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So, which is it? When you meet someone new, someone who’s a little cocky, someone who seems almost too sure of themselves, are they are narcissist? Are they just arrogant? Or do they have that type of confidence many of us wish we had?

One of the dangers of researching and learning more about narcissism is that it’s E-A-S-Y to see narcissistic patterns in everyone you meet. And that’s okay, because it’s a good way to protect yourself. But let’s look at what else may be going on and how you can tell the difference between confidence, arrogance, and narcissism.

Someone who is confident is someone who knows they have a particular skill set and knows they are good at that. Think about any time you run into someone who is clearly good at their job. They have an ease around them that encourages you to trust that they know what they’re doing. I know you know what I’m talking about. People who are confident feel different to be around than those who are pretending to be confident.

So how does arrogance come into play? Arrogance is the combination of confidence and ego. Arrogance shows up when someone is really good at something, maybe even the best, and they know it. Arrogant people have some difficulty believing that someone else could be as good as they are at that particular skill or in their unique field. They know they’re good. Really good.

But what about narcissists? Don’t they have that same thing? Aren’t they arrogant? Well sometimes, yes. But the difference with narcissists is that they bring a little extra to the table. People with narcissistic traits may or may not actually be super good at what they profess to be, or they may not be the best (although they could be). A key difference with narcissism is that a narcissist can’t be anything less than the best. They can’t be second or third. If someone threatens their expert status, they have to cut that person down, or change the playing field, or find new people to tell them they are actually the greatest.

People with narcissist traits have these traits in a lot of different places and with a lot of different people. People who are confident know what they don’t know. They may be confident in one or many things, but they know when they aren’t the expert. People who are arrogant can be challenged to learn more and can find ways to appreciate others’ skills and expertise. People with narcissistic traits struggle to admit when they don’t know something or don’t understand something. They may have difficult interpersonal relationships, family relationships, and work relationships because there isn’t always room for genuine humility.

That all said, it’s also important to remember that people with narcissistic traits are the ways they are because they are desperately afraid to be less-than. It doesn’t emotionally compute to be anything other than the best, even if it’s in their own mind.

So, to figure out if someone is confident, arrogant, or narcissistic, take a look at how they react to criticism, or someone being or doing better than they do. Do they pout, get angry, turn that anger onto people who don’t deserve it? Or do they try harder or appreciate the elegance of someone else doing really well?

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