have better relationships and exhibit less "antisocial behavior."


Dr. Michael McGee states on his website that self-centered people might feel good about themselves, be aware of their triumphs and strengths, and be conscious of their flaws and limitations. They put their needs and wants first but don't necessarily think they're better than others. In fact, it may even be the opposite. "I've heard self-centered patients refer to themselves as losers, rejects, or junk," McGee writes. 

According to a study conducted by Personality and Individual Differences, narcissists "are characterized by high self-esteem, a sense of personal superiority and entitlement, [and] overconfidence ..." Often, this superiority is a defensive strategy to cover up feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Although narcissists typically have poor self-esteem, they make up for it by portraying a grandiose self to the outside world. 



Someone has criticized all of us for something. It's rarely fun, but most of us handle it pretty well. Narcissists and self-centered people react a bit differently. Self-centered people may become defensive or dismissive and have difficulty taking criticism. "They may get defensive, fail to see the consequences of their actions, or simply disregard feedback out of carelessness,"  Therapist Emily Simonian, LMFT, tells Insider. "If something isn't hurting or affecting them, it's difficult for them to want to change."


Handling criticism may be more volatile with a narcissist. Per Psychology Today, narcissists see criticism as a threat to their inflated sense of self. They might lash out in anger or disdain, insulting the person who attacked them or their viewpoints. Narcissists may often try to turn the tables by blaming others or bringing up prior transgressions to draw attention away from themselves. Relationships strain due to this hatred and deflection, and others may stop respecting and trusting a narcissist. Because they cannot accept criticism, narcissists may find it challenging to sustain intimate relationships or friendships, making an open and honest conversation difficult.

Need for attention

We all like attention from time to time; it's only natural. According to Vice, "Compliments are like mini-orgasms for the brain." When someone compliments our hair or nails, we feel that fantastic dopamine rush. Self-centered individuals and narcissists share the need for attention, with notable differences. Self-centered people prefer being the center of attention, boasting about successes, telling anecdotes, or flaunting. They may enter a one-sided conversation, talking about themselves with minimal regard for the other party in the conversation.


Psychology Today details how narcissists utilize their charisma and charm to entice others. Still, their goal is not to build lasting connections but to stroke their egos. Narcissists have an unquenchable desire for praise and approval. They seek attention and will often lie or use other people's emotions against them to get it.

A narcissist might engage in inappropriate behavior to get attention, with little regard for the consequences. Narcissists may also engage in risky or harmful behaviors, such as substance misuse, if their need for attention isn't met. Deeper insecurities and a lack of self-worth are the driving forces behind the craving for attention. To maintain their inflated perceptions of themselves, narcissists constantly feel the need to justify their actions and look for approval from others.


Interpersonal skills

Communication and collaboration with people are critical aspects of interpersonal skills in your personal and professional life. In short, interpersonal skills are how we communicate with other people — and healthy relationships require them, which self-centered people may find challenging. According to Built In, strong relationship-builders and "team players" typically have high interpersonal abilities. Even though it may be difficult, due to their need to be at the top of the pack, self-centered people can still establish bonds with people and participate socially. 


According to Psycom, it can be challenging to involve yourself interpersonally with a narcissist because of their conceit and lack of compassion. Their lack of true empathy makes establishing lasting, meaningful connections with people difficult. Conflict and misunderstandings may result from their inability to comprehend or genuinely care about the opinions and feelings of others. Because of their sense of entitlement, narcissists find it challenging to view other people as equals, making it difficult to develop interpersonal skills. They could become aggressive or defiant when pushed, which makes communicating openly and honestly harder.

Emotional regulation

Psychology Today defines emotional regulation as "the ability to exert control over one's own emotional state." People say or do things they regret when their emotions get out of hand. It happens to the best of us. And while self-centered people might have trouble controlling their emotions, they can function normally in their daily lives. The complete inability to control one's emotions is a feature of several types of "mental illness," which Psychology Today notes "could have a negative impact on one's personal well-being and social relationships."


According to a study published on Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation, narcissists' general lack of empathy and self-awareness is associated with their inability to "control" their emotions. They may find it challenging to identify and comprehend their feelings and those of others, making it difficult to regulate them successfully. As a result, a narcissist may develop a pattern of relational instability, conflict, and chronic mental discomfort.


It's important to be self-aware for emotional intelligence and personal development. Dr. Margaret Rutherford writes on her website that self-centered people may not always fully understand how their ideas, feelings, and behaviors affect those around them because they lack "self-awareness." They often put their needs and wants first without considering other people's needs and wants, which can cause friction in their relationships. 


According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, "surprising conclusions" were made regarding narcissists and their self-awareness. Would you be surprised to find out that narcissists actually are aware of the fact that others don't necessarily perceive them "positively?" That's right. Psychology Today notes that "narcissists would rather be admired than liked," perhaps leading to the idea that even though they are aware they are narcissists, they simply do not care — as long as they are "admired" in some capacity. 


Manipulating someone involves encouraging them to act in a certain way to attain a goal. Self-centered people may manipulate others to get what they want, although their strategies are more subtle than those of narcissists. For example, a self-centered person might flatter or charm someone to get what they want, but they wouldn't employ more severe manipulation techniques like lying or deception.


According to psychology experts who spoke with USA Today, narcissists are adept manipulators who will take tremendous tactics to achieve their goals. They may exert control and influence over those around them using various strategies, such as lying, deceit, gaslighting, and guilt-tripping. They may take advantage of their friends' weak points, such as their need for acceptance or fear of rejection.

Healthline warns about all the significant, lasting effects of narcissistic manipulation. Victims of selfish manipulation may feel confused, unsure of themselves, or traumatized. They may even endure "unexplained physical symptoms." Because victims may find it difficult to trust others after being the victim of a narcissist's manipulation, it usually results in strained relationships and a lack of trust.



When self-centered people realize they hurt someone, they may feel terrible but still be preoccupied with their needs and interests. For example, if a self-centered person thinks they behaved in their best interests after hurting a friend, they may feel remorse for it — but rapidly get over it when they realize they were in the "right." 


Psych Central notes that narcissists rarely experience regret or guilt for their actions. This is because narcissists struggle to acknowledge or care about the feelings of others they have harmed due to their exaggerated sense of self-importance and lack of empathy. In fact, they have a "distorted perception" of themselves, viewing their behavior as correct. And if it's not? A narcissist doesn't care. They believe they are above the laws or moral principles that guide other people's behavior, so it's harder for them to feel guilty.


The cornerstone of effective relationships is accountability, which results from someone's capacity to accept responsibility for their actions. According to life-advice author Mark Manson on his website, you must "take responsibility instead of blaming others" to experience fulfilling relationships. If not, you will stay disappointed and miserable, alienating everyone around you. Self-centered people are more receptive to living with the consequences of their actions. They may put their wants first, yet they may eventually acknowledge (after a bit of push-back and defensiveness) when they have done something wrong or hurt someone else. 


However, narcissists are more prone to place blame elsewhere, offer justifications for their behavior, and are less likely to accept responsibility for their actions. Dr. Rhonda Freeman shares with Insider that narcissists "never take responsibility." She further exclaims that "At times they're overtly hostile, but other times they reframe their behavior in other ways, including but not limited to: a joke, a mistake, someone else's fault, your hypersensitivity, your (unwarranted) concern about what other people think, or twisting reality so that rather than he/she is viewed as the victim."