True self-esteem is based on something more substantive than feelings. The self-esteem movement in this country has blundered terribly by focusing on building up feelings without any basis in substance. Kids in school are taught to feel good about themselves based on just feeling good about themselves. The idea is that if you feel good about yourself then you'll proceed into life without the impediment of insecurities. Many studies have been done that have exposed of myths of false self-esteem. Insecurities end up not being the worse thing to have.
So what is true self-esteem based on?
Accomplishment. If you are able to make yourself proud with accomplishment, you will respect yourself. Self-esteem isn't what is important. Self-respect is the issue. Teaching kids how to gain self-respect should be the goal of our educational system and parenting techniques, not this silliness of telling kids to feel good about themselves based on absolutely nothing. We end up raising big, bratty weaklings who crumble at the first collision with the real world.
One of the most important areas of life to gain accomplishments in are in the moral realm. When you are able to follow a moral course in the midst of obstacles, opposition and difficulty you can gain some serious self-respect. In fact, I'll contend that the moral realm is where the most important battles must be fought and won if you want to feel good about yourself in a way that will last. Make yourself proud by doing the hard stuff. Facing ones fears is another very important way to build true self-respect. This is also an accomplishment made in the moral sphere.
Which brings me to malignant narcissists. What have they accomplished to make themselves feel true self-respect? Not a damned thing. Yeah, I agree...narcissists have "low self-esteem". But you can't build up anyone's self-esteem by being a rah-rah section telling them to feel good about themselves "just because you're you", let alone a narcissist.
What has the narcissist accomplished in the moral sphere that would make them have true respect for themselves? That, again, would be nothing. So I believe the fact that narcissists have "low self-esteem" is a condition they have completely earned. They don't deserve to feel good about themselves. This also explains why the narcissist needs constant affirmation of their wonderfulness from their sycophants. This is why they seem to be a black-hole for praise. It doesn't matter how many times you told them yesterday that they are beautiful, wonderful, amazing, wise and smart...today is a new day and they need just as much praise today to keep them going. This is because deep down they know they haven't truly accomplished anything to feel good about themselves over.
I'm not sure when I finally had this revelation about my mother. It was some years ago. One day she confessed the truth that when she felt ugly on the outside it was a direct reflection of how she was feeling about herself morally. What she actually said was, "I feel ugly on the inside" as she stood there before looking her usual gorgeous self. A shocking confession really. As I have stated before, the objective truth about my mom's appearance is that she is an absolutely beautiful woman. Nevertheless, she would regularly go through periods of life when she felt ugly no matter how she objectively looked. This went far beyond just fishing for compliments. It was obvious she was in a depressive state during these periods. When she felt this way, compliments did very little to lift her spirits.
Her behavior has consistently borne out the truth of her confession that day many years ago. I don't remember her repeating that confession. It was just a moment of truth; a rare peek into the internal world of a narcissist. What has my mother done to feel accomplished and good about herself in the moral realm? Very little. I didn't know way back then about the malignancy of my mother's character. I was naive in the extreme. I didn't know until quite recently how my mother is a constant liar and a vile hypocrite. Knowing now what she is I do not wonder as to why she loathes herself at times. I have joined in her loathing. She is right to not feel good about herself. She has done nothing to earn her own good-will let alone mine.
The narcissist's low self-esteem is not a reason to pity them. You need to recognize they've earned their bad feelings about themselves. They can feel good about themselves the day they accomplish some heavy-lifting in the moral realm...like coming clean on their many bad acts, making restitution and showing some humility.
[Icon by lvlwing]