11 Habits That Distinguish Someone Who's Cocky From Someone Who's A Narcissist

We likely know arrogant or cocky people in our lives, and we may throw around the word "narcissistic" when referring to them. But there's actually a pretty significant difference between arrogance and narcissism, and it's definitely worth acknowledging.

While there are cocky, arrogant traits that fall into both camps, experts agree that a narcissistic person will be way more toxic to be around. "There is definitely cockiness in narcissism," mental health counselor Erin C. Parisi, LMHC, CAP tells Bustle. "Both seem pretty full of themselves, both probably like attention ... But the major difference, that absolutely makes narcissism more of a problem than just cockiness, is the empathy piece. Someone who lacks empathy, has little compassion for others, and can’t see things from another point of view," may meet criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

But it's important not to diagnose anyone, since experts say many people have some of these traits, to one degree or another. "Keeping in mind all traits fall on a spectrum of severity, a person can be 'a little' cocky or arrogant, or 'very' cocky or arrogant," Parisi says. "Same is true of narcissism. Some people could technically meet criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder but don’t have severe interpersonal problems, while others repeatedly end up in legal trouble."

The two can seem similar, but NPD can greatly impact the sufferers life, as well as the lives of the people they meet. By recognizing what NPD might look like, in comparison to arrogance, you can help protect yourself from getting caught up in a toxic situation. Here are a few ways experts say arrogance differs from narcissism.


An Arrogant Person Might Exaggerate Their Abilities

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

We all know that arrogant person who tends to exaggerate what they can do. "Cockiness tends to be focused on abilities," licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula tells Bustle. An arrogant person may play up what they can do, and show off a bit.

She says arrogant people might say things like, "I have never spent more than 30 minutes preparing for a test, and I always rock the A." Or something like, "I show up to marathons hung over all the time and I still beat out everyone in my running club." It might be annoying, but their impact on others generally stops there.


A Narcissist Will Exaggerate Their Abilities To Make You Feel Bad

Hannah Burton/Bustle

Narcissists are also arrogant when it comes to their skill level, but to a dysfunctional degree. "A cocky person can actually have empathy — the person who doesn't prepare for the test may actually take the time to help someone else with it (they are cocky about their own performance, but could help someone else study)," Durvasula says. "A narcissist would be cocky and not think about how it affects someone else when they say those things, and would say those things to get validation or envy from other people."

Creating envy is a narcissist's MO, and if there's anything they can do to knock others down, they'll go for it. "It shows a lack of insight or care about how [their] words and attitude affect other people," Durvasula says, "Which is what narcissism looks like."


A Cocky Person Will Want Things Done Their Way

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

It's fine to have your own way of doing things. We all do. But cocky people will generally think their way is the best way. And that everything they want should be done within their expected time frame.

And yet, they do have their limits. "An arrogant individual could think they are better than others, but still understand that not every single desire they have should be met right now," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert with Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. A cocky person may sigh, or become slightly annoyed when things don't go their way. But they can handle it.


A Narcissistic Person Will Be Livid When Things Don't Go Their Way

Hannah Burton/Bustle

The above is in stark contrast to a narcissist's view on things, Backe says. Someone with NPD may expect others to drop everything and cater to their every need, right now. And if they don't get what they want — or if they can't find a way to get others to bend to their every need — they might become beyond angry, and genuinely appalled that people aren't meeting their demands.


A Cocky Person Will Brag About Their Accomplishments

Hannah Burton/Bustle

There's nothing wrong with high self-esteem. It's something we should all be striving for, to one degree or another. But it can go a bit overboard for arrogant people, whose confidence may be a bit above and beyond.

As Parisi says, "When I think of someone as 'cocky' I think of someone who thinks pretty highly of themselves ... I also think of cocky compared to confident. With confidence, I think of someone who has an accurate view of themselves, and is secure in their abilities without the need to brag."

She says cocky people tend to "peacock" or show off their skills. And while it can make everyone in the vicinity collectively roll their eyes, this arrogant display doesn't tend to hurt anybody.


A Narcissist Will Brag In Order To Bring You Down

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

While an arrogant person might parade around with a clear sense of self satisfaction, a narcissist will take it to a whole other level. "Narcissists tend to target people who have lower self-esteem, who may be more vulnerable to a charming wolf in sheep’s clothing," Parisi says. And that's a toxicity that differentiates narcissism from cockiness.

It all comes from how someone with NPD might view themselves. "A narcissist believes they’re the most important person, and that they deserve special treatment, and often demand it, whether or not there is any logical reason for it," Parisi says.


An Arrogant Person Might Be Super Charming

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

Think of that "cool" person everyone knew in high school who was fun, but also kind of cocky. "People who are cocky or arrogant have a lot of self confidence and are usually very outgoing," marriage and family therapist Dr. Racine Henry tells Bustle. "These people not only believe in themselves but also expect positive outcomes. While they may be annoying to be around or covering insecurities with bravado, their pride in their abilities is usually based on achievements and accolades."

So, even though they're clearly showing off, they might have earned the right to do so. They're a bit abrasive, sure. But still lovable.


A Narcissist Will Use That Charm To Hurt You

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

Narcissists also like to show off, and win people over with their charm. But it's never genuine, like that of the cool, cocky person from high school. There's also rarely any kindness behind their desire to win you over — because it's all for personal gain.

"People with narcissistic personality disorder have a mental illness that causes unhealthy behaviors and ways of relating to others," Henry says. "A true narcissist will only be able to function in relationships where they are worshipped, coddled, and always free of blame."


An Arrogant Person Might Challenge Others

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

An arrogant person might want to assert their dominance, and do what they can to win. "An arrogant person will ... speak often about their past successes, and want others to always see them in a favorable manner," Henry says. "They love the spotlight and will see any loss or failure as a rarity and a source of motivation to keep improving."

They might seem competitive. And they kind of are. But really, they just have high expectations for themselves.


A Narcissist Will Take A Challenge As A Threat

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

As Henry says, "With arrogant people, there is usually a line to which their 'I’m the best' attitude will go and they will be open to learning new things from people who they feel are qualified to teach them things they can then excel at."

But a narcissist won't be capable of forming that teacher/student connection. "A narcissist will take a challenge as a threat and do anything in their power to be 'the winner,' including prolonging the challenge until the other person quits," Henry says. "A narcissist will only allow others to compliment them and will place blame on external factors and other people but never themselves."


Arrogant People May Be Rude, But Narcissists Will Be Mean

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

As mentioned above, NPD often includes a total and complete lack of empathy. So while an arrogant person might come off as kind of rude or domineering, someone with NPD may seem downright cold.

"A narcissist has no empathy for others, nor the awareness to acquire such empathy," Backe says. "It is self-absorption of a most serious kind."

We all come across arrogant people on a daily basis, and they can be met with kindness and bit of distance, so their cockiness doesn't become too much. But NPD can be a bit more difficult to deal with. "Someone who’s cocky may be annoying or obnoxious, but a narcissist can pick a target, wiggle in to their target’s life, brainwash them, take whatever it is that they want, and move on — leaving the target dazed and confused," Parisi says. So if you think someone in your life has NPD, don't be afraid to help them seek treatment. And don't be afraid to steer clear until they do.