We all know him, Stephen Colbert, the man who conquered television. His unforgettable television personality is all centered around him, from the time the show opens with the expected thunderous round of applause, to the segments that focus on his great thoughts and ideas, to his attempts to take down his guests. He is, in every sense of the word, a narcissist. Let me first clarify that I am speaking about the character on the TV show, not the actual person outside the show. From the little I have seen of him in the media outside of the show, it seems that he is little like his character on the show.
Thinking about it though, it does beg the question, are narcissists lonely? And by narcissists, I am speaking of those individuals with Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD), not those who have a healthy degree of narcissism. Those with NPD are self-sufficient, exploitative exhibitionists, and feel entitled, superior, and vain. Yeah, those types. Are individuals with NPD lonely? It was a curious question I wonder every time I look at The Colbert Report. So I decided to do a bit of digging to see what the answer might be.
A quick review of the literature brought up very few research articles that investigate both loneliness and narcissism. The most recent articles, surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), were looking at Facebook usage and its relation to, among other things, loneliness and narcissism. Sadly, these articles did not tell me much about the relationship between the two. One of them that actually did correlations between the two, did not find a significant relationship between them.
What people who are lonely and people who are narcissist have in common is their reliance on others. Lonely individuals need intimate interactions with others in order to relieve their loneliness. Loneliness has often been described as a discrepancy between the social interactions one desires and what they actual interactions have. Therefore a lonely individual can be surrounded by others and still feel lonely because they do not get their desired level of social interactions. For example, even though all my friends are at the party, I still feel lonely cause my partner is not here. Narcissists also need others as well. This has been described as the Narcissistic Supply: people who provide the narcissist with adoration and attention that reinforce their sense of superiority and entitlement. Without a Narcissistic Supply, narcissists are prone to get depressed and even suicidal. Their egos are so dependent upon this supply that they would also avoid situations where they might receive negative criticisms or competition and engage in other Emotional Involvement Prevention Measures (EIPMs). Narcissists need others just like lonely people need others. So, when a narcissist's Narcissistic Supply is cut off, do they become lonely?
I think the situation becomes more complicated because narcissists are not truly looking for reciprocal relationships, they are primarily interested in using people for their own ends. Other people are lesser than them, others' needs are subservient to their own. I believe for the majority of chronically lonely people, they are looking for reciprocal relationships - they certainly are interested in getting their own needs and desires fulfilled, but they are also concerned about others' needs as well. In fact some chronically lonely people often suffer from a martyr complex, often putting the needs of others above their own and creating lopsided relationships where they are the victims that are used.
The question then distills down to this, if you need others but only in the sense to use them for your own ends, are you lonely? Does the desire for reciprocal, intimate interactions make one lonely? I still do not know the answer, but I am hoping someone out there does.
And Mr. Colbert if you're reading this, I'd appreciate a Colbert bump!
Read more about loneliness here