"You're the Narcissist." "No, You're the Narcissist."

Introverts and extroverts accuse each other of narcissism. Who's right?

Posted Aug 03, 2010

Narcissism is all the rage these days--it seems to come up in every third conversationI have, and according to fellow PT blogger Jean M. Twenge, rates of narcissism are increasing.

Among the comments here in The Introvert's Corner, accusations of narcissism are thrown at introverts and extroverts in almost equal measure.

So who is the narcissist?

Research does find a correlation between extroversion and narcissism, although not all narcissism is pathological. The unpleasant kind, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, is a very particular disorder, described thus in the DSM-IV:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

People with true NPD are rare and frightening creatures to be avoided if at all possible. But like all personality traits, narcissism exists on a continuum, and there is such thing as "normal" narcissism. I would wager a guess that the narcissism described in this article about narcissists and perceived creativity falls in the normal range of narcissism. In the article, narcissists are described as conveying "more enthusiasm, confidence, and charisma while they are selling their ideas to others." Which sounds as much extroverted as narcissistic, and it doesn't sound like a bad thing at all. (Click here to read the source research.)

But how about accusations that introverts' focus--some say excessive focus--on the inside of their own heads is narcissistic? Freud thought it was, Jung begged to differ.

More recently, we have Dr. Jonathan Cheek of Wellesley. He studies shyness, so his research is only somewhat applicable (as we have established, shyness and introversion are not the same), but it's a good place to start.

"I would distinguish anxious self-preoccupation from selfishness," he says. "They're both excessive self-focus, but I think the distinction is very important." In fact, the Cheek and Buss Shyness Scale finds a strong negative correlations between shyness and overt narcissism.

However, shyness does correlate positively with hypersensitivity or what some call "covert narcissism"--which is vulnerable and anxious rather than exhibitionist and grandiose. (Here's an interesting paper-on the "Two Faces of Narcissism.") That's the kind of narcissism that imagines everyone is looking at you when you enter a room.

All introverts don't feel that way, but some do. And doesn't it seem possible that some other introverts actually are sitting quietly in the corner of the room feeling superior to the hoi polloi around them? And is it possible that the extrovert-hating introvert is a low on empathy, unable to see and respect other aspects of extroverts' humanity?

It seemt to me both introverts and extroverts can have narcissistic qualities. So, who is the biggest narcissist?

The biggest narcissist is the biggest narcissist. Introvert or extrovert.

We are splendid, complicated machines full of light and shadow and nuance. Introversion and extroversion are just two traits among the many--narcissism included--that make us individuals. So pointing fingers is a waste of time. We're all right, and we're all wrong. Better to just try and get along.


My book, The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released December 4, 2012, just in time for party/festive/family-togetherness season. You know you need it.

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Copyright Sophia Dembling 2010