8 Ways Your Inner Narcissist Leads You to Poor Decisions

8 ways to tell your inner narcissist not to fall for deceptive ads

Posted Nov 28, 2017

Do you ever wonder why you're so tempted to follow the links provided in those endless email ads? They annoyingly fill your inbox but because they seem to be addressed personally to you, it’s hard to resist taking just one look to peek at their offers. Retailers would like you to part with your hard-earned cash, and even though you know you’re being manipulated, it feels that you just can’t help yourself.

However, you don’t have to sit back and let yourself be the victim. By learning how these ads attempt to make you feel bad about yourself, you can push "delete" without thinking twice.  Arizona State University’s Naomi Mandel and colleagues (2017) investigated the Compensatory Consumer Behavior Model which proposes that “consumption provides significant psychological value beyond the mere functional utility offered by products and services” (p. 134). According to this view, the reason people will pay outrageous amounts for such everyday products as jeans and watches is that by doing so, they satisfy their need to feel better about themselves. Buying products associated with higher status allows you to reduce the discrepancy between how you see yourself and how you wish to see yourself. 

The ads themselves can present a trigger for you to feel inadequate by showing a highly attractive model using the product in question. You compare yourself to this person and feel that the only way to be like the model is to get a hold of that product yourself, no matter the cost. Mandel and her fellow researchers believe that it’s self-discrepancy that lies at the heart of your most irrational consumer purchases. If you’re to avoid the efforts of advertisers to tap into these feelings, you need to work hard to reduce the perceived discrepancy.

Mandel et al.'s analysis is persuasive, but it misses the important contribution of narcissism to the equation. If you didn't care about being as good as, if not better than, other people, you'd hardly care at all about which celebrity model was peddling those overpriced jeans and jewels. You could shrug it off as just an obvious attempt to manipulate you rather than take it to heart as a sign of your own inadequacy. In a 2014 publication, Aliette Lambert and colleagues proposed that the "narcissistic consumer" has a constant need to stand out from the crowd. Being the first to get a coveted piece of clothing, jewelry, or even child's gift leads this individual to be particularly at risk of falling for the marketer's ego-driven message.

These ideas provide the basis for the most powerful strategies you can use as you fend off the ploys of advertisers trying to get you to add their overpriced products to your shopping cart. Follow these 8 steps and you'll preserve your self-esteem, and your wallet:

  1. Bolster your self-esteem before you buy. Given that retailers want to make you feel that you lack something important if you don’t buy their product, focus on the personal strengths you have that contribute to a positive sense of self. If it's a gift you're considering buying, recognize that you don't need to spend a great deal to make your recipient like or love you more.
  2. Read the fine print. Some of the most effective ads flash big discounts in the body of the email if not the subject line staring at you from your inbox. "40 percent off and free shipping," says the ad, and this is enough to get you to start feverishly hitting the link. It’s only when you get into your shopping cart that you realize it was not free shipping for the products you are actually purchasing, but something else. Alternatively, the promo might have been for one or the other but not both, and you’ll get 40 percent off on your purchase, but then have to pay actual shipping. When you go back and read the original email, it said “one promotion per purchase.” Close that browser and move on to a better deal.
  3. Don’t be impulsive. The subject line says "Open. Click. Be quick." Retailers want you to make hasty purchases and indeed, when self-discrepancy motives are triggered, you’ll rush to try to resolve them. In the process, you’ll fail to take advantage of the need to read the fine print but you’l alsol fail to engage in the kind of rational reasoning that will allow you to make good decisions based on your actual budget. Retailers are counting on you to behave rashly rather than wisely, by making you feel inadequate or short of something you desire for yourself or the recipient of a gift.
  4. Don’t fall for “shortages.” Retailers will try to increase the urgency of your need to get their product by showing you that there are only “10 left.” It’s possible you actually want that product so you do feel you better grab it, but also consider the possibility that a fake shortage only accentuates the urge to act quickly. Consumer-oriented narcissists will be particularly likely to take the bait if they suspect it will enhance their apparent self-worth by getting what others can't.
  5. Call or talk to someone if you spot a fake offer. Retailers know what they’re doing, and when you are sure you’ve spotted a deceiving ad, pick up the phone. If you’re reasonably nice to the person on the other end, you will most likely get that free shipping or whatever else you think was misleading in the original email. 
  6. Read the words “up to” in the literal sense. Those offers that include the words “up to” can be particularly misleading. “Up to” can include 0, or any number less than the amount being promoted. As a result, you can find something with that 0 or perhaps 10% reduction. Instead of giving in to the desire to have that particular item right now, look for something else that is actually discounted. Keep in mind that some retailers who offer no discount on the item now are likely to offer an actual discount in a day or two. If you must have the item right away, hold onto your receipt or print out the order and then keep an eye out for future discounts, when you can get a price adjustment. Again, this involves holding off on that need to feel better about yourself by having the item that can spur irrational purchases.
  7. Avoid the thrill of the chase. That urge to reduce self-discrepancy can also come from feeling that you’re not as good as everyone else. Therefore, when you think there’s a special “deal” that you need to get before they do, you’ll rush ahead without stopping to consider how good a deal it actually is. To avoid this trap, consider the possibility that you’re actually a better person than everyone else because you've restrained your impulses.
  8. Look at what you have, not at what you don’t have. When you read an email ad that is framed with great urgency, it’s all too easy to think about what they’re offering and forget about what you already have. Do you really need that tenth zip-up cardigan or the eighth version of your favorite sneakers? Take mental stock of what’s in your closet, or if you’re at home, go and look through your stash of similar items. This will not only allow you to feel less inadequate and deprived, but also show you that you’ve managed to accumulate items similar to those advertised that help you feel just as good as the new ones being dangled in front of your eyes. 

These 8 strategies to resist your overflowing inbox’s lure all rest on the central assumption that retailers try to manipulate your basic sense of self by appealing to your desire to overcome feelings of inadequacy, lack of status, and unattractiveness. They take advantage of your narcissistic vulnerability and prey on your impulsivity and recklessness as you try to feel better about yourself. Take pride in your inner worth rather than on your measure as a consumer and you'll find it easy to fight the urge to overspend.


Lambert, A., Desmond, J., & O'Donohoe, S. (2014). Narcissism and the consuming self: An exploration of consumer identity projects and narcissistic tendencies. In J. W. Schouten, D. M. Martin, R. Belk, J. W. Schouten, D. M. Martin, R. Belk (Eds.) , Consumer culture theory (pp. 35-57). Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Group Publishing. doi:10.1108/S0885-211120140000016002

Mandel, N., Rucker, D. D., Levav, J., & Galinsky, A. D. (2017). The Compensatory Consumer Behavior Model: How self-discrepancies drive consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 27(1), 133-146. doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2016.05.003