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Do Narcissists Attract Each Other?

The counterintuitive seduction of self-centeredness.

Image by Roy Clarke from Pixabay
Source: Image by Roy Clarke from Pixabay

It is not surprising that your narcissistic ex-paramour is an “ex.” What might surprise you, however, is that his or her new love interest is equally self-centered. But it shouldn’t. Although even narcissists are put off by negative self-centered qualities, research shows they are more tolerant of each other.

Narcissistic-Tolerance Theory

K. Alex Burton et al. in a study aptly entitled “You Remind Me of Someone Awesome,” (2016) explored the extent to which narcissists liked each other.[i] They noted that prior research suggests narcissists may tolerate fellow self-lovers better than non-narcissists do, but those studies did not involve observing actual behavior, arguably limiting the generalizability of the results.

Their study gauged reactions to actors exhibiting narcissistic or non-narcissistic behavior. The results? They found narcissism was positively associated with liking narcissistic actors, and negatively associated with liking actors who were non-narcissists. They suggest that these results were mediated by perceived similarity, as well as tendencies of selective interpretation when it comes to assessing the actors’ behavior.

Burton et al. explain that the “narcissistic-tolerance theory” holds that due to perceived similarity, narcissists are more tolerant and fond of narcissistic peers. They note this explains why narcissists often gravitate towards each other, perhaps reflecting a viewpoint of narcissism as less objectionable than most people would perceive.

Their results not only support the theory of narcissistic tolerance, but they further found it was apparently due, at least in part, to perceived similarity. Upon recognizing similarity to narcissistic actors, narcissistic participants selectively interpreted the actors’ traits more positively, which increased liking. Burton et al. note these findings corroborate prior research suggesting that narcissists treat people better when they perceive them as more similar to themselves.

Interestingly, regarding self-perception, Burton et al. note that because narcissists liked each other more due to perceived similarity, it was unlikely they experienced any degree of self-loathing stemming from their narcissistic identity.

Likability Does Not Create Loyalty

Will your narcissistic ex-partner’s new relationship last? (Do you care?) One factor weighing against the success of a dual-narcissist partnership is the fact that likeability does not create loyalty.

Carrie Haslam and V. Tamara Montrose in “Should Have Known Better” (2015)[ii] explored the reality that narcissistic men are viewed as desirable marriage partners even though they are self-centered, unfaithful, uncommitted, and engage in manipulative game-playing. We know many narcissistic women who possess the same negative qualities. So why do people still find them desirable?

Haslam and Montrose note that narcissism is linked with a lack of commitment due to inflated self-view, which creates relational dissatisfaction, manipulative game-playing, selfishness, and lack of empathy. In addition, they note that narcissists are attracted to partners who enjoy elevated social status, who thereby provide an opportunity for enhancement through association. When combined with low levels of relational commitment, Haslam and Montrose acknowledge that this can result in narcissistic partners constantly looking for the next relationship, with a partner who is more attractive or holds a position of higher status.

The Seduction of Selflessness

If you have suffered through a relationship with a selfish partner, you are no doubt particularly susceptible to the healthy seduction of selflessness. People who are genuinely warm, caring, and compassionate are actually far more attractive than their narcissistic counterparts in every circumstance, and every setting.

Although often lamented as time one can never get back, narcissistic relationships can be a learning experience for non-narcissistic partners, many of whom are thereby better positioned to recognize and appreciate the value of love, respect, and loyalty. In this sense, bad relationship choices in the past, although regrettable in retrospect, can pave the way for healthy relationships in the future.

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[i] Burton, K. Alex, John Milton Adams, William Hart, Brett Grant, Kyle Richardson, and Greg Tortoriello. 2017. “You Remind Me of Someone Awesome: Narcissistic Tolerance Is Driven by Perceived Similarity.” Personality and Individual Differences 104 (January): 499–503. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.09.019.

[ii] Haslam, Carrie, and V. Tamara Montrose. 2015. “Should Have Known Better: The Impact of Mating Experience and the Desire for Marriage upon Attraction to the Narcissistic Personality.” Personality and Individual Differences 82 (August): 188–92. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.03.032.

More from Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.
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