The difference between narcissists and idiots/jerks

People throw around the term “narcissist” so often, that it’s almost lost some of its true meaning. Certainly, there are narcissists among us, and they tend to cause significant pain and damage to others.

However, not every rude or insensitive person you meet is a narcissist. Furthermore, not everyone who treats you poorly is a narcissist. 

If you’re dealing with a narcissist, it’s important to know this and understand their traits. On the other hand, if someone you’re dealing with is just a jerk, viewing them as a narcissist isn’t likely to be helpful.

There can be some overlap between narcissists and jerks, but narcissism comes with distinct traits. We’ll cover the differences between the two below. 

Key distinctions between narcissists and idiots/jerks

Some people can be jerks from time-to-time, but that doesn’t mean they are narcissists. Remember, true narcissism is a distinct mental health condition called narcissistic personality disorder. 

Not everyone who shows rude behavior meets the criteria for narcissism. To distinguish between narcissists and jerks, consider the traits below. 

Motivations behind their behavior

People who present as idiots or jerks may have difficulty controlling their tempers. Or, their social skills might be less-than-ideal. 

On the other hand, narcissists have distinct motivations behind their behavior. People who are truly narcissists are motivated to exploit others to get what they want.

Narcissists also rely on external validation, praise, and admiration to fuel their egos. So, they spend a lot of time seeking attention and exaggerating their accomplishments to get validation from others. 

Narcissists are dead set on using others to feed their egos and have their desires met. They will show this behavior in most relationships. 

Jerks, on the other hand, are simply rude and inconsiderate, but they do not have narcissistic motivations driving their behavior. 

See also  Did You Know This is Gaslighting?

Patterns of behavior 

Someone who comes across as an idiot or jerk may sometimes show rude or inconsiderate behavior. However, they do not show a pattern of narcissistic traits alongside this behavior.

On the other hand, someone who is truly a narcissist will show consistent patterns. In addition to coming across as rude and inconsiderate, they will show a pattern of exploiting others for personal gain, demonstrating arrogance, and disregarding the feelings of others.

Jerks will not show these distinct behavioral patterns that come along with narcissism.

Lack of empathy 

A lack of empathy is one of the defining features of narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists struggle immensely with empathy, so they really cannot consider the needs and feelings of others. 

Jerks may seem unempathetic when they’re behaving in an insensitive fashion, but they do not lack empathy in the way narcissists do. 

Because jerks can consider others’ feelings, they are more likely than narcissists are to show remorse for their behavior. Whereas a jerk may apologize after an angry outburst, a narcissist is unlikely to do this, because they really cannot consider the effect they have on you. 

Ability to self-reflect 

Narcissists struggle with self-reflection, so they tend to have limited awareness of their behaviors and the impact they have on others. This is because narcissists have developed strong defense mechanisms to protect themselves from acknowledging their own flaws. 

Underneath the surface, narcissists have very fragile egos, so they cannot accept that they are imperfect. Rather than taking a look at their flaws, narcissists create an alternate universe in which they are perfect and superior.

So, narcissists are unlikely to admit to wrongdoing or reflect upon their behaviors. Rather than admitting to hurting others, narcissists will deny wrongdoing, shift blame onto other people, or minimize the extent of the harm they cause.

See also  9 Ways How Narcissists Try to Break You

Jerks, on the other hand, are usually able to self-reflect. After an angry outburst, they can reflect upon their behavior, recognize they were wrong, and attempt to make amends. 

The key difference here is that jerks can admit to wrongdoing, whereas narcissists cannot, because doing so would threaten their fragile egos. 

Extent of their impact

Jerks and idiots can be difficult to interact with, but they don’t usually have the same negative impact as narcissists. Jerks can be challenging and cause stress, but their negative impact is less pervasive when compared to that of a narcissist. 

Narcissists tend to take a significant toll on the people in their lives. Their behaviors often escalate to the level of psychological abuse, which can cause extreme distress for their family, significant others, and close friends. 

Since narcissists show a consistent pattern of exploitative behavior, their negative impact is profound. Jerks may be occasionally insensitive, but their behavior tends to be less severe and therefore has less of a negative impact. 

Use of defense mechanisms 

Narcissists rely upon a toolbox of defense mechanisms to protect themselves from feeling inferior or insecure. They consistently use these defense mechanisms in their interactions with others.

One common narcissistic defense mechanism is the use of blame-shifting. Rather than taking accountability for their negative behavior, narcissists will shift the blame onto another party.

Similarly, narcissists tend to project their flaws onto others. For example, they will accuse others of being procrastinators rather than taking responsibility for a shortcoming, such as procrastination. 

Finally, narcissists will use gaslighting to convince others they’re insane or imagining things. For instance, if they hurt you, they’ll tell you you’re remembering incorrectly, causing you to question your own view of reality. 

See also  11 Red Flag Phrases Revealed Often Used By Narcissists

Jerks don’t usually have this distinct repertoire of defense mechanisms they can call upon when they’re feeling inferior. 

Tying it all together 

We’ve covered the differences between narcissists and jerks in detail, and you now have quite a bit of information to digest. 

To make sense of it all, it’s helpful to have a summary of the key differences between narcissists and jerks. Consider the main points below:

  • Jerks are occasionally rude or insensitive, but narcissists show a consistent pattern of exploitative, arrogant behavior. 
  • Narcissists are motivated by their desires to use others for personal gain and obtain admiration and praise, whereas jerks don’t have these motivations.
  • Narcissists lack empathy for other people, whereas jerks can consider the feelings of others.
  • Jerks have a greater capacity for self-reflection than narcissists do. 
  • Narcissists tend to have a profoundly negative impact on the people in their lives, whereas jerks are usually less harmful. 
  • Narcissists use a distinct set of defense mechanisms like projection and gaslighting, which people who are just jerks will not use. 

The above distinctions are important, but it’s also helpful to consider that sometimes, there is overlap between narcissists and jerks. Jerks may occasionally show some narcissistic traits, but not all of them have narcissistic personality disorder. 

The bottom line is that narcissists can certainly be jerks, but not everyone who shows “jerk behavior” is a narcissist. To distinguish a true narcissist from a jerk, look for key narcissistic traits, like arrogance, exploitative behaviors, defense mechanisms, and displays of superiority and grandiosity. 

Related Articles