No, it’s not just my imagination. The word “narcissist” is being used more and more…
… even as fewer people seem to understand what the word means—often being confused in being used to describe someone with a healthy self-esteem. Psychologist Michael Hurd explains the distinction is based on difference between a focus solely on “the inner, subjective ‘me’” of the true narcissist, and the focus on the “objective ‘out there’ (aka, reality)” of someone with a healthy self-esteem.
In other words, it’s the difference between being a “doer” and being a second-hander:
Two researchers recently concluded that narcissism involves a conviction of superiority over others, while genuine self-esteem has more to do with a positive self-image without reference to others. They hit on an important truth: There’s a difference between using others as your standard, and using a rational, objective definition (such as competence and performance) as a standard.
Neurotic people look at what others are doing and try to beat them, and the mental health profession labels them “narcissists.” Healthy people determine what constitutes competence or excellence in a certain context and then they aim for it. They spend little time looking at what others are doing. Narcissists often come across as confident, but if you scratch beneath the psychological surface you’ll find nothing more than a compulsive concern for besting others. Genuinely confident individuals might enjoy beating others, but their primary goal is to live up to their own standard of excellence.
For example, a study showed that college freshmen who based their self-regard primarily on academic victory over peers spent more time on their studies than other students but did not perform any better in their classes. Interestingly, those same students had more conflict with teachers and focused more on grades than on actual learning, suggesting that improving one’s mind and knowledge is superior to trying to get the best grade and beat everyone else out. And it supports what I’ve been telling people for years: If you simply concentrate on enjoying and excelling at your work, success will almost always follow.
[Hat tip Gus Van Horn]