The trait can make people hostile, so that depression is harder to treat.
How to spot a narcissist, how to tell it from high self-esteem, how the trait is related to eating disorders and how to deal with a narcissist.
Most people are at least somewhat narcissistic since, like all personality traits, narcissism exists on a continuum.
Narcissism refers to being self-centred, boastful and preoccupied with one’s own needs which, when you think about, is not all that uncommon.
From some angles, for example, high self-esteem can look like narcissism.
Indeed, researchers even find that ‘normal’ narcissism can be beneficial in some respects.
However, at the extremes, narcissism is a personality disorder that causes serious problems in personal relationships, at home and at work.
A narcissistic partner, relation or boss can be very difficult to cope with.
Here are 9 psychology studies from the members-only section of PsyBlog on the personality trait of narcissism.
(If you are not already, find out how to become a PsyBlog member here.)
- How To Deal With A Narcissist
- A Fascinating Sign of ‘Normal’ Narcissism
- The Type Of Narcissism Linked To Eating Disorders
- How To Spot A Narcissistic Leader
- This Selfish Personality Trait Fades With Age
- A Sign That You Are Dealing With A Narcissist
- How To Distinguish Narcissism From High Self-Esteem
- The Trick Questions That Reveal A Narcissist
- 3 Signs Of A Grandiose Narcissist
The kinds of things that narcissists buy.
Narcissists tend to buy products for themselves that make them stand out, research finds.
For example, they were more likely to buy a leather case that could be personally engraved, or a ‘limited edition’ of an electronic gadget.
Exclusivity and individuality is what a narcissist is looking for in a product.
Dr Aiden Gregg, who led the study, explained:
“Narcissists seek to self-enhance.
One way to do so is by buying products for symbolic as well as material reasons — for what they mean as well as what they do.
Our early results show that narcissists’ interest in consumer products, whether bought for themselves or for others, is strongly driven by the power of those products to positively distinguish them.
Narcissists feel better about themselves because they think they have succeeded in individualising or elevating themselves.”
Across three studies people were asked to imagine buying various items.
Time after time the narcissists chose things that were exclusive or that could be personalised.
For example, narcissists showed greater interest in a shirt that could be customised.
The study also looked at the type of gifts that narcissists buy for others.
These also tended to be more exclusive, suggesting they want others around them to be special or different as well.
Dr Russell Seidle, commenting on the study, said:
“As expected, narcissistic consumers demonstrate a preference for scarce products that correspond with their views of themselves as unique individuals.
Interestingly, these same consumers show a lower tendency to critically evaluate the actual characteristics of these goods.
That is, scarcity in and of itself seems to be the main driver of their purchasing behaviour.
These findings help to shed light on the importance of the symbolic value of purchasing decisions, which for these consumers seems to outweigh even the practical usefulness of the product being bought.”
The study was published in the journal Journal of Consumer Psychology (Sedikides et al., 2007).
Although normal narcissists are self-centred, they have a psychological edge.
‘Normal’ narcissists have a mental toughness that helps them succeed, research finds.
Normal narcissists are those that are more narcissistic than average, but are not clinical narcissists.
The study of 340 Italian adolescents found that, although young narcissists were self-centred, they did better on their exams than their IQ levels suggested.
Narcissists are not cleverer, but they are more assertive and confident — this allows them to make up for deficiencies elsewhere.
Dr Kostas Papageorgiou, who led the research, said:
“Narcissism is considered as a socially malevolent trait and it is part of the Dark Triad of personality traits — narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.
Previous studies indicate that narcissism is a growing trend in our society but this does not necessarily mean that an individual who displays high narcissistic qualities has a personality disorder.
In our research, we focused on subclinical or “normal” narcissism.
Subclinical narcissism includes some of the same features of clinical syndrome — grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority.
Dr Papageorgiou explained the traits of a narcissist:
“If you are a narcissist you believe strongly that you are better than anyone else and that you deserve reward.
Being confident in your own abilities is one of the key signs of grandiose narcissism and is also at the core of mental toughness.
If a person is mentally tough, they are likely to embrace challenges and see these as an opportunity for personal growth.”
Dr Papageorgiou believes that mental toughness is the key:
“People who score high on subclinical narcissism may be at an advantage because their heightened sense of self-worth may mean they are more motivated, assertive, and successful in certain contexts.
Previous research is our lab has shown that subclinical narcissism may increase mental toughness.
If an individual scores high on mental toughness this means they can perform at their very best in pressured and diverse situations.
We should think in a more nuanced way about narcissism, says Dr Papageorgiou:
“It is important that we reconsider how we, as a society, view narcissism.
We perceive emotions or personality traits as being either bad or good but psychological traits are the products of evolution; they are neither bad nor good — they are adaptive or maladaptive.
Perhaps we should expand conventional social morality to include and celebrate all expressions of human nature.”
The study was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (Papageorgiou et al., 2018).
Why narcissists are at high risk of going into a narcissistic rage and becoming very angry and violent.
Narcissistic rage is a real phenomenon, a study finds.
Narcissistic people have a strong inclination to be aggressive, angry and even violent.
This is true across young and old, men and women and even in different countries.
People do not have to be pathological narcissists — even ‘normal’ narcissists show an increased propensity to aggression.
Causes of narcissistic rage
Narcissists do not need to be attacked to become aggressive, however, the risk becomes higher when they are provoked by being insulted or ignored.
Unfortunately, narcissism is a risk factor for violent acts like mass shootings (Bushman, 2017).
Shooters at Columbine, Barbara and Virginia Tech all shared a sense of narcissistic rage.
This often stems from perceived slights to their fragile sense of self.
Professor Brad Bushman, study co-author, writes on his website:
“…I have come to the conclusion that the most harmful belief people can have is that they are superior to others.
When people believe they are superior to others, they behave very badly.
Every person on this planet is part of the human family; no person is more or less valuable than any other person.”
Narcissistic rage studies
The results come from over 400 different studies including well over 100,000 people.
Ms Sophie Kjaervik, the study’s first author, said:
“The link we found between narcissism and aggression was significant — it was not trivial in size.
The findings have important real-world implications.”
Narcissists tend to be more aggressive in all kinds of ways including verbally, physically, directly and indirectly.
Ms Kjaervik said:
“Individuals who are high in narcissism are not particularly picky when it comes to how they attack others.
That’s a highly important finding now that we live in an online world.”
Almost everyone has some degree of narcissism, even if it is not pathological, said Professor Brad Bushman, study co-author:
“All of us are prone to being more aggressive when we are more narcissistic.
Our results suggest provocation is a key moderator of the link between narcissism and aggression.
Those who are high in narcissism have thin skins, and they will lash out if they feel ignored or disrespected.”
What is a narcissist?
The key trait of a narcissist is an overblown sense of self-importance.
Some psychologists think that narcissists are split into two types:
- Grandiose narcissists: over-inflated sense of self-importance.
- Vulnerable narcissists: defensive and see others as hostile. Linked to more anxiety and depression.
Others think that genuine narcissists behave the way they do because of insecurity and not because they are full of themselves.
The study was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin (Kjærvik & Bushman, 2021).
One personality trait has a very strong link to infidelity.
Narcissists are the personality type most likely to steal another person’s partner, research finds.
Signs of a narcissist include that they are selfish, arrogant and extraverted.
Believing they are special and thinking themselves more important than others means they do not care if someone already has a partner.
Narcissistic types typically experience less guilt than others and so have less of a problem taking advantage.
Typical questions that identify a narcissist include strongly agreeing with the statement “I think I am a special person.”
Dr Amy Brunell, the study’s first author, said:
“They seem to not discriminate between those in relationships and those who are single.
It could be that they just go after whoever appeals to them without regard for relationship status.”
Personality type and infidelity study
The conclusions come from a survey of 247 young adults.
The results showed that people of a more narcissistic type were more likely to have relationships with those who already had partners.
A couple of follow-up studies suggested that narcissists do not specifically target people in relationships.
In other words, narcissist types ignore the fact of whether someone is single or not.
Dr Brunell said:
“It is likely people are simply interested in the target and not necessarily as concerned that the target is in a relationship.”
Other personality factors that predict being unfaithful are psychopathy and unstable emotions.
Psychopaths tend to be spontaneous, irresponsible and manipulative.
Emotional instability is linked to being badly organised, careless and unreliable.
Dr Brunell concluded:
“Understanding the behavior of narcissists is important because it helps us better understand the people who are in our lives — and the types of people we don’t necessarily want in our lives.”
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE (Brunell et al., 2018).
There are three ways to find meaning in life, all of which dark personalities deny themselves.
Patience is one vital trait lacking in psychopaths, narcissists and people with ‘dark personalities’, research finds.
Without patience, people with dark personalities find it hard to obtain satisfaction from their work and love lives.
Impatience means they move from one partner to another and do not commit fully to their work.
Without committing to work and other people, it is very difficult to find meaning in life.
Patience helps people get through difficult situations without being aggressive — something that dark personality types cannot often manage.
Psychopaths, in particular, are highly impulsive, often acting without thinking or controlling themselves.
The study’s authors explain:
“Psychopathy features impulsivity, antisocial behaviors, and lack of empathy; those who score high on psychopathy scales are prone to seeking thrills.”
Similarly, narcissists find criticism very difficult to deal with — they hold grudges and will lash out.
The study’s authors explain:
“Narcissism refers to a feeling of grandiose self-worth such
that those who score high on narcissism often appear dominant and egotistical.
Narcissists commonly experience feelings of superiority over others and can be quite aggressive when they sense that their self-esteem is under threat.”
The conclusions come from 434 people working for a Chinese company.
All were surveyed about their patience, how much meaning they experienced in life and any dark personality traits.
People with any of the so-called ‘dark triad’ of personality traits of psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism had low levels of patience and experienced reduced meaning in life.
The authors write that there are three critical ways to find meaning in life:
“…the first is “creating a work or doing a deed”, which is supported by the finding that meaning is positively related with work engagement; the second is love, which is supported by the finding that meaning in life has a significant positive correlation with nourishing relationships; and the last is enduring unavoidable suffering…”
The Chinese study discussed the importance of patience within Buddhism.
Buddhism defines patience as involving three elements:
“The first is the patience to endure suffering, willingly, namely to accept both mental and physical suffering with gratitude.
The second is the patience to not retaliate against harm, namely to withstand harm caused by others, and respond with forgiveness and loving-kindness rather than anger or hatred.
Third, the patience to thoroughly scrutinize phenomena, namely to bear with uncertainty and insecurity, and to see things as they truly are…”
The study was published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life (Wang et al., 2018).
How parents raise narcissistic children.
A permissive upbringing is one way parents raise narcissistic children, research finds.
Two other important factors are lack of affection from parents and exposure to violence in the home.
The conclusions come from a Spanish study of 591 adolescents.
Narcissistic children were likely to be aggressive towards parents when they didn’t get what they wanted.
Dr Esther Calvete, the study’s first author, said:
“On occasions adolescents assault their parents because the parents themselves have been violent towards the children or among themselves.
Through exposure to family violence, children learn to be violent.
Other times, it is the lack of affectionate and positive communication between parents and their children, the lack of quality time that is dedicated to the children, or permissive parenting styles that do not impose limits.”
Dr Calvete explained how narcissism fits into the picture:
“In some cases we can observe that element of narcissism: it concerns adolescents who feel that they should have everything that they want, right here and now.
They don’t take no for an answer.
When their parents try to establish limits, the children react aggressively.”
The researchers interviewed 591 adolescents and analysed the relationship between narcissism and aggression [see: narcissistic rage].
Education and upbringing are key to curbing these problems, Dr Calvete said:
“If the parents do not raise their children with a sense of responsibility and respect, it is easy for the children to develop problems of aggressive behaviour.
If the parents were violent when the children were small, it increases the risk of aggressive behaviour in children.
But the behaviour displayed by fathers and mothers is not the only element.
The temperament of the children is another important component, and some boys and girls are more impulsive and learn violent behaviour more easily,”
The study’s authors share one email they received from a worried mother about her aggressive son.
“Our son sees himself as above everything.
The other night I told him that he should stop looking at himself in the mirror, that he looked good.
And he hit the roof.
His father later told him that he had no right to talk to me in that manner.
But my son has become more and more verbally aggressive, and the situation has deteriorated into violence.
He hit my husband, who is recovering from bruised ribs and a broken jaw.
The problem is that he continues to think that he is right.
According to him, it’s he who feels threatened,”
Narcissism is at the root of these problems, the researchers say, and treatment should be directed at reducing it.
The study was published in the journal Developmental Psychology (Calvete et al., 2015).
Research reveals if society is becoming more narcissistic. Narcissism refers to excessive levels of superiority, self-love and self-centredness.
Modern Western society increases narcissism, research finds.
It could help to explain why — as some people think — society is becoming more narcissistic.
Narcissism refers to excessive levels of superiority, self-love and self-centredness.
The study compared people born and brought up in East and West Germany.
Higher levels of narcissism were found in people who grew up in the western states of Germany.
Professor Stefan Röpke, who led the study, said:
“Contemporary western societies promote narcissism.
People who grew up on the western side of the former East-West border or West-Berlin had higher levels of narcissism than those who spent their childhood in the former German Democratic Republic.
In our study, this was shown to primarily apply to ‘grandiose narcissism’, a type of narcissism that is characterized by an exaggerated sense of superiority.”
Is society becoming more narcissistic?
The study’s conclusions came from a survey of over 1,000 people born in both the Federal Republic of Germany and the former German Democratic Republic.
The largest differences in narcissism between east and west society were seen for those aged 6-18 at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
For self-esteem, the researchers found the opposite: people who grew up in eastern societies had higher self-esteem
Dr Aline Vater, the study’s first author, said:
“No difference can be found within the younger generation — people who had either not been born at the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, or had not yet reached school-age, and who therefore grew up within the same western society.
In this group, the levels of narcissism and self-esteem recorded are the same for respondents from both the former East and West Germany.”
Professor Röpke concluded:
“Overall, our results suggest that levels of narcissism and self-esteem are influenced by societal factors.
Western societies appear to promote increased levels of narcissism among their citizens.”
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE (Vater et al., 2018).
Is there really a ‘narcissism epidemic’ or is this not really the ‘age of narcissism’?
People are at their most narcissistic when they are college-age, research shows.
Then, people’s narcissism slowly reduces over the years, on average.
Professor Brent Roberts, who led the research, said:
“The average college student scores 15 to 16 on the NPI scale, out of a possible 40.
The average grandparent scores about 12.
Based on that, if you use that as a natural metric, most people are not narcissists.
And, perhaps most interestingly, narcissism declines with age.”
A narcissism epidemic?
The study found no evidence that there is a ‘narcissism epidemic’ among young people.
In fact, young people are slightly less narcissistic than they were twenty years ago.
Professor Roberts thinks this is just older people misremembering how brash they were at that age, and how they have calmed down over the years:
“We have faulty memories, so we don’t remember that we were rather self-centered when we were that age.”
Both millennials and younger generations are frequently portrayed as having poor character traits or of being part of a narcissism epidemic.
However, Professor Roberts said:
“But that’s just wrong.
The kids are all right.
There never was a narcissism epidemic, despite what has been claimed.”
Not the ‘age of narcissism’ at all
The conclusions come from a survey of 1,166 students compared with tens of thousands of students surveyed in the 2000s and in the 2010s.
They all completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, the NPI.
This involves choosing between 40 pairs of statements.
For example, here is one:
- I just want to be reasonably happy.
- I want to amount to something in the eyes of the world.
The second is more consistent with a narcissistic view of the the self.
The study found that whether male or female, White, African-American or Caucasian, people’s narcissism shows a slow but steady decline with age.
Professor Roberts said:
“For the most part, the measure worked pretty well, but we found a few items that didn’t work consistently across different groups.
When you adjust for that, you see decreases in narcissism from the 1990s to the 2000s to the 2010s.”
So, there you have it: there is no narcissism epidemic, nor is this the age of narcissism.
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Wetzelet al., 2017).