intellectual vanities… about close to everything

but thou shalt love me, as I love myself…

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Sounds like Leviticus 19:18, but not really? Well, it isn’t, but that is what narcissists do demand from the whole wide world. A new study (see below) presents a twist on the conventional narcissist

Conventionally narcissists are viewed as compensating negative self views by their grandiose self-concept. However, new research in Psychological Science shows that narcissists actually view themselves the same on the outside as on the inside. Whether it is their constant need for attention or their unfounded sense of entitlement, none of those are attributable to their unconscious self-loathing, as it appears. Previous studies have shown that narcissists’ conscious self-views are not uniformly positive. Narcissists see themselves as being above average in areas such as status, dominance and intelligence (what are referred to as agentic domains), but not in areas such as kindness, morality, and emotional intimacy (what are referred to as communal domains).

Following that line of thought, the researchers in the quoted study tested the link between narcissism and unconscious self-views in these agentic and communal domains. Conventional perspective suggests that narcissists should unconsciously dislike themselves equally from their intelligence to their level of intimacy in relationships. Narcissists, however, had positive unconscious self-views on the agentic (but not communal) domains.

Campbell, Bosson and colleagues used an Implicit Association Test to assess the participant’s underlying views on their self-esteem. Essentially, the test works by recording reaction times to computer-based word associations and relies on the notion that the participants are not aware that their self-esteem is being assessed while they are taking the test. This test was tailored to measure narcissism as it relates to agency, communion, and self-esteem.

The results, which did appear in the March issue of Psychological Science, show that narcissists do not uniformly dislike themselves “deep down inside.” Rather, narcissists reported positive unconscious self-views in agentic domains and not in communal areas. This study provides new evidence that narcissists exhibit a somewhat imbalanced self at both conscious and unconscious levels.

narcissus_cropped.jpg

Miller JD, Campbell WK, Pilkonis PA.

Christopher Lasch, in his bestseller The Culture of Narcissism, American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectation, explains cultural narcissism as a response to anxiety, and a social strategy for people who lack a secure sense of their selves. This analysis allows Lasch to identify several interconnected social systems that cause social anxiety, that fail to educate and support people in being aware of their identities as human beings with rights and responsibilities, and that promote extravagant and grandiose behaviour. While he discusses various systems separately, Lasch also describes the evolution of the modern, technological, materialist, consumption-oriented, personally liberated, nominally egalitarian American society. People are insecure because they are in fact vulnerable. More and more people are adopting narcissistic strategies to protect themselves. One strategy is making a grandiose show of ourselves. (Another is turning to religious and psychological practices to reach psychological states where we experience peace, harmony and transcendence.)

It remains a question open to further research, if the parallelism between the imbalanced narcissistic self-concept, emphasized by the mentioned study, and the social tendencies diagnosed by Lasch is due to causal relationship – as if social narcissism starts tainting the individual narcissistic self-concept, or if both findings do turn over the traditional view of narcissism altogether, as a masked overall self-hatred.

University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA. jdmiller@uga.edu

This study examined the construct validity of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) by examining the relations between NPD and measures of psychologic distress and functional impairment both concurrently and prospectively across 2 samples. In particular, the goal was to address whether NPD typically “meets” criterion C of the DSM-IV definition of Personality Disorder, which requires that the symptoms lead to clinically significant distress or impairment in functioning. Sample 1 (n = 152) was composed of individuals receiving psychiatric treatment, whereas sample 2 (n = 151) was composed of both psychiatric patients (46%) and individuals from the community. Narcissistic personality disorder was linked to ratings of depression, anxiety, and several measures of impairment both concurrently and at 6-month follow-up. However, the relations between NPD and psychologic distress were (a) small, especially in concurrent measurements, and (b) largely mediated by impaired functioning. Narcissistic personality disorder was most strongly related to causing pain and suffering to others, and this relationship was significant even when other Cluster B personality disorders were controlled. These findings suggest that NPD is a maladaptive personality style which primarily causes dysfunction and distress in interpersonal domains. The behavior of narcissistic individuals ultimately leads to problems and distress for the narcissistic individuals and for those with whom they interact.

PMID: 17292708 [PubMed – in process]

Written by huehueteotl

March 26, 2007 at 3:05 pm

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