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Narcissism

Do I Matter? I Know I Do, But I Don't Always Feel Like I Do

Feeling exposed and insignificant is different from not mattering at all.

With narcissism, it’s perhaps not so much whether you matter as whether you “anti-matter”, according to penetrating new research. Not to fear, it has nothing to do with nuclear physics—where matter and antimatter annihilate one another with a big bang. While mattering is “the feeling of being important to other people”, anti-mattering is feeling “insignificant and devalued as a result of neglect or other adverse actions of others”. Worse than not mattering, there is an active process of depreciation.

That sounds partially a function of childhood adversity, which affects how we matter to ourselves and how we see ourselves in the eyes of others. Mattering is measured with two different scales: the General Mattering Scale (GMS)1 and the Anti-Mattering Scale (AMS)2. (The five questions from each scale are in the Notes section, below.)

Anti-mattering is the opposite, not the absense, of mattering—unlike the case in which indifference, and not hate—is said to be the opposite of love. When we both don't matter and anti-matter, it's a double whammy.

Do I Matter? I Know I Do, But I Don't Feel Like I Don't

Researchers Fleet, Nepon and Scott, as published in the Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment (2022), wanted to better understand the relationships between mattering, anti-mattering, and different types of narcissism.

They noted that while research has not fully investigated the issue, psychologists hypothesize from observation that “pathological narcissism involves an excessive need to matter and a hypersensitivity to being devaluated [sic] and not mattering to other people”. Within that, there are two basic types of narcissism: grandiose, “an idealized form of self-inflation that involves a sense of entitlement and willingness to exploit people”, and vulnerable narcissism, “a core vulnerability built on a fragile and shaky sense of self-esteem”.

The authors put it well: "[T]heory suggests that grandiose narcissism is exhibited by narcissistic perfectionists who portray themselves as perfect; in contrast, vulnerable narcissism is exhibited by neurotic perfectionists who acknowledge they are imperfect and fall far short of perfection.”

Research and Findings on Narcissism and Mattering

Fleet and colleagues recruited 168 university students, average age 20.7 years, who completed several rating scales. In addition to the GMS and the AMS, they also did the Pathological Narcissism Inventory, and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale. Self-rated data was analyzed for correlations, and statistical modeling was used to identify direct and indirect factors.

The idea of direct and indirect factors can be illustrated using the findings of trauma research. Trauma is directly correlated with PTSD, whereas resilience is indirectly correlated, modifying the process by which adverse experiences do or do not reach clinical levels rather than directly causing clinical problems.

Their findings helped to clarify the relationship between mattering and narcissism, and in addition provided further support that anti-mattering and mattering scales measure overlapping, but significantly different constructs.

In broad brush strokes, this study found that mattering is, as expected, an important element of narcissistic experience. Of course, mattering matters to everyone—it’s a part of healthy as well as pathological narcissism. How we matter—and how we display it with others and ourselves—also matters.

Beyond the general finding, specific aspects of anti-mattering were correlated with narcissism types more strongly than general mattering. Feelings of insignificance and worthlessness drive narcissism significantly more than overall feeling good about oneself, though both were important. Unsurprising, while both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism were indirectly mediated by anti-mattering, the effect was stronger for vulnerable narcissism.

Montoro and colleagues (2022) recently studied the relationship between adversity and narcissism. They found differences between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism that fit with anti-mattering findings. Grandiose narcissism was associated with positive outcomes related to seeking admiration in adaptive ways, as well as being able to suppress emotions when needed; vulnerable narcissism related to traumatic experiences especially when resilience was low and sense of entitlement was high, presumably with greater emotional dysregulation.

This work is important both for understanding and working with problematic narcissism. Making the distinction between grandiose and vulnerable narcissistic traits is a good first step: Grandiose narcissism seems more innate, temperamental, and for such individuals feels more authentic and self-consistent. With vulnerable narcissism, there appear to be deeper wounds for many, suggesting efforts to get to a better place in terms of integration of sense of self and self-esteem.

Other work (van Schie et al., 2020) found that both types of narcissism were associated with lenient and permissive, overprotective and excessively pampering parenting. We may be aware of ways we feel too easily bruised and not know how to work on that without being self-critical and harsh, in association with how our parents raised us. Both permissive and authoritarian parenting set kids up for emotional abuse in adult relationships, in part a consequence of narcissistic differences.

These observations are directly relevant because pathological narcissism is on the rise and it is generally detrimental, with a silver lining here and there especially for those with grandiose traits. Vulnerable traits can lead to a fragile sense of self without the benefits of grandiosity, which at least provides some semblance for a solid core sense of self, even if there are chinks in the armor.

For those feeling insecure, who at times feel like imposters or their identities bottom-out—often associated with social anxieties and difficulty in personal and professional relationships—the growing research on narcissism identifies foundational areas that buffer or drive downstream narcissistic qualities.

Addressing significant trauma; building resilience, persistence and grit; actively working on positive personality change, and useful self-reflection, mindfulness and compassion specifically; offering more adaptive ways of coping with stress and disappointment; and developing effective interpersonal strategies all can help over time.

From "Pathological" to Healthy Narcissism

In addition, as experiences of success accrue over time, we learn to trust and rely on ourselves with growing self-efficacy. The blind spots we have about ourselves and others gradually get filled in, and distorted expectations and perception come into greater focus.

If nothing else, healthy narcissism allows us to have a favorable signal-to-noise ratio with our own insecurities and neuroses as we go through our daily lives. As a lens or filter for reality, healthier narcissism works better3—we feel good about ourselves, engage in self-care, balance our needs and desires more effectively with those of others, and overall find that things go more smoothly.

Facebook image: Bricolage/Shutterstock

References

Notes

1. Anti-Mattering Scale

1. How much do you feel like you don't matter?

2. How often have you been treated in a way that makes you feel like you are insightificant?

3. To what extent have you been made to feel like you are invisible?

4. How much do you feel like you will never matter to certain people?

5. How often have you been made to feel by someone that they don't care what you think or what you have to say?

2. General Mattering Scale

1. How important do you feel you are to other people?

2. How much do you feel other people pay attention to you?

3. How much do you feel others would miss you if you went away?

4. How interested are people generally in what you have to say?

5. How much do people depend on you?

3. Useful questions come to mind. If we consider our own narcissistic tendencies, we can ask our selves how much we matter as well as how much we feel like we anti-matter... going beyond not mattering, anti-mattering feels like there's a zone of negativity around our very personhood. If we feel like we matter quite a bit in some ways, and have the contradictory experience of anti-mattering at other times, it may be that positive and negative senses of self are in conflict within ourselves, and self-relation needs attention.

Flett, G. L., Nepon, T., & Scott, X. (2022). The Anti-Mattering Scale Versus the General Mattering Scale in Pathological Narcissism: How an Excessive Need to Matter Informs the Narcissism and Mattering Constructs. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/07342829221136352

Montoro CI, de la Coba P, Moreno-Padilla M, Galvez-Sánchez CM. Narcissistic Personality and Its Relationship with Post-Traumatic Symptoms and Emotional Factors: Results of a Mediational Analysis Aimed at Personalizing Mental Health Treatment. Behav Sci (Basel). 2022 Mar 25;12(4):91. doi: 10.3390/bs12040091. PMID: 35447664; PMCID: PMC9031722

van Schie, C.C., Jarman, H.L., Huxley, E. et al. Narcissistic traits in young people: understanding the role of parenting and maltreatment. bord personal disord emot dysregul 7, 10 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40479-020-00125-7

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