Narcissism

02.10.2020 |

Episode #4 of the course Psychology of evil by Dr. Daniel McGrath

 

Welcome back! In today’s lesson, we are going to cover the second trait in the Dark Triad, narcissism.

“Is there some reason that my coffee isn’t here? Has she died or something?” In the movie The Devil Wears Prada, this is how Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) reacts when she arrives in the office before her personal assistant Andrea Sachs (portrayed by Anne Hathaway). Throughout the movie, Miranda makes Andrea’s life a living nightmare. Miranda has no patience for employees who don’t live up to her impossible standards. She displays a grandiose sense of self-importance and feels that treating others as lesser humans is perfectly acceptable. Miranda exhibits a pattern of behavior that is indicative of a high degree of narcissism and likely narcissistic personality disorder.

The term narcissism originates from the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus. As the story goes, Narcissus was a particularly handsome young man who had many admirers. Among them was a nymph called Echo. Echo followed Narcissus through a forest and eventually tried to embrace him; however, Narcissus reacted with scorn and contempt. This reaction led Echo into deep despair; she wandered the forest and finally wilted away. Angered by this, the Goddess Aphrodite chose to punish Narcissus by casting a spell upon him. Narcissus became infatuated with his own reflection in a pool of water. He would die as a result of the sorrow of this unrequited love of the person in the reflection, which was unknowingly himself.

Like Machiavellianism, narcissism is commonly seen as a personality trait on a dimensional scale, with scores ranging from low to high. Although there are numerous methods for measuring narcissism, the most common way is through a questionnaire called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). A lot of studies have been conducted on what it means to score high on trait narcissism. This research has identified two subtypes of narcissism: grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism.

Grandiose narcissists are ego-maniacs by nature. These individuals are incredibly self-centered and honestly believe that they have special importance in the world. The grandiose narcissist can be identified by their constant exaggerating, how they dominate conversations, and how they exploit other people for their gain. In their minds, other people simply exist to serve them. Another key feature is that they frequently overestimate their own talents and abilities. That is, they won’t admit that they can’t do something even if the outcome is detrimental to themselves or others.

In comparison, vulnerable narcissism shares a number of these features but is also characterized by anger, defensiveness, helplessness, aggression, and depression. They react very negatively to being attacked or criticized by other people. Their overarching need is to protect their fragile self-esteem. In doing so, vulnerable narcissists will ignore information that does not align with their self-image.

Most narcissists are considered sub-clinical, meaning that they don’t quite reach the threshold for a formal psychiatric disorder. However, roughly 1% of the general population meets the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). People with NPD usually display both grandiose and vulnerable symptoms and experience the most extreme version of narcissism. NPD is a persistent pattern of grandiosity, inflated self-importance, and a near-constant need for admiration. What other people desire is a complete afterthought for those with NPD. These narcissists are jealous of others, lack empathy for their needs, and will exploit them when it’s convenient.

How do narcissists treat other people? Narcissists are often cruel, but can also be downright dangerous. For instance, in romantic relationships, narcissists are likely to be non-committal, unfaithful, and expect admiration without any willingness to reciprocate similar feelings to their partners. Sadly, they are also often emotionally and physically abusive. In the workplace, narcissistic co-workers will deflect criticism and blame, take undeserved credit, spread rumors, and dominate conversations. If you dare to provide friendly, constructive feedback, watch out, they will lash out for the “injury” that you have caused. The narcissistic boss can be especially challenging as they will exploit their employees wherever possible to get ahead.

How can you protect yourself from narcissists? It’s important to realize that the narcissist, especially if they have NPD, will likely never change. Therefore, the first recommendation from psychologists is to avoid them entirely. This may even result in you quitting your job, for instance. If there is abuse in the home, it is especially important to leave the narcissist. If avoiding them isn’t possible, some suggestions to protect yourself include: set firm boundaries and stick to them, don’t directly criticize or retaliate, instead emotionally disengage from them, and seek out support from others (e.g., co-workers).

Tomorrow we will cover the third trait in the Dark Triad, psychopathy. See you then!

 

Recommended book

Disarming the Narcissist by Wendy Behary

 

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