If narcissistic people have such low self-esteem, then why do they want to be the center of attention?

By Elinor Greenberg

It is mainly Exhibitionist Narcissists who want to be the center of attention. They do it to uplift their self-esteem.

Winners vs Losers

The way this works is that Narcissists only believe that there are two possibilities: There are “Winners” and “Losers” with nothing in between.

Winners: Winners are special, perfect, omnipotent, and entitled to special treatment.

Losers: Losers are worthless garbage who are entitled to nothing. They are the bottom of the barrel, only alive to serve the needs of those who are “Special.”

On their worst days, Exhibitionist Narcissists suspect that they are “losers” and “frauds” and are afraid everyone will discover this and they will be publically humiliated.

The False Self Facade

In response to this fear, Narcissists create a false self facade. To do this, they ignore any of their personal flaws and adopt a haughty and arrogant attitude. They go to great lengths to try to convince everyone around them that they are perfect, everything they do is right, and that they are living the best life possible.

As long as they believe that they are the center of admiring attention, they feel good and their self-esteem is stabilized.

Devaluation as a Defense

As their defensive view of themselves as “special and flawless” is essentially false, it is easily disrupted. When this happens, Narcissists react with incredible rage and devalue whomever or whatever is threatening their sense of grandiosity.

The Narcissistic Stage Show

You could think of this like a stage show in which most of the action goes on backstage out of sight of the audience.


Act 1: Narcissists grow up in a family situation that leaves them with unstable self-esteem. They waiver between feeling special and feeling worthless.

Act 2; They develop a false self facade that protects them from feeling inadequate.

On Stage

Act 3: They display themselves to the admiring audience. (Think of perfectly posed Facebook photos and lovely Instagram shots that only show the most appealing parts of their life. All failures are edited out).

Act 4: They keep taking bows as long as anyone is still clapping.

Punchline: As long as Exhibitionist Narcissists are in the spotlight and have other people’s admiring attention, their self-doubt becomes background. They feel special and feeling special is what keeps them from feeling their underlying self-doubt.