A narcissist is mentally tough – but also very insecure

While a narcissist is known to portray a self-centred nature and is likely to put himself above others, it has been found that they are tougher mentally than others. Supporting studies confirm this, but also highlight an underlying insecurity.

Yes, you heard it right. Moreover, these people feel less stressed and find themselves less vulnerable to depression as compared to others, according to a study published in the journal — Personality and Individual Differences. While narcissism may be viewed by many in society as a negative personality trait, Dr Kostas Papageorgiou, Director of the InteRRaCt Lab in the School of Psychology at Queen’s, has revealed that it could also have numerous health benefits.
Dr Papageorgiou explained: “Narcissism is part of the ‘Dark Tetrad’ of personality that also includes Machiavellianism, Psychopathy and Sadism. There are two main dimensions to narcissism — grandiose and vulnerable.”

“Vulnerable narcissists are likely to be more defensive and view the behaviour of others as hostile whereas grandiose narcissists usually have an over-inflated sense of importance and a preoccupation with status and power,” he added.
Dr Papageorgiou further went on to say that “individuals high on the spectrum of dark traits such as narcissism, engage in risky behaviour, hold an unrealistic superior view of themselves, are overconfident, show little empathy for others, and have little shame or guilt.”

Mental toughness

However, what this research has questioned is — if narcissism, as an example of the dark tetrad, is indeed so socially toxic, why does it persist and why is it on the rise in modern societies?
This research includes three independent studies each involving more than 700 adults in total and highlights some positive sides of narcissism such as resilience against symptoms of psychopathology.

A key finding of the research was that grandiose narcissism can increase mental toughness and this can help to offset symptoms of depression.

Moreover, people who score high on grandiose narcissism have lower levels of perceived stress and are therefore less likely to view their life as stressful.
“The results from all the studies that we conducted show that grandiose narcissism correlates with very positive components of mental toughness such as confidence and goal orientation, protecting against symptoms of depression and perceived stress,” Dr Papageorgiou commented.

“While of course, not all dimensions of narcissism are good, certain aspects can lead to positive outcomes,” he added.
What good this research can do is promoting diversity and inclusiveness of people and ideas by advocating that dark trait such as narcissism, which should not be seen as either good or bad, but as products of evolution and expressions of human nature that may be beneficial or harmful depending on the context, suggested the researcher.

A narcissist is insecure

Narcissism is driven by insecurity, and not an inflated sense of self, finds a new study drove by the researchers at the New York University which may also explain what motivates the self-focused nature of social media activity.

Its research, which offers a more detailed understanding of this long-examined phenomenon, may also explain what motivates the self-focused nature of social media activity. “For a long time, it was unclear why narcissists engage in unpleasant behaviours, such as self-congratulation, as it actually makes others think less of them,” explains Pascal Wallisch, a clinical associate professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and the senior author of the paper, which appears in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. “This has become quite prevalent in the age of social media — a behaviour 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.”
“More specifically, the results suggest that narcissism is better understood as a compensatory adaptation to overcome and cover-up low self-worth,” adds Mary Kowalchyk, the paper’s lead author and an NYU graduate student at the time of the study. “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 behaviours.”
The survey’s nearly 300 participants — approximately 60 per cent female and 40 per cent male — had a median age of 20 and answered 151 questions via computer.

The researchers examined Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), conceptualized as excessive self-love and consisting of two subtypes, known as grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. A related affliction, psychopathy, is also characterized by a grandiose sense of self. They sought to refine the understanding of how these conditions relate.

To do so, they designed a novel measure, called PRISN (Performative Refinement to soothe Insecurities about SophisticatioN), which produced FLEX (perFormative seLf-Elevation indeX). FLEX captures insecurity-driven self-conceptualizations that are manifested as impression management, leading to self-elevating tendencies.

The PRISN scale includes commonly used measures to investigate social desirability (“No matter who I am talking to I am a good listener”), self-esteem (“On the whole, I am satisfied with myself”), and psychopathy (“I tend to lack remorse”). FLEX was shown to be made up of four components: impression management (“I am likely to show off if I get the chance”), the need for social validation (“It matters that I am seen at important events”), self-elevation (“I have exquisite taste”), and social dominance (“I like knowing more than other people”).

Overall, the results showed high correlations between FLEX and narcissism — but not with psychopathy. For example, the need for social validation (a FLEX metric) correlated with the reported tendency to engage in performative self-elevation (a characteristic of vulnerable narcissism).

By contrast, measures of psychopathy, such as elevated levels of self-esteem, showed low correlation levels with vulnerable narcissism, implying a lack of insecurity. These findings suggest that genuine narcissists are insecure and are best described by the vulnerable narcissism subtype, whereas grandiose narcissism might be better understood as a manifestation of psychopathy.

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