Narcissists can be intriguing acquaintances. They are able to draw attention to themselves while trying to convince everyone in their orbit that their brilliance is as blinding as they themselves believe it to be. They turn on the charisma and charm and do all that they can to keep people focused on their façade of perfection.
However, the true narcissist is much different than an individual who has high self-esteem. Narcissists are motivated by the desire to use a heavy hand to control a person’s response to them. Having a high sense of self-esteem doesn’t typically reflect a need to control others, but rather the self-satisfaction with one’s self. And a recent study has exposes another striking difference between narcissism and healthy self-esteem.

What Narcissists Give vs. What They Take

When people spend time with a narcissist, they often leave it feeling exhausted in some cases and a little bit violated in others. Narcissists tend to encroach on your emotional and mental space, and try to suck up the energy in the room. They have a hard time engaging in the normal give-and-take of a conversation or situation because their efforts to maintain attention and control turn them into energy vampires. They often intensely dislike themselves and the effort to keep up their charade can leave you feeling as if they are feeding of your own stores of energy.
As researchers have revealed, there is a need for all of us to have a bit of “healthy narcissism” to ensure that we seek out the respect we deserve from others. Self-esteem levels need to be maintained, as well, so we do need to believe in ourselves and treat ourselves well. Not surprisingly, being around people with high levels of earned self-esteem doesn’t take the same toll on us. In fact, research shows that we actually prefer friends who have strong self-esteem and levels of self-confidence—it makes them much more pleasant to be around.

A Narcissist's Gift to You is Really a Gift to Herself

Giving back to others is not something that narcissists do for the intrinsic pleasure of altruistic behavior or simple kindness. In fact, researchers recently published findings that indicate that narcissists give “gifts” that represent an investment in their own desires—not from the desire to please others. When Hyun, Park, and Park (2016) measured the gift-giving motivations of individuals with high self-esteem compared to those with high levels of narcissism, they found that narcissists give gifts that ideally keep the recipient’s devotion or allegiance to them going strong. Specifically, narcissists give gifts with an eye to maintain a relationship with the giver and to maintain control in the relationship.
You don’t get expensive gifts from a narcissist because they think you are awesome. You get valuable gifts because they want you to continue to think that they are awesome.
Sure, it’s normal to want to show affection for our significant others with nice gifts or to splurge on holidays or nice meals, but we don’t offer these gifts to engender obligation or foster unhealthy or forced obedience from our partners. Narcissists don’t give out of love, they give out of fear and out of desperate need to continue the game.
While philanthropists are often encouraged to “give until it hurts,” narcissists give “because it hurts.” The potential pain of losing their audience drives them to do what they feel might keep the admiration flowing. They don’t engage in relationships in the same way that others do. Remember the advice of your mother, don’t take candy—or any other gif—from a stranger. You just don’t know what the narcissist is hoping to buy when she offers a gift.