Narcissists are more likely to experience less stress and depression


While narcissism may be viewed by many in society as a negative personality trait, Dr Kostas Papageorgiou, who is Director of the InteRRaCt Lab in the School of Psychology at Queen’s, has revealed that it could also have benefits.

He has published two papers on narcissism and psychopathology in Personality and Individual Differences and European Psychiatry.

Dr Papageorgiou explains: “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 adds: “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.

“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?”

The papers include three independent studies each involving more than 700 adults in total and highlight 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.

It also found that 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 research is a fresh approach to the study of personality and psychopathology, highlighting that there are some positives to be found in terms of potential societal impact.

Dr Papageorgiou comments: “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.”

The papers include three independent studies each involving more than 700 adults in total and highlight some positive sides of narcissism, such as resilience against symptoms of psychopathology.

“This research really helps to explain variation in symptoms of depression in society – if a person is more mentally tough they are likely to embrace challenges head on, rather than viewing them as a hurdle.”

Dr Papageorgiou says:

“While of course not all dimensions of narcissism are good, certain aspects can lead to positive outcomes.”

“This work promotes diversity and inclusiveness of people and ideas by advocating that dark traits, such as narcissism, 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.”

“This move forward may help to reduce the marginalisation of individuals that score higher than average on the dark traits. It could also facilitate the development of research-informed suggestions on how best to cultivate some manifestations of these traits, while discouraging others, for the collective good.”

An event on Mental Toughness and Narcissism is being held at Queen’s on 15 November 2019.

The purpose of the current study is to elucidate the relationships between narcissistic personality traits and primary and secondary capacities of individuals within the context of positive psychotherapy.


In the study conducted in 2016-17 academic year, the participants were 255 university students (51.4% female, n=124 and 48.6% male, n=124) aged 18 to 25. As data collection tools, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, Wiesbaden’s Inventory of Positive Psychotherapy and Family Therapy and Demographic Information Form created by the researchers were used. The Multiple Regression Analysis method was employed to achieve the objectives of the study.


The findings revealed that two of the primary capacities, namely time and patience, were significant predictors of narcissism. In other words, the time capacity was a positive significant predictor of narcissistic personality traits, while those traits were predicted by the patience capacity in a negative way. Regarding the secondary capacities, politeness, faithfulness, cleanliness and honesty were significant predictors of narcissistic personality traits. In brief, the faithfulness, cleanliness and honesty capacities were positive significant predictors whereas the politeness capacity was a negative significant predictor of narcissistic personality traits.


In brief, the primary and secondary capacities, which are defined as personality traits in positive psychotherapy, were significant predictors of narcissistic personality traits. Results and implications are discussed in the light of relevant literature, and suggestions are offered for future research.

Positive psychotherapy approach, founded by Peseschkian, signifies the importance of the so-called ‘actual capacities’ in individuals’ lives and classifies these capacities into two groups as primary and secondary capacities (1).

While primary capacities mainly reflect the emotional aspects of individuals, secondary capacities are mostly related to cognition.

The primary capacities include the capacity to love, representing emotionality, and the secondary capacities involve the capacity to know, representing cognition. In more specific terms, the capacity to love is formed and developed by the emotional bonds with the primary caregiver of an individual in the early life stage.

This capacity, in the later years of life, is reflected to the outside world through the concepts like patience, relationship, trust, hope, sexuality, love, and belief (2).

The capacity to know, on the other hand, stands for the needs of individuals to know about the associations inside the reality. Individuals interrogate a great number of things to reach the cause and effect relation which causes events to occur.

Consequently, individuals are in need of knowing who they are and where they come from. Searching for an answer for these questions means the capacity to know (1).

As the individuals’ experiences increase, the capacity to know develops and turns into the actual capacities.

As such, the capacity to know covers the sub-capacities like orderliness, cleanliness, punctuality, politeness, honesty, diligence, and faithfulness. Positive psychotherapy underlines that all individuals are born with some innate primary and secondary capacities. The positive psychotherapy capacities (1) are presented in Table 1 below.

Table 1

Actual capacities

Primary CapacitiesSecondary Capacities

These capacities are formed with the influence of time and environmental conditions and represented as personality traits in the adulthood period.

In the psychopathological patterns that individuals exhibit, the primary and secondary capacities, which are reflected as the capacity to know and the capacity to love, are either overdeveloped or undeveloped. Less developed capacities cause individuals to fail in exhibiting the capacities (1).

Overdeveloped capacities lead individuals to use their energy exceedingly. For this reason, it is substantial to hold the capacities at an optimal level and to have a balanced developmental stage. Additionally, the appropriate development of a capacity contributes to the development of other capacities and enables development (3).

In other words, all capacities originate from these two actual capacities, every single individual has these capacities without exception, and these two actual capacities have a functional interaction within themselves. In brief, within the context of positive psychotherapy, the primary and secondary capacities explain the personality traits of individuals.

In addition to positive psychotherapy, which describes the personality traits through capacities, the concept of narcissism is known as personality type and highly emphasized in our age. To begin with, distinguishing the differences between narcissistic personality traits and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is essential (4).

Being a narcissist to a large extent does not mean that a diagnosed psychiatric disorder or a pathological level of narcissism exists. In this regard, narcissism is divided into two groups as normal narcissism and pathological narcissism (58).

Most social personality studies identify narcissism as a concept varying in intensity but generally as homogenous while clinical psychology studies define narcissism as a miscellaneous structure involving various qualitative forms (6).

In the context of normal narcissism, individuals’ self-worth and self-confidence are high, and they are not much vulnerable to the adverse environmental influences. Besides, their self-perceptions and thoughts are their fundamental resources. These individuals keep their self-confidence high by largely rejecting the use of external resources. At this point, the main purpose is to get the deserved value and to be approved by others (7).

This aim leads individuals to be fragile and may cause negative effects on their lives. In pathological narcissism, on the other hand, individuals seem extremely confident, and they exhibit non-caring attitudes towards others; however, in their inner world, their entire dependency on others’ opinions is worthy of consideration.

Moreover, individuals with pathological level of narcissism reflect their inconvenience to their surroundings when they encounter unpleasant situations or if their deserved value is not given appropriately. Behaviours like extreme anger, antisocial behaviours, or aggression are some of the ways to use to disclose their inconvenience (58).

In this sense, in order to be diagnosed with NPD, one is expected to have at least five long-term behavioural patterns including pretentiousness, lack of empathy, and need for approval; and only the professionals are able to make this diagnosis. Moreover, NPD is not as common as narcissistic personality because narcissistic personality is not necessarily related to the clinically significant issues as NPD does.

In the relevant literature, narcissism is also reported as overt and covert narcissism. Overt narcissism represents displeasure with restrictions, impertinency, selfishness, deprivation of empathy, and grandiose personality. Individuals with covert narcissism are extremely fragile against the criticisms of others; they are anxious and angry, and they internalize the feelings of inferiority towards themselves (7).

The greatest contribution to the understanding and treatment of mental processes in the formation of narcissism has been made by Object Relations and Self Psychology which are among the psychodynamic theories (7,9).

Both theories signify that narcissism develops as a consequence of the disorder or lack of parent-child relationship in the early stages of life. Children growing up with neglected and inadequate parental experiences try to maintain their lives using some primitive defence mechanisms. Social interactions in later stages of life may indicate primitive and maladaptive behavioural patterns that are developed against these adverse conditions in childhood. In this way, they show signs of narcissism at the pathological level (9).

In recent years, psychopathology in general, and narcissism cases in particular are reported to increase (10,11). It is obvious that most of the studies in the literature are designed in order to examine the concept of narcissism in adolescents as the risk group (6,7).

In these studies, narcissism is found to be linked with some variables such as self-confidence (12), anger (5,13), delinquency (14), anxiety and depression (15), the quality of interpersonal relations (16), and self-compassion (6). Furthermore, some studies demonstrate that narcissism decreases after puberty and young adulthood (17), and varies by gender (12).

Clinical interventions for the treatment of narcissism include EMDR therapy, Object Relations Theory, other intervention methods supported by psychodynamic theories, and some clinical interventions for parental pathologies.

In addition to these interventions, positive psychotherapy approach offers theoretical explanations for narcissism; however, the number of studies providing empirical evidence for these theoretical explanations is considerably limited. In addition to all these, there is no study addressing the associations between narcissism and positive psychotherapy capacities.

To investigate narcissism in the context of positive psychotherapy will enable us both to see narcissistic personality traits from the perspective of a therapeutic approach and to embrace the variables found to be related to each other in the development of suitable interventions.

Queen’s University Belfast
Media Contacts:
Emma Gallagher – Queen’s University Belfast
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Closed access
“The bright side of dark: Exploring the positive effect of narcissism on perceived stress through mental toughness”. Kostas Papageorgiou et al.
Personality and Individual Differences doi:10.1016/j.paid.2018.11.004.


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