A tendency toward narcissism is present in everyone, to more or less of a degree. Sometimes you don’t know if someone’s particularly high in this personality quality until you’ve gotten deeply involved in a relationship and come to realize that the very qualities that attracted you to a person are the narcissistic qualities that now annoy you. You may have a sibling, parent, or other relative whose narcissistic personality traits you’re forced to confront but can’t control or challenge. Or you may be forced to work with a boss, co-worker, teacher, student, or employee with strongly narcissistic tendencies.
Just because some people are narcissists doesn’t mean they’re unlovable. People high in narcissism may also be fun, charismatic, or good at what they do. Having them around gives you more pleasure than pain and, in the workplace, enhance your team’s success. You may, if you have a choice in the matter, prefer the idea of “reforming” the narcissist in your life rather than leaving him or her by the wayside. (Some people’s narcissism may make them so vulnerable to rejection that you fear that harm will come to them if you shunt them aside.)
Not all narcissists are created alike, so the way you choose to handle one in your life should be based on which type you’re dealing with. University of Nottingham psychologist Vincent Egan and collaborators (2014), questioned a sample of over 850 online participants to determine the relationship between subjective well-being and narcissistic personality tendencies.
Previous researchers have distinguished between “vulnerable” and “grandiose” narcissistic types:
Both are varieties of narcissism, but particularly those of the grandiose type may share the larger “Dark Triad” traits, along with so-called "Machiavellianism" (manipulativeness) and psychopathy (lack of remorse and empathy).
People high in both narcissism and Machiavellianism, Egan and team point out, are the ones who really get under your skin. Their antagonism makes them particularly hard to live with, and they’ll almost always get in the way of your accomplishing your goals. Machiavellian narcissists have mastered the art of one-uppance as they try to show their superiority while steamrolling over everyone else’s feelings and opinions.
Egan and collaborators pointed out that no previous researchers had looked at the role of emotions, especially positive emotions, in studies of the Dark Triad. They believed that narcissism might have differing relationships to happiness than would psychopathy and Machiavellianism. In other words, it might be possible to be a happy narcissist—but less possible to be a happy psychopath or manipulator.
In Egan et al.’s study, participants rated themselves on a general personality test that provided ratings on the “Big Five” or “Five Factor” traits of Extroversion, Emotional Stability/Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Openness to Experience, and Conscientiousness. They also rated their “Dark Triad” personality qualities. Their subjective well-being was assessed with one scale measuring happiness and another measuring their satisfaction with life.
After condensing and analyzing the scores on all of these measures, Egan's team was able to identify 4 groups within the sample—vulnerable narcissists; grandiose narcissists; a group identified by their overall unhappiness; and, finally, one identified by overall happiness and low narcissism scores.
Comparing the two groups of narcissists, Egan and colleagues found that the grandiose narcissists tended to be happier, more extroverted, and more emotionally stable. The vulnerable narcissists were less agreeable, less emotionally stable, and higher in the other Dark Triad traits of manipulativeness and psychopathy.
With these findings as background, let’s examine ways that you can manage your own emotions when you’re dealing with people high in narcissism:
Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting. Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2014
Reference: Egan, V., Chan, S., & Shorter, G. W. (2014). The Dark Triad, happiness and subjective well-being. Personality And Individual Differences, 6717-22. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.004
Be sure to read the following responses to this post by our bloggers: