Narcissistic and Loving It

Old research says narcissists behave the way they do unknowingly; now, research is coming out that says narcissists know they are narcissists and are perfectly pleased with the label.

A “lack of self-awareness” is often one of the attributes given to narcissists, writes Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., a cognitive scientist and personality psychologist, in The Huffington Post. However, he previewed new research coming out of Washington University in St. Louis that says narcissists are fully aware of their inflated egos.

The researchers analyzed college students for the study. They measured each person’s level of narcissism, how those with high scores perceive themselves, and how they are perceived by others. The study included perceptions of both new acquaintances, and old friends. The high-scoring narcissists rated themselves as being more intelligent, physically attractive, likeable, and funny than others. The interesting finding is that the narcissists also viewed themselves as being impulsive, arrogant, and prone to exaggeration–the typically “negative” attributes of narcissism.

Additionally, narcissists were well aware of their reputation as being narcissistic. When asked how others might measure them on their positive traits, the narcissists were able to give more accurate descriptions of themselves–closely matching what other people would say about them.

The researches then posed the question: How can narcissists maintain their inflated self-image even though they know full well how they are perceived by others?

They came up with a few possible answers:

  • Perhaps narcissists cling to their narcissism thinking that others haven’t realized how amazing they really are.
  • Narcissists think that everyone is just jealous, so no need to change!
  • Maybe they don’t fully understand what it means to be a narcissist. Arrogance is a common result of narcissism; the word means to be “confident without merit,” but perhaps it can be misconstrued to mean “deservedly confident,” i.e. I am confident because I should be!
  • They’re aware of the positive and negative qualities of being a narcissist and are simply okay with them.

Psychologists used to think they can cure narcissism by informing a narcissist of the "affliction." But if that doesn’t bother them, there needs to be another method.  The study may have given psychologists a new approach–the new acquaintances were not as bothered by the narcissists as the old friends. This supports the previously accepted notion that narcissists make a great first impression–but it wears away rather quickly, and they have a hard time keeping long-term relationships.   

The researchers suggest that a better method to “cure” narcissists would be to “emphasize the interpersonal…costs of being seen as narcissistic by others.” 

“Narcissists are unlikely to change unless they think changing will benefit the things they desire, such as status and power,” Kaufman concluded.