Narcissists behave the way they do because of insecurity and not because they are full of themselves, a new study finds.
In fact, people with these tendencies use classic narcissistic behaviours to cover up their low self-worth.
These include exploiting others without guilt, needing constant praise and displaying a sense of entitlement and grandiose self-importance.
Unfortunately for narcissists these behaviours all make others hate them in the long-run and so aggravates their own low self-worth.
Dr Pascal Wallisch, study co-author, said:
“For a long time, it was unclear why narcissists engage in unpleasant behaviors, such as self-congratulation, as it actually makes others think less of them.
This has become quite prevalent in the age of social media — a behavior that’s been coined ‘flexing’
Our work reveals that these narcissists are not grandiose, but rather insecure, and this is how they seem to cope with their insecurities.”
The researchers surveyed almost 300 people, testing them for typical narcissistic behaviours.
People were asked if they agreed with statements like these:
- “I am likely to show off if I get the chance.”
- “It matters that I am seen at important events.”
- “I have exquisite taste.”
- “I like knowing more than other people.”
These questions access how much people need to manage the impression they give others, the social validation they need, how much they like to raise themselves above others and their social dominance.
The results suggest that genuine narcissists behave the way they do because they are insecure.
Ms Mary Kowalchyk, the study’s first author, said:
“More specifically, the results suggest that narcissism is better understood as a compensatory adaptation to overcome and cover up low self-worth.
Narcissists are insecure, and they cope with these insecurities by flexing.
This makes others like them less in the long run, thus further aggravating their insecurities, which then leads to a vicious cycle of flexing behaviors.”
The researchers looked at two different types of narcissism:
- Grandiose narcissism: having an overinflated sense of one’s importance.
- Vulnerable narcissism: this is linked to more anxiety and depression.
Their results suggested that vulnerable narcissists are genuine narcissists.
Meanwhile grandiose narcissists are better seen as a variety of psychopath.
The study was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (Kowalchyk et al., 2021).