Narcissism refers to an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement, an excessive need for power, success, and admiration, and hypersensitivity to criticism.
Narcissism is not a homogenous concept, however. A narcissist's desire for power, success, and admiration can take the form of an inflated sense of how successful, powerful, or intelligent they are.
This form of narcissism is also known as agentic narcissism. Agentic narcissists tend to have diminished empathy for others and openly derogate those who don't admire them.
But a narcissist's desire for power, success, and admiration can also be realized in the form of an inflated sense of their contributions to the community. Thus, for example, narcissists might conceive of themselves as highly compassionate or generous or morally exemplary (Nehrlich et al., 2019).
Narcissism of this kind is also referred to as communal narcissism. Although communal narcissists also have diminished empathy for others, they may refrain from openly derogating others. Accordingly, they may come across as more empathetic toward others than agentic narcissists.
Agentic and communal narcissism belong to a form of narcissism known as individual narcissism, or what we often simply refer to as narcissism.
The third type of narcissism is collective narcissism (Golec de Zavala et al., 2009). The collective form of the condition refers to an inflated sense of the importance and entitlement of one's ingroup, resentment for the perceived lack of recognition of one's ingroup, and hypersensitivity to criticism of their ingroup.
Racists, for example, are collective narcissists, as they have an inflated sense of the importance and entitlement of white people, feel resentful for society's lack of recognition of their superiority, and exhibit hypersensitivity to criticism of their ingroup.
Racists are agentic collective narcissists, as they seek to realize their narcissistic desire for power, success, and admiration by gaining recognition as a member of their ingroup.
In a new study, psychologist Magdalena Żemojtel-Piotrowska et al. (2021) show that collective narcissism also can take a communal form that is conceptually and empirically distinct from agentic collective narcissism.
Żemojtel-Piotrowska et al. (2021) define communal collective narcissism as "strong ingroup identification, unrealistically positive beliefs about the ingroup's communal contribution, entitlement about the group's communal worth, and grievance for lack of ingroup recognition in the communal domain."
Source: Chart by Berit Brogaard
To test the validity of this construct, the team formulated a scale for communal collective narcissism based on their definition. The scale included questions such as "Members of my group are the most helpful people I know," "In the future, my group will be well-known for the good deeds it will have done," and "Very few other groups are as moral as mine."
Żemojtel-Piotrowska et al. then administered the scale to 856 participants aged 18-83 (439 women, 417 men; mean age = 42). To optimize the scale, they removed items that turned out to be empirically redundant or overlapped with items on the scales for agentic collective narcissism and individual communal narcissism. This resulted in a seven-item scale for communal collective narcissism.
The researchers then tested their seven-item scale against the scale for agentive collective narcissism, using the participant's view of their own country compared to other countries as a test scenario.
This study confirmed that the two collective narcissism scales, while interrelated, are empirically distinct. Agentic collective narcissists tended to focus on their ingroup's superior agentic attributes (e.g., "My group has a higher IQ than other groups"). In contrast, communal collective narcissists were more likely to focus on how their ingroup benefited the community (e.g., "My group always fights for the poor and oppressed").
In a third study, the team examined what incentivized communal collective narcissists to derogate outgroup members who threaten the ingroup's image.
The results showed that agentic collective narcissists derogated outgroup members who threatened the agentic virtues of their ingroup, for example, their intelligence.
Communal collective narcissists, by contrast, derogated outgroup members who threatened the communal virtues of their ingroup, for example, their compassion or helpfulness toward others.
In a fourth study, Żemojtel-Piotrowska et al. tested whether communal collective narcissism differed from agential collective narcissism regarding their attitudes toward outgroups who presented a perceived threat to the ingroup.
Here, the team found that, like their agentic counterparts, communal collective narcissists had genuine antisocial tendencies. For example, they showed a preference for military aggression and an unwillingness to forgive outgroups for a perceived insult to their ingroup.
Golec de Zavala, A., Cichocka, A., Eidelson, R., & Jayawickreme, N. (2009). Collective narcissism and its social consequences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(6), 1074–1096.
Nehrlich, A. D., Gebauer, J. E., Sedikides, C., & Schoel, C. (2019). Agentic narcissism, communal narcissism, and prosociality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 117(1), 142–165.
Żemojtel-Piotrowska, M., Piotrowski, J., Sedikides, C., Sawicki, A., Czarna, A.Z., Fatfouta, R., Baran, T. (2021). Communal collective narcissism, Journal of Personality. Online First. DOI: 10.1111/jopy.12636
Agentic narcissism, communal narcissism, and prosociality
Grandiose narcissism and prosociality are important topics in personality and social psychology, but research on their interplay is lacking. We present a first large-scale, systematic, and multimethod investigation linking the two. In 2 studies (N1 = 688, N2 = 336), we assessed grandiose narcissism comprehensively (i.e., agentic and communal narcissism) and examined its relations with instantiations of prosociality, namely, objective prosociality (actual behavior in Study 1; round-robin informant-reports in a real-life setting in Study 2) and subjective prosociality (self-perceptions in Studies 1 and 2). We obtained a consistent set of results. Agentic narcissism was related to lower objective prosociality and lower subjective prosociality. Communal narcissism, by contrast, was unrelated to objective prosociality, but was related to higher subjective prosociality. Additionally, we tested for prosociality self-enhancement among agentic and communal narcissists. Agentic narcissists evinced the same (and modest) level of prosociality self-enhancement as their non-narcissistic counterparts. Communal narcissists, by contrast, evinced substantial levels of prosociality self-enhancement, whereas their non-narcissistic counterparts did not enhance their prosociality at all. We discuss implications of the findings for the literature on narcissism and antisociality, and for the concept of prosocial personality. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
5 Types of Narcissism and How to Recognize Each
As a personality trait, narcissism can come in many forms and levels of severity. As a mental health condition, there’s only one diagnosis.
You might be wondering, “What does it actually mean to be narcissistic?” Are we using this label too broadly, or are there different types of narcissism?
In fact, you may have noticed terms like “narcissist” and “narcissism” are becoming increasingly popular. There are even a few lists of “famous narcissists” going around.
It seems everyone knows someone — whether it’s a family member, coworker, or frenemy — who fits this label. But these terms are also loaded and highly stigmatized.
This is why it’s important to understand what they really mean and how they manifest.
How many types of narcissism are there?
As a mental health diagnosis, there’s only one. But it can manifest in different ways, as does the personality trait.
On a general level, narcissism is closely tied to:
- extreme self-focus
- an inflated sense of self
- a strong desire for recognition and praise
But if you talk about types of narcissism, researchers have broken down the narcissistic personality trait into:
- overt narcissism
- covert narcissism
- antagonistic narcissism
- communal narcissism
- malignant narcissism
It’s also possible to look at narcissism in terms of how it affects your day-to-day life and ability to form relationships.
In this context, narcissism can be either adaptive (helpful) or maladaptive (unhelpful).
The point of using categories is not necessarily to label someone you think might have narcissistic qualities.
In fact, some suggests it could be more accurate to view narcissism as on a spectrum from less to more severe. You might then imagine that the different “types” of narcissism fit somewhere along that spectrum.
Instead, taking a closer look at the different types of narcissistic personality traits can help us understand more about the thought processes, emotions, and behavioral patterns that tend to show up with narcissism.
Adaptive versus maladaptive narcissism
Some research draws a line between adaptive and maladaptive narcissism. This helps to show the difference between productive and unproductive aspects of narcissism.
- Adaptive narcissism refers to aspects of narcissism that can actually be helpful, like high self-confidence, self-reliance, and the ability to celebrate yourself.
- Maladaptive narcissism is connected to traits that don’t serve you and can negatively impact how you relate to yourself and others. Entitlement, aggression, and the tendency to take advantage of others fit under the umbrella of maladaptive narcissism. This would be associated with symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder.
When most people talk about narcissism, it’s the maladaptive kind they’re referring to.
Unlike adaptive narcissism, maladaptive narcissism is connected to:
- low self-esteem
- higher chances of experiencing unpleasant emotions
- lower empathy
Research has found that while maladaptive narcissism tends to decrease the older we get, adaptive narcissism doesn’t decline as much over time.
In addition, both adaptive and maladaptive narcissism can be passed on through genes and influenced by your childhood upbringing.
Overt narcissism is also known by several other names, including grandiose narcissism and agentic narcissism.
This type of narcissism is what most people associate with a narcissistic personality.
Someone with overt narcissism might come across as:
- having an exaggerated self-image
- needing to be praised and admired
- lacking empathy
Some research connects overt narcissism with the Big Five personality traits extraversion and openness.
It also suggests people with overt narcissism are more likely to feel good about themselves and less likely to experience uncomfortable emotions like sadness, worry, or loneliness.
People with overt narcissism may also tend to overestimate their own abilities and intelligence.
One study published in 2018 also suggests overt narcissism might cause someone to overestimate their own emotional intelligence.
Also known as vulnerable narcissism and closet narcissism, covert narcissism is the contrast to overt narcissism.
While many people think of narcissism as a loud and overbearing trait, people with covert narcissism don’t fit this pattern.
Instead, some common traits of someone with covert narcissism include:
- expressions of low self-esteem
- higher likelihood of experiencing anxiety, depression, and shame
- insecurity or low confidence
- tendency to feel or play the victim
While someone with covert narcissism will still be very self-focused, this is likely to conflict with a deep fear or sense of not being enough.
A on personality and covert narcissism published in 2017 found that it was most strongly linked to high neuroticism (tendency to experience unpleasant emotions) and disagreeableness.
Someone with covert narcissism is likely to have a hard time accepting criticism. But unlike a person with overt narcissism, someone with covert narcissism may be more likely to internalize or take in the criticism more harshly than it was intended.
Research suggests the categories of covert and overt narcissism aren’t always mutually exclusive. In other words, someone with overt narcissism might go through a period where they show more signs of covert narcissism, for example.
According to some research, antagonistic narcissism is a subtype of overt narcissism. With this aspect of narcissism, the focus is on rivalry and competition.
Some features of antagonistic narcissism include:
- tendency to take advantage of others
- tendency to compete with others
- disagreeability or proneness to arguing
According to research from 2017 about facets of narcissism and forgiveness, those with antagonistic narcissism reported they were less likely to forgive others than people with other types of narcissism.
People with antagonistic narcissism may also have lower levels of trust in others, according to a 2019 study.
Communal narcissism is another type of overt narcissism, and it’s usually seen as the opposite of antagonistic narcissism.
Someone with communal narcissism values fairness and is likely to see themselves as altruistic, but research published in 2018 suggests there’s a gap between these beliefs and the person’s behavior.
People with communal narcissism might:
- become easily morally outraged
- describe themselves as empathetic and generous
- react strongly to things they see as unfair
So what makes communal narcissism different from genuine concern for the well-being of others? The key difference is that for people with communal narcissism, social power and self-importance are playing major roles.
For example, while communal narcissism might cause you to say (and believe) you have a strong moral code or care for others, you might not realize the way you treat others doesn’t match up with your beliefs.
Narcissism can exist at different levels of severity, and malignant narcissism is a form. It can also cause more problems for the person living with it.
Malignant narcissism is more closely connected to overt than covert narcissism.
Someone with malignant narcissism may have many common traits of narcissism, like a strong need for praise and to be elevated above others. But in addition, malignant narcissism can show up as:
- sadism, or getting enjoyment from the pain of others
- aggression when interacting with other people
- paranoia, or heightened worry about potential threats
Someone with malignant narcissism may also share some traits with antisocial personality disorder. This means someone with malignant narcissism could be more likely to experience legal trouble or substance misuse.
In a small study involving people with borderline personality disorder (BPD), those with malignant narcissism had a harder time reducing anxiety and gaining better ability to function in day-to-day life.
Narcissism — whether it’s a personality trait or personality disorder — can make relationships more challenging. Different types of narcissism, whether overt, covert, communal, antagonistic, or malignant, can also affect how you see yourself and interact with others.
When it comes to treatment, narcissism can be tricky because many people living with it don’t necessarily feel the need to change. But living with narcissism does pose its own mental health effects, including anxiety, depression, and substance use — and sometimes the impact of these effects cause the person to reach out for help.
When someone living with narcissism seeks professional support, there’s a lot of potential for growth and improved mental health.
If mental health care for narcissism sounds like something that could be helpful for you, you can learn more about your options here.
Personality trait of self-love of a perceived perfect self
For other uses, see Narcissism (disambiguation).
Narcissism is a self-centered personality style characterized as having an excessive interest in one's physical appearance and an excessive pre-occupation with one's own needs, often at the expense of others.
It is human nature to be selfish and boastful to a certain degree and there is a significant difference between being narcissist and self-absorbed and those having a mental illness or the pathology of narcissistic personality disorder.
The term "narcissism" comes from a first century (written in the year 8 AD) book by the Roman poet Ovid. Metamorphoses Book III is a myth about two main characters, Narcissus and Echo. Narcissus is a handsome young man who spurns the advances of many potential lovers. When Narcissus rejects the nymph Echo, named this way because she was cursed to only echo the sounds that others made, the gods punish him by making him fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. When Narcissus discovers that the object of his love cannot love him back, he slowly pines away and dies.
The concept of excessive selfishness has been recognized throughout history. In ancient Greece, the concept was understood as hubris. It is only since the late 1800s that narcissism has been defined in psychological terms:
- Havelock Ellis (1898) was the first psychologist to use the term when he linked the myth to the condition in one of his patients.
- Ernest Jones (1913/1951) was the first to construe extreme narcissism as a character flaw.
- Robert Waelder (1925) published the first case study of narcissism. His patient was a successful scientist with an attitude of superiority, an obsession with fostering self-respect, and a lack of normal feelings of guilt. The patient was aloof and independent from others and had an inability to empathize with others situations, and was selfish sexuality. Waelder's patient was also overly logical and analytical and valued abstract intellectual thought (thinking for thinking's sake) over the practical application of scientific knowledge.
Waelder's case study has been very influential in the way narcissism and the clinical disorder Narcissistic personality disorder are defined today
Narcissism refers to a "pervasive pattern of grandiosity", which is characterized by feelings of entitlement and superiority, arrogant or haughty behaviors, and a generalized lack of empathy and concern for others.Narcissism is an essential component of mature self-esteem and basic self-worth.
In essence, narcissistic behavior are a system of intrapersonal and interpersonal strategies devoted to protecting one's self-esteem.
Narcissism is not necessarily 'good' or 'bad', it depends on the contexts and outcomes being measured. In certain social contexts such as initiating social relationships, and with certain outcome variables, such as feeling good about oneself, healthy narcissism can be helpful. In other contexts, such as maintaining long-term relationships and with outcome variables, such as accurate self-knowledge, healthy narcissism can be unhelpful.
Four dimensions of narcissism as a personality variable have been delineated: leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, self-absorption/self-admiration, and exploitativeness/entitlement.
It has been suggested that healthy narcissism is correlated with good psychological health. Self-esteem works as a mediator between narcissism and psychological health. Therefore, because of their elevated self-esteem, deriving from self-perceptions of competence and likability, high narcissists are relatively free of worry and gloom.
Destructive levels of narcissism
Narcissism, in and of itself, is a normal personality trait, however, high levels of narcissistic behavior can be damaging and self-defeating. Destructive narcissism is the constant exhibition of a few of the intense characteristics usually associated with pathological Narcissistic personality disorder. On a spectrum, destructive narcissism is more extreme than common narcissism but not as extreme as the pathological condition.
Pathological levels of narcissism
Main article: Narcissistic personality disorder
Extremely high levels of narcissistic behavior are considered pathological. The pathological condition of narcissism is, as Freud suggested, a magnified, extreme manifestation of healthy narcissism. Freud's idea of narcissism described a pathology which manifests itself in the inability to love others, a lack of empathy, emptiness, boredom, and an unremitting need to search for power, while making the person unavailable to others. The clinical theorists Kernberg, Kohut and Theodore Millon all saw pathological narcissism as a possible outcome in response to unempathic and inconsistent early childhood interactions. They suggested that narcissists try to compensate in adult relationships. German psychoanalyst Karen Horney (1885–1952) also saw the narcissistic personality as a temperament trait molded by a certain kind of early environment.
Heritability studies using twins has shown that narcissistic traits, as measured by standardized tests, are often inherited. Narcissism was found to have a high heritability score (0.64) indicating that the concordance of this trait in the identical twins was significantly influenced by genetics as compared to an environmental causation. It has also been shown that there is a continuum or spectrum of narcissistic traits ranging from normal and a pathological personality.
Examples of narcissistic behaviors
Sexual narcissism has been described as an egocentric pattern of sexual behavior that involves an inflated sense of sexual ability or sexual entitlement, sometimes in the form of extramarital affairs. This can be overcompensation for low self-esteem or an inability to sustain true intimacy.
While this behavioral pattern is believed to be more common in men than in women, it occurs in both males and females who compensate for feelings of sexual inadequacy by becoming overly proud or obsessed with their masculinity or femininity.
The controversial condition referred to as "sexual addiction" is believed by some experts to be sexual narcissism or sexual compulsivity rather than an addictive behavior.
Main article: Narcissistic parents
Narcissistic parents can see their children as extensions of themselves and encourage the children to act in ways that support the parents' emotional and self-esteem needs. Due to their vulnerability, children may be significantly affected by this behavior. To meet the parents needs, the child may sacrifice their own wants and feelings. A child subjected to this type of parenting may struggle in adulthood with their intimate relationships.
In extreme situations, this parenting style can result in estranged relationships with the children, coupled with feelings of resentment and in some cases, self-destructive tendencies.
- Professionals. There is a compulsion of some professionals to constantly assert their competence, even when they are wrong. Professional narcissism can lead otherwise capable, and even exceptional, professionals to fall into narcissistic traps. "Most professionals work on cultivating a self that exudes authority, control, knowledge, competence and respectability. It's the narcissist in us all—we dread appearing stupid or incompetent."
- Executives. are often provided with potential narcissistic triggers:
- * inanimate – status symbols like company cars, company-issued smartphone, or prestigious offices with window views; and
- * animate – flattery and attention from colleagues and subordinates.: 143
- Narcissism, has been linked to a range of potential leadership problems ranging from poor motivational skills to risky decision making, and in extreme cases, white collar crime. Some high-profile corporate leaders literally have only one thing on their minds: profits. Such a narrow focus actually may yield positive short-term benefits, but ultimately it drags down individual employees as well as entire companies.
- Subordinates may find everyday offers of support swiftly turn them into enabling sources, unless they are very careful to maintain proper boundaries.: 143, 181
- Studies examining the role of personality in the rise to leadership have shown that individuals who rise to leadership positions can be described as inter-personally dominant, extroverted, and socially skilled. When examining the correlation of narcissism in the rise to leadership positions, narcissists who are often inter-personally dominant, extroverted, and socially skilled, were also likely to rise to leadership but were more likely to emerge as leaders in situations where they were not known, such as in outside hires (versus internal promotions). Paradoxically, narcissism can present as characteristics that facilitate an individual's rise to leadership and ultimately lead that person under achieve or even to fail.
- General workforce. Narcissism can create problems in the general workforce. For example, individuals high in narcissism inventories are more likely to engage in counterproductive behavior that harms organizations or other people in the workplace). Aggressive (and counterproductive) behaviors tend to surface when self-esteem is threatened. Individuals high in narcissism have fragile self-esteem and are easily threatened. One study found that employees who are high on narcissism are more likely to perceive the behaviors of others in the workplace as abusive and threatening than individuals who are low on narcissism.
Celebrity narcissism (sometimes referred to as Acquired situational narcissism) is a form of narcissism that develops in late adolescence or adulthood, brought on by wealth, fame and the other trappings of celebrity. Celebrity narcissism develops after childhood and is triggered and supported by the celebrity-obsessed society. Fans, assistants and tabloid media all play into the idea that the person really is vastly more important than other people, triggering a narcissistic problem that might have been only a tendency, or latent, and helping it to become a full-blown personality disorder. "Robert Millman says that what happens to celebrities is that they get so used to people looking at them that they stop looking back at other people." In its most extreme presentation and symptoms, it is indistinguishable from narcissistic personality disorder, differing only in its late onset and its environmental support by large numbers of fans. "The lack of social norms, controls, and of people centering them makes these people believe they're invulnerable," so that the person may suffer from unstable relationships, substance abuse or erratic behaviours.
Main article: Collective narcissism
Collective narcissism is a type of narcissism where an individual has an inflated self-love of his or her own group. While the classic definition of narcissism focuses on the individual, collective narcissism asserts that one can have a similar excessively high opinion of a group, and that a group can function as a narcissistic entity. Collective narcissism is related to ethnocentrism; however, ethnocentrism primarily focuses on self-centeredness at an ethnic or cultural level, while collective narcissism is extended to any type of ingroup beyond just cultures and ethnicities.
Narcissistic trends in society
According to recent cultural criticism, Narcissus has replaced Oedipus as the myth of our time. Narcissism is now seen to be at the root of everything from the ill-fated romance with violent revolution to the enthralled mass consumption of state-of-the-art products and the 'lifestyles of the rich and famous'.
Jessica Benjamin (2000), "The Oedipal Riddle," p. 233
Some critics contend that the American populace has become increasingly more narcissistic since the end of World War II. People compete mightily for attention. In social situations they tend to steer the conversation away from others and toward themselves. The profusion of popular literature about "listening" and "managing those who talk constantly about themselves" suggests its pervasiveness in everyday life. This claim is substantiated by the growth of "reality TV" programs, the growth of an online culture in which digital media, social media and the desire for fame are generating a "new era of public narcissism."
Also supporting the contention that American culture has become more narcissistic is an analysis of US popular song lyrics between 1987 and 2007. This found a growth in the use of first-person singular pronouns, reflecting a greater focus on the self, and also of references to antisocial behavior; during the same period, there was a diminution of words reflecting a focus on others, positive emotions, and social interactions. Similar patterns of change in cultural production are observable in other Western states. A linguistic analysis of the largest circulation Norwegian newspaper found that the use of self-focused and individualistic terms increased in frequency by 69 per cent between 1984 and 2005 while collectivist terms declined by 32 per cent. References to narcissism and self-esteem in American popular print media have experienced vast inflation since the late 1980s. Between 1987 and 2007 direct mentions of self-esteem in leading US newspapers and magazines increased by 4,540 per cent while narcissism, which had been almost non-existent in the press during the 1970s, was referred to over 5,000 times between 2002 and 2007.
Sorokowski et al. (2015) showed that narcissism is related to the frequency of posting selfie-type pictures on social media. Sorokowski's study showed that this relationship was stronger among men than women.
One study looked at differences in advertising products between an individualistic culture, America, and a collectivist one, South Korea. In American magazine advertisements, it found, there was a greater tendency to stress the distinctiveness and uniqueness of the person; conversely the South Korean ones stressed the importance of social conformity and harmony. This observation holds true for a cross-cultural analysis across a wide range of cultural outputs where individualistic national cultures produce more individualistic cultural products and collectivist national cultures produce more collectivist national products; these cultural effects were greater than the effects of individual differences within national cultures.
Impact on evolution
Narcissism plays a role in evolution through the process of assortative mating or the non-random choice of a partner for purposes of procreation.
Humans mate assortatively regarding age, IQ, height, weight, nationality, educational and occupational level, physical and personality characteristics, and family relatedness. In the "self seeking like" hypothesis, individuals unconsciously look for a "mirror image" of themselves in others, seeking criteria of beauty or reproductive fitness in the context of self-reference. Alvarez et al. found that facial resemblance between couples was a strong driving force among the mechanisms of assortative mating: human couples resemble each other significantly more than would be expected from random pair formation. Since facial characteristics are known to be inherited, the "self seeking like" mechanism may enhance reproduction between genetically similar mates, favoring the stabilization of genes supporting social behavior, with no kin relationship among them.
There has been an increased interest narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) in the last 10 years. There are areas of substantial debate that surround the subject including:
- clearly defining the difference between normal and pathological narcissism
- understanding the role of self-esteem in narcissism,
- finding consensus on classifications and definitions of sub-types such as "grandiose" and "vulnerable dimensions" or variants of the these,
- understanding what are the central versus peripheral, primary versus secondary features/characteristics of narcissism,
- determining if there is consensual description,
- agreeing on the etiological factors,
- deciding what field or discipline should narcissism be studied,
- agreeing on how it can be assessed/measured, and
- agreeing on its representation in textbooks and classification manuals.
This extent of the controversy was on public display in 2010-2013 when the committee on personality disorders for the 5th Edition (2013) of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recommended the removal of Narcissistic Personality from the manual. A contentious three year debate unfolded in the clinical community with one of the sharpest critics being professor John Gunderson, MD , the person who led the DSM personality disorders committee for the 4th edition of the manual.
In popular culture
See also: Category:Narcissism in fiction
- Game of Thrones series and television adaptation of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire:
- The Lannisters have been deemed a "family of narcissists". Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) Colleen Jordan has said the incestuous twins Cersei and Jaime have a combination of borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, and their younger brother Tyrion is an alcoholic narcissist. Additionally, a clinical psychologist posted as Redditor Rain12913: "People seem to be falling into the trap of thinking that Cersei really does genuinely love her brother and her (late) children. While she certainly says that she does quite a bit, and while her behaviour may seem to suggest that she does, it is highly unlikely that such a narcissistic character is capable of true love." About the family's patriarch, Jordan observes that "Tywin Lannister is actually the worst of them".
- Of Lord Petyr Baelish (nicknamed "Littlefinger") Jordan observes: "If you look at Littlefinger, we know he's not remotely personally interested in Lysa, but he likes the attention. And he needs her. Narcissists use people for functions, which he does.".
- Suzanne Stone-Maretto, Nicole Kidman's character in the film To Die For (1995), wants to appear on television at all costs, even if this involves murdering her husband. A psychiatric assessment of her character noted that she "was seen as a prototypical narcissistic person by the raters: on average, she satisfied 8 of 9 criteria for narcissistic personality disorder... had she been evaluated for personality disorders, she would receive a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder".
- Jay Gatsby, the eponymous character of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby (1925), "an archetype of self-made American men seeking to join high society", has been described as a "pathological narcissist" for whom the "ego-ideal" has become "inflated and destructive" and whose "grandiose lies, poor sense of reality, sense of entitlement, and exploitive treatment of others" conspire toward his own demise.
- Maisie Farange, in Henry James' novel What Maisie Knew (1897), is neglected by her vain and self-absorbed parents. After her parents divorce, find new partners, and ultimately cheat again on their new partners, Maisie finally decides to move in with the morally strong family maid.
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What Is Communal Narcissism?
What Is Communal Narcissism?
Narcissistic personality disorder is a complex condition that exists on a spectrum, and certain traits manifest differently depending on the person and context. People with communal narcissism, in particular, tend to over-exaggerate their knowledge and aptitude for communal skills. They assume they have extraordinary potential and capability, often believing they are the best listeners, parents, or charitable people on the planet.
Chris Barry, Ph.D., Professor for the Department of Psychology of Washington State University explains, “Someone with communal narcissism becomes caught up in the idea of being special or outstanding in service to others. Communalism (minus the narcissism) is probably a desirable thing (e.g., being friendly, being concerned about social problems, being trustworthy, caring for others). However, communal narcissism has that added element of really grandiose displays of one’s communalism and promoting oneself as being more communal than others. Examples could be, ‘I am the best friend someone could have,’ ‘I am the most helpful person I know,’ and ‘I will be able to solve world poverty.'”7
Do Communal Narcissists Actually Care About Their Community?
Many philosophers and researchers suggest that we always have some degree of psychological egoism, meaning we all act in ways that motivate our own self-interests.2 That said, people with narcissistic personality disorder have an increased sense of superiority and entitlement. They often become preoccupied with their own fantasies of success. Many times, they struggle with empathy and can be unwilling or unable to recognize true needs in others. Therefore, even if they think they are serving their community well, this thought may be inherently distorted.
What Are The Signs of a Communal Narcissist?
People with communal narcissism typically value having profound, important roles in society. They often want to “fix” things they deem as needing to be fixed, and they experience immense validation from feeling like they make a meaningful difference. At the same time, their laser-focused desire for such power can be unnerving and detrimental to others.
Signs of communal narcissism may include:4
- Extreme dedication to specific charities or causes: Their devotion may cause them to neglect other important tasks or step on the toes of others.
- Often talking about having a mission or a calling: They consider serving the community to be of utmost importance, and they may deem any other interests as petty or selfish.
- Stirring excess drama or conflict at charitable or work-related events: Rather than focus on achieving a communal goal, they may be more focused on hierarchies or self-inflicted politics.
- Coming across as a martyr: They will mock or degrade people who do not also share the same martyr-like interests (i.e. if they are a vegan, they might lash out at people who eat meat. Or, they might “hate” wealthy people who do not donate most of their wealth).
- Believing they are the best at something: They may have no evidence to substantiate this claim (and others might vehemently disagree with it).
- Only seeming to show concern for societal needs in public: In private, they do not exhibit the same motivations. For example, they might donate lavish amounts of money at an important event, but they wouldn’t ever consider becoming an anonymous donor. Or, they might post about needing to save the planet on social media without actually making a personal effort to do so.
Examples of Communal Narcissism
Communal narcissism may look different depending on the scenario. Here are a few examples of how it may manifest:
In the workplace, a communal narcissist might try and do your tasks for you because they assume they’re being “helpful.” They may believe that the company would simply deteriorate without them—it’s as if they are the single force keeping the business together. Moreover, they will often look down on colleagues who take time off work or seem uninterested in their job.
Volunteering for a Cause
As volunteers, they might try to overstep their boundaries and take on responsibilities even without adequate training. They may stir drama during charity events and hyperfocus on insignificant details, rather than prioritize the actual volunteering mission. They will often pay attention to how much time or money other people spend devoted to the cause (and judge them accordingly).
While playing a sport, they’re trying to teach others how to improve their skills instead of focusing on developing their own. They present as overly eager to help, presumably for the sake of the team, while not responding well to direction or advice themselves.
In a support group like a new moms group, a communal narcissist will be dishing out unsolicited advice to everyone in the group, with the idea that they’re being “helpful.”
5 Ways to Deal With a Communal Narcissist
Dealing with narcissism can be undoubtedly frustrating for loved ones. It’s important to educate yourself on the condition, common signs and symptoms, and treatment options. Having this awareness can help you feel more informed in how you interact. As a general guideline, aim to remember that you are never obligated to tolerate any abuse or disrespect.
Here are five ways to handle a communal narcissist:
1. Don’t Try to Confront Conflicting Behavior
While you may feel tempted to challenge someone’s hypocrisy, this move almost always backfires. People with narcissism tend to become defensive and angry when given feedback (even if it’s constructive).
Instead, it’s better to avoid saying anything at all. They may engage in various gaslighting techniques to compensate for their narcissistic rage. For example, they might continue lying and insisting their truth is objective. Or, they might try to convince you that you’re mistaken or otherwise causing problems.
2. Stay True to Your Own Values
Try to avoid letting people tell you how you should think or feel. You can care about your community without feeling pressured to do so. Someone with communal narcissism may belittle or shame you for “not doing enough” or “feeling passionate enough.” Remember that you are your own person, and you have every right to pursue the values and needs that are significant to you.
3. Limit Triggering Interactions
At a minimum, it might be helpful to reduce the amount of time you spend together, limiting your potential to become their supply. For example, if you know you’re going to attend events where their behavior will upset you, set limits for yourself. Agree to commit to only a specific obligation or consider viable alternatives.
4. Implement Boundaries
You can and should set parameters for your relationship. In doing so, remember that you do not have to accept disrespectful language or criticism from others. Boundaries vary, but you can consider the following sample scripts:
- I am not talking about this matter any further.
- That is not something I am willing to do.
- If you ask me again, I will need you to leave my home.
- This matter is not up for discussion.
5. Practice Ongoing Self-Care
It’s easy to become overwhelmed, angry, or reactive when you encounter narcissistic behavior. However, it’s essential to focus on how you can preserve your well-being regardless of someone else’s actions.
Self-care can consist of engaging in more mindfulness, finding positive support, and affirming yourself often. It also includes honoring your physical and emotional well-being by getting enough sleep, eating a well-rounded diet, and staying physically active.
Can Communal Narcissism Be Treated?
Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatment options for narcissistic personality disorder.5 That said, therapy can be a helpful, proactive option for understanding and coping with narcissism.
People with communal narcissism may not readily seek treatment for their symptoms. They often think highly of themselves, and it’s challenging for them to understand how their behaviors or thoughts may be harmful to others. Some may enter therapy for support with other problems like depression, anxiety, substance use, or relationship difficulties.
If you exhibit behavior consistent with communal narcissism and want help with your symptoms, talk therapy can provide a safe place to strengthen insight and learn new coping skills. In beginning your search, you should look for a qualified therapist with experience treating narcissistic personality disorder. Consider writing down your symptoms or ranking items on the Communal Narcissistic Inventory to share with your therapist ahead of time- this gives both of you a stepping point to start treatment.
Therapy can also provide a safe space for someone who is dealing with a communal narcissist—a therapist can help you determine and keep your boundaries, and figure out when and how to end a relationship. An online directory is a great way to get started and find the support you need from a qualified therapist.
Current & Further Research on Communal Narcissism
While narcissism has gained traction in recent years, communal narcissism is a relatively new term. As of now, it’s rarely talked about in mainstream discussions, although this will likely change in coming years.
People with agentic narcissism and communal narcissism both have self-serving needs. Yet, agentic narcissism focuses more on achieving a sense of self-promotion and admiration. People with communal narcissism, on the other hand, value self-enhancement by being prosocial.
Current research indicates that people with communal narcissism overestimate and overclaim their communal knowledge. Yet, there is no evidence supporting their claims. Likewise, meta-analyses show they possess even less communal knowledge than people without communal narcissism.1,6
Further research is needed on communal narcissism in the workforce, charitable organizations, and political domains. Because communal narcissism can be so nefarious, it’s crucial to continue raising awareness of the typical warning signs. Likewise, research on any crossover effects between communal narcissism and other mental health issues would be beneficial.
The Communal Narcissism Inventory
The Communal Narcissism Inventory was composed by scholars and published by the American Psychological Association.3 Half the statements apply to present-day thoughts, and the other half applies to future thoughts.
Users must rate on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) for the following statements to rate their level of communal narcissism:
- I am the most helpful person I know
- I am going to bring peace and justice to the world.
- I am the best friend someone can have.
- I will be well known for the good deeds I will have done.
- I am (going to be) the best parent on this planet.
- I am the most caring person in my social surrounding.
- In the future I will be well known for solving the world’s problems.
- I greatly enrich others’ lives.
- I will bring freedom to the people.
- I am an amazing listener.
- I will be able to solve world poverty.
- I have a very positive influence on others.
- I am generally the most understanding person.
- I’ll make the world a much more beautiful place.
- I am extraordinarily trustworthy.
- I will be famous for increasing people’s well-being.
If you relate to someone with communal narcissism, it’s normal to feel confused, scared, or angry. Narcissism is a complex condition, but if you’re dealing with a communal narcissist, it’s important that you get the support you need to be able to set boundaries and move forward in a healthy way. And if you identify with any of the descriptors listed above, getting the appropriate treatment can make a huge difference in how you act and feel.
The 2 types of narcissists you’ll meet at work
Here’s how to spot them.
Most workplaces have a narcissist, and they’re not so hard to identify. They’re the ones who know the best way to do everything (and must tell you about it in incredible detail), they crave praise more than caffeine, and they put the “me” into meetings.
“The most important thing to them is how they look and how they’re seen,” says Randall S. Peterson, a professor at the London Business School who studies narcissists in the workplace, in a TEDx Talk.
This type — called the agentic narcissist — is the classic type. In a study, agentic narcissists were more likely to agree with statements like “Superiority is something you are born with” and “I always know what I’m doing.”
But there’s a stealthier kind: the communal narcissist.
Think of them as martyrs with megaphones. They talk endlessly about how the team/office/company would fall apart without them, and they rush to assist in every situation — even ones they know nothing about — because they live to help.
“They are self-appointed saints who have unrealistic views of their contributions to others,” Peterson wrote in the Harvard Business Review. In a study, communal narcissists strongly agreed with statements like “I am the most helpful person I know” and “I will be famous for people’s wellbeing.”
What’s the best way to work with the two types of narcissists?
Well, there’s a good chance your boss may be a classic narcissist. “Our co-workers who overestimate their prospects in life tend to be more willing to take risks, show a desire to win, and come across as competent,” says Peterson. “And they’re much more likely to be selected as leaders.”
First, realize they’re never going to change. So don’t expect them to start asking you about your ideas or your weekend — bring them up yourself.
Then, suggest they delegate simpler projects and tasks and steer them towards initiatives that call for complete overhauls. “They’re really great at rethinking things and blowing them up,” says Peterson.
At times, classic narcissists may harm a workplace if their behavior starts hurting other people and bringing down morale. The way to combat this, advises Peterson, is to drain their sources of support. When they don’t receive positive feedback from others, most narcissists will start to shrink.
With the communal narcissist, encourage them to work with as many teams as possible. “The more people they feel connected to, the more people they’re going to help, and that will benefit everyone,” says Peterson.
Because this type is reluctant to give credit to others — they must always be the biggest helper — make sure your contributions are recognized. While you’re at it, put a word in for your colleagues, too.
But remember, most of us can learn something from narcissists. With classic narcissists, we might steal some of their swagger.
“It could encourage you to give a talk, stand up for what you believe in, and do things you otherwise would not take on,” says Peterson. “This can help us build our self-efficacy and confidence.”
Or, taking a tip from communal narcissists, we might go out of our way to offer to help our colleagues.
If you use it wisely, a little bit of narcissism might be a good thing.
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