Chances are you’ve met a narcissist. Someone who thinks they’re better than everyone else, dominates the conversation and loves the limelight.
But scientists are increasingly realizing that not all narcissists are the same – some are, in fact, extremely insecure.
In our new paper, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, we describe the distinct types – and what motivates them.
In classical Greek mythology, the hunter Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. He was known for his exceptional beauty and physique. One day when Narcissus was walking in the forest, the beautiful nymph Echo saw him and fell in love with him. However, he rejected her affections, leaving her heartbroken.
As a punishment, Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, lured him to a pool of water where he encountered his own reflection for the first time. Narcissus fell in love with his reflection, and, eventually realising that his love could not be reciprocated, pined away to his death.
The myth of Narcissus warns us of the dangers of excessive self-love, self-absorption and lack of empathy for others. It has had a profound influence on western culture, art and literature.
Narcissism is also a popular topic in psychology. The English physician Havelock Ellis first identified narcissism as a mental disorder in the late 19th century. Sigmund Freud considered narcissism to be a normal part of a child’s development, but argued that it could become a disorder if it persisted after puberty into adulthood.
In modern psychology, narcissism is usually conceptualised as a personality trait, which lies on a spectrum. Some people are more narcissistic, others less so. Narcissism typically involves an inflated view of oneself, a sense of superiority and entitlement and a lack of concern for others. The above portrait of a narcissist is a familiar one. But it isn’t the only one.
Grandiose versus vulnerable
In our research, we investigated two types of previously identified narcissism: grandiose and vulnerable. Grandiose narcissists are arrogant, dominant and extroverted. They tend to have high self-esteem, be bold and assertive and feel happy and confident about their lives.
Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, are withdrawn, neurotic and insecure. They tend to have low self-esteem, be hypersensitive and feel anxious and depressed. However, these two types of narcissists also have something in common.
Both are selfish, feel entitled to special treatment and privileges and relate to others in antagonistic ways.
You might be able to recognise the two types of narcissists by how they behave in social situations. Grandiose narcissists are socially competent. They are likely to be dominant and charming. Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, are less socially skilled.
They are likely to be shy and anxious in social situations. What’s more, while grandiose narcissists are forthright and assertive in pursuing in their goals, seeking to maximise success, vulnerable narcissists are timid and defensive, seeking to minimise failure.
In our research, we examined the social motives and perceptions of both grandiose and vulnerable narcissists. In particular, we investigated their desires to attain social status and social inclusion. We also looked at whether they felt they had been successful in attaining social status and social inclusion.
Social status refers to being respected and admired by others. It involves standing out and being seen as an important person in the social hierarchy. In contrast, social inclusion refers to being liked and accepted by others. It involves fitting in well with others as part of the social community.
Any given person may have or desire both status and inclusion, only one of the two, or neither. For example, in the TV show The Simpsons, the character of Mr Burns has high status but is not particularly liked and accepted, whereas the character of Homer Simpson is well liked and accepted but does not have high status.
We conducted two studies, recruiting 676 adults based in the United States. We assessed their levels of both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. We also assessed the extent to which they desired status and inclusion as well as the extent to which they felt they had attained their goals.
We found that both grandiose and vulnerable narcissists strongly desired social status. Interestingly, whereas grandiose narcissists felt they were successful in attaining this status, vulnerable narcissists felt they did not get the status they deserved.
What’s more, grandiose narcissists did not feel they had attained social inclusion but did not particularly desire it either.
In contrast, vulnerable narcissists also did not feel they had attained social inclusion but strongly desired it.
Grandiose narcissists therefore felt they had met their social goals, but vulnerable narcissists did not.
Both types of narcissists crave the respect and admiration of others. But while grandiose narcissists may be stars on the interpersonal stage, triumphantly capturing the spotlight, their vulnerable counterpart may be a bit player lurking on the sidelines, resentfully seeking, but failing to obtain, the applause they crave.
Nowadays, an increasing tendency to describe narcissism as a non–clinical personality trait is being observed among psychologists (e.g., Paulhus and Williams, 2002). Empirical data show that narcissism is connected to a variety of psychological variables such as aggression (e.g., Krizan and Johar, 2015), self–esteem and well–being (e.g., Sedikides et al., 2004; Dufner et al., 2012). Several studies explored also the relationship between narcissism and constructs related to emotional functioning, such as empathy and emotional intelligence (EI). However, these studies provide rather mixed results. Whereas some researchers found narcissism to be associated with low empathy (Delič et al., 2011), others reported no relation, or a positive correlation between narcissism and empathy (e.g., Jonason and Kroll, 2015). Likewise, in some cases narcissism was positively associated with EI (Petrides et al., 2011; Veselka et al., 2012; Nagler et al., 2014; Zhang et al., 2015), while in other studies this relationship was close to zero or even negative (Vonk et al., 2013; Austin et al., 2014; Czarna et al., 2016; Jauk et al., 2016). The aim of the present study was a deeper understanding of the association between narcissism and EI. A careful analysis of prior work presented below reveals that the ambiguous findings might be related to the fact that both narcissism and EI are complex constructs and their relationship depends on the specific aspect being analyzed (e.g., type of narcissism) or the conceptualization and assessment method (e.g., self-report vs. performance EI).
Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissism
Some researchers suggest that narcissism might not be a unitary construct. The distinction between vulnerable and grandiose narcissism was made by Wink (1991). The two forms of narcissism share several characteristics such self-centeredness, exaggerated sense of self-importance and entitlement, disagreeableness, and a tendency to interact with others in an antagonistic manner (Dickinson and Pincus, 2003; Miller et al., 2011). Regardless of the narcissistic common core, each dimension has its own exclusive characteristic. Individuals with high vulnerable narcissism are described as being defensive, avoidant, insecure, hypersensitive and vigilant for criticism (Wink, 1991; Miller et al., 2011). At the same time they need people’s recognition (e.g., admiration) to bolster their self–worth. Feeling underestimated may result in withdrawal and passive attitude in interpersonal relations (Pincus et al., 2009; Miller et al., 2011). Vulnerable narcissism is also associated with lower levels of self esteem, extraversion and agreeableness, higher neuroticism (Miller et al., 2011, 2018; Maciantowicz and Zajenkowski, 2018), a negative view of the past and fatalistic attitude (Zajenkowski et al., 2016).
Grandiose narcissism is characterized by high self–esteem, interpersonal dominance and tendency to overestimate one’s capabilities (Wink, 1991; Pincus et al., 2009; Miller et al., 2011). Individuals with high grandiose narcissism tend to endorse positive illusions about themselves, simultaneously repressing information inconsistent with an inflated self-image (Campbell and Foster, 2007). They fantasize about superiority, perfection, omnipotence. Grandiosity can also be manifested through exploitativeness and aggressive behaviors (Pincus et al., 2009). Grandiose narcissism negatively correlates with neuroticism and agreeableness, and positively with extraversion (Miller et al., 2011). Several studies revealed a tendency to overestimate one’s own cognitive ability among people scoring high on grandiose narcissism (Gabriel et al., 1994; Paulhus and Williams, 2002; Zajenkowski and Czarna, 2015).
Ability and Trait Emotional Intelligence and Their Association With Narcissism
Emotional intelligence was defined by Salovey and Mayer (1990, p.189) as the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feeling and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions. In their model four branches have been distinguished: Perception of Emotions (the ability to identify one’s emotions accurately, as well as to recognize emotions of other people based on various contextual cues), Using Emotions to Facilitate Thinking (the ability to use emotions and moods to support and guide intellectual processing), Understanding emotions (skills necessary to comprehend and label basic and complex emotions), Managing Emotions (the ability to monitor and modify own emotions in order to enhance emotional and intellectual growth). Within this approach EI is measured similarly to cognitive intelligence via performance tests (Mayer et al., 2003). In another popular model, EI is defined as people’s perceptions of their emotional world, or a constellation of emotional self-perceptions located at the lower levels of personality hierarchies (e.g., Petrides et al., 2007; Petrides et al., 2011). It is believed that one’s perception of emotional effectiveness is, at least partially, associated with genuine emotional skills (e.g., Van der Linden et al., 2017). In this approach, EI is assessed via rating scales and self-report questionnaires. It need to be acknowledged that in the research literature EI based on performance tests is typically labeled ‘ability EI’, whereas self-reported EI is often labeled ‘trait EI’ (e.g., Zeidner et al., 2009). In the current article we use this terminology.
To date, a few studies have examined the relationship between EI and narcissism, with the latter being mainly considered in the grandiose version (Petrides et al., 2011; Vonk et al., 2013; Austin et al., 2014; Nagler et al., 2014; Zhang et al., 2015; Czarna et al., 2016; Jauk et al., 2016). The empirical data in this area are rather ambiguous; however, a deeper analysis of existing findings provides some general observations. In Table Table11 we present previous studies linking narcissism with EI. First, in most studies using self-report EI measures (e.g., Trait EI Questionnaire by Petrides and Furnham, 2006; The EI Scale by Schutte et al., 1998) a positive correlation with grandiose narcissism has been reported (Petrides et al., 2011; Vonk et al., 2013; Austin et al., 2014; Nagler et al., 2014; Zhang et al., 2015); though there were studies with no significant association (study 2 by Munro et al., 2005; Austin et al., 2014; Jauk et al., 2016). The ability measures of EI (e.g., Mayer Salovey Caruso EI Test by Mayer et al., 2003; The Test of EI by Śmieja et al., 2014) exhibit much weaker correlations with grandiose narcissism, hardly reaching significance level (−0.16 in Zhang et al., 2015; -0.06 in Czarna et al., 2016; -0.11 in Jauk et al., 2016). It is also worth mentioning that one recent study explored the tendency of individuals with high grandiose narcissism to overestimate their EI (Lobbestael et al., 2016). It has been found that, similarly to cognitive abilities, those scoring high on grandiose narcissism show inflated views of their emotional abilities. However, this study used a measure assessing mentalizing abilities rather than global EI.
Articles reporting correlation between narcissism and emotional intelligence.
|Article||Narcissism measure||EI measure||N||Sample||Correlation coefficients||Country|
|Austin et al. (2014)||HSNS||TEIQue||369, 432||students||−0.48∗∗∗; −0.44∗∗||United Kingdom|
|Vonk et al. (2013)||PNI||EIS||368||Students||−0.19∗∗∗||United States|
|Austin et al. (2014)||NPI−16||TEIQue||369, 432||students||0.21∗∗∗; 0.06||United Kingdom|
|Czarna et al. (2016)||NPI||TIE (performance)||273||students||0.06||Poland|
|Delič et al. (2011)||NPI||ESCQ||306||students||0.38∗∗||Slovenia|
|Jauk et al. (2016)||DTDD||TEIQue||540||students||0.09||Germany|
|Jauk et al. (2016)||DTDD||MSCEIT (performance)||540||students||−0.26∗∗||Germany|
|Munro et al. (2005)||NACE||EIS||237||students||−0.11||Australia|
|Nagler et al. (2014)||NPI 17||SSI||594||students||Emotional expressivity: 0.15∗∗∗|
Emotional sensitivity: −0.04
Emotional control: 0.15∗∗∗
Emotional manipulation: 0.69∗∗∗
|Petrides et al. (2011)||NPI||TEIQue||214||adult twin pairs||TEIQue: 0.23∗|
Emotion expression: 0.15
Emotion management: 0.38∗
Emotion perception: 0.18∗
Emotion regulation: 0.04
|Vonk et al. (2013)||NPI, PNI||EIS||368||students||PNI: 0.14∗∗|
NPI Exhibitionism: −0.01
NPI Entitlement/Exploitativeness −0.14∗∗
NPI Leadership/Authority: 0.14∗∗
|Zhang et al. (2015)||NPI||SEIS||396||adolescents||0.34∗∗∗||China|
|Zhang et al. (2015)||NPI||MSCEIT (performance)||396||adolescents||−0.16∗∗||China|
n the case of vulnerable narcissism, there is less empirical evidence regarding its relation with EI. Actually, we found only two studies, both reporting a negative correlation between vulnerable narcissism and self-report EI (Vonk et al., 2013; Austin et al., 2014).
Original Research: “Desperately Seeking Status: How Desires for, and Perceived Attainment of, Status and Inclusion Relate to Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissism” by Nikhila Mahadevan et al. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin