They are manipulative, self-centered, arrogant, and get a kick out of humiliating other people, and unfortunately, they are also everywhere: narcissists. But why do they actually behave like this? It’s a question scientists have been pondering for a long time. A new study brought them a little closer to the answer.
According to the Collins dictionary, a narcissist has “a sickly love for himself”. A narcissist is a master manipulator, an egoist, a charming wolf in sheep’s clothing. However, it is not so easy to recognize him. After years of research, even psychologists and scientists are not one hundred percent sure what exactly drives narcissists.
Vulnerable vs. Biggest Narcissists
Psychologists have long distinguished between two different types when it comes to narcissism. The “vulnerable narcissists” have low self-esteem, fear of commitment, and are sensitive to criticism. The second group is called “grandiose” or “greatest narcissists.” They are full of self-confidence and constantly feel themselves exalted above everyone else.
Some American scientists wanted to investigate this difference further. They interviewed almost 300 people: all participants had to fill in a survey that measured their personality traits and self-esteem. And yes, they too could distinguish two groups.
Some participants behaved superiorly and destructively but showed insecurities and guilt. “We struggled to figure out why narcissists behave so obnoxious and condescending. Our study now seems to suggest that some narcissists do not have an inflated ego but are essentially insecure,” said clinical psychologist Pascal Wallish of New York University (NYU).
So their behavior would, in other words, be a kind of compensatory mechanism. “To mask their lack of self-esteem,” said Mary Kowalchyk, also a psychologist at NYU and the lead author of the paper. “Precisely because of their pompous and narcissistic stuff, they push people further away from them. This makes them even more insecure, and they end up in a vicious circle in which they display more and more intolerable behavior.”
Other narcissists had zero guilt and zero insecurity but did exhibit psychopathic traits. “We can therefore consider the form of ‘grand narcissism’ as a manifestation of psychopathy,” the scientists write in their paper.
This conclusion is in line with previous studies that examined whether narcissists really like themselves that much or not. In 2017 there was already a study in which men were put under a brain scan: they experienced clear emotional stress when they saw a picture of themselves.
“By defining the two types better, we can better understand the behavior of narcissists.” And that is important, the scientists say, because both variants can cause a lot of damage to the people in their environment.