The Difference Between Self-esteem and Grandiosity

I am blessed to have amazing teachers, mentors and colleagues in my life.

Shira Block, a writer, consultant and all around powerhouse, has at one time or another been all three to me.

She once said something to me I will never forget.

But first a little background: If you’re new around here on the BG blog, or don’t know much about my past, I started on the path of personal development at a young age. I spent more than a year in my twenties living in an ashram, devoting my life to spiritual practice, waking in the pre-dawn hours to sit for meditation, sway in daily 90 minute chants and perform various acts of service to keep the place running for others who were visiting.

It was during this time, that I thought I wanted to be a monk. Luckily, I grew out of that phase pretty fast — asceticism is not my thing and red is really not my color — but not completely.

So in this session, we were talking about god knows what, when Shira said to me, flat out:

“You know, you’re not a saint.”


It is beyond embarrassing to admit that until she said it, I didn’t really know it.

I mean, okay, I knew I wasn’t a SAINT — like a stigmata, miracle-making kind of Saint — and I certainly didn’t feel pious or Holy.

But I did think I was spiritually special, and that somehow it was a duty of mine to work my ass off trying to be as conscious as I could, for, for, for . . . I don’t know humanity’s sake? To be a role model for others? Because I was trapped in a good girl paradigm? (yeah, that one)

Shira’s words, bravely and simply spoken, pierced right into the heart of my inflated self-image, and at once the hot air started seeping out.

I got that I didn’t have to work so hard to be loved.

I got to see more of who and where I really was, and that I was not feeling so great about certain parts of me and my life. And I got to really address and redress some of those things here.

And mostly, it got me thinking about the difference between grandiosity and self-esteem.

Grandiosity is a cover, an attempt to divorce yourself from pain through self-elevation. Self-esteem is an acceptance of your pain, your strengths and weaknesses, because you understand the incredible value of your very Being.

With grandiosity, you pursue your vision to the exclusion and detriment of your dear self and others. With high self-esteem, you cultivate your dream and garner the resources to make it happen.

Grandiosity makes you feel special, and separates you from others. Self-esteem connects you to others through your humanity.

A grandiose brag is designed to impress, but merely turns others off. A high self-esteem brag is a celebration of one’s gifts.

Success does not discriminate between the two. But true Leadership does. You will be recognized, followed and deeply appreciated as a leader if you embody a healthy self-esteem. You will be occasionally respected, often reviled and at best tolerated if you lead with your grandiosity.

Are you willing to look at yourself and know the difference? Again and again? It takes a fair degree of self-esteem to be willing to look. To love and lead well, and be of true service, you need to have your self-esteem intact, and keep the perils of grandiosity at bay. Everyone around you will thank you for it.

12 responses to “The Difference Between Self-esteem and Grandiosity”

  1. Last night I had a consultation with someone with the grandiose personality – he had similar characteristics you described. He introduced himself by name and followed up with what he was looking for in a life coach. “I’m only interested in speaking to you if you know as much as me or more.” We chatted for over 75 minutes. All he wanted was to listen to his own voice. He’s coming back for more of my abuse. Apparently he doesn’t mind looking into the mirror.

    Great article… Thanks Blair

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Nice to see you here! Good for you. And for him. Keep me posted as to how it goes with him.
      Thanks so much for your comments.

  2. Jo Miller says:


    Great post! I have been so blessed to coach some incredible, talented people who genuinely accept their pain, their strengths and weaknesses. Part of the pleasure of coaching/mentoring is the gift of seeing the incredible value of someone’s very Being and pulling back the curtain to share that vision with them. I love it when, as a result of our work, people see and accept in themselves the beauty and uniqueness that I see in them. Ironically, sometimes my ability to deeply value each individual I work with and understand how truly amazing they triggers insecurity in me and I lose sight of my own value and that I too am an amazing person. (Even writing that last statement was hard). When I get in a low self-esteem state-of-mind, just as you said, I can feel the desire to slip into grandiosity to make myself special and separate myself from others. I know that twinge but, until I read this post, I didn’t have words for it. I will be more conscientious – when I feel unconnected with others I will reflect on your guidance. Thank you Blair.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thank you so much for your comment. I love hearing about your work — it is a great service, reflecting others worth to them, and clearly you do it with such love.
      And then to share your inner journey here, and how the post affected it — I am very moved and honored.
      In my very human existence I do experience a lot of slippage — from centered and grounded, to insecure, puffed up and back again. It is an ongoing process that I was happy to find the words to share and so happy for you to receive and learn from.

  3. Excellent post Blair. Self-esteem is necessary for us to be successful in life whatever we determine is our purpose. But grandiosity usually covers a ton of low self-esteem and lack of personal confidence.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    Warmly, Linda

    • Blair Glaser says:

      I like your distinction, well said! Thanks for showing up here and sharing your perspective, Linda.

  4. Dionne lew says:

    Blair an enormous amount of self-awareness underpins that insight. You really nailed it. Self-esteem incorporates imperfection and vulnerability and brings us into deep connection and it’s the complete opposite of arrogance which creates distance and separation. Loved this. Thanks for writing and sharing.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      So nice to see you here, Dionne. Thanks for the feedback and for your powerful reflections about the difference between self-esteem and arrogance.

  5. Lalita Raman says:

    I resonate with what you have eloquently expressed here. I meet so many people who call themselves coaches and leaders and some if them so beautifully fit in the grandiose description.

    I agree Grandiosity is a cover, an attempt to escape reality and feeling the need to self elevate themselves at every opportunity. Grandiosity is about being brash and insecure.

    Beautiful post Blair.

  6. Blair Glaser says:

    Thanks so much for your comment, Lalita. It is true, many coaches and leaders take a holier than thou approach — it’s an easy default.

  7. lollydaskal says:

    The way I see it is Self-esteem is vital in our leadership and life to be successful because it highlights who we are and it differentiates us from others.

    On the other hand, Grandiosity is about having a poor relationship with self, It usually comes from an insecurity.

    When I see Grandiosity I send massive dosages of love and hope that love is received

    Because I want them to know they are OKAY just the way they are.


    No need to pretend.
    Because the truth is …
    We are all in this together.

    And love binds us.

    Thanks for the great post Blair!

    Lolly Daskal
    Lead From Within

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Hi Lolly,
      Thanks for adding your definitions and your love.
      We are in this together, and we are all human. Wouldn’t it be great if people who are being led by gradiose narcissists could hold the rememberence of what you speak in their hearts as they suffer the ignorance and barbs?
      I love that you are a true champion of self-esteem.
      Thanks as always for your rich comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *