A narcissist’s desire for approval can lead to an unexpected streak of empathy, according to psychological theory
We tend to think of narcissism as an unequivocally bad thing.
A narcissist’s bloated sense of self-importance leads them to act without regard or sensitivity to others; or so the stereotype goes.
They’re all about looking after number one. Sure they’re not quite like psychopaths – another favoured trope of a modern age – but their unlimited capacity for self-entitlement means that they’re not far off.
However, a new thought piece in Psychology Today highlights that there are four types of person that fit within the definition of narcissistic personality disorder.
And one of these models is actually a very affable figure that you or I may be friends with (or may actually be, for that matter) in everyday life.
In the column, New York City-based psychologist Loren Soeiro says the grandiose and arrogant “antisocial” narcissist is the typecast we’re all familiar with from pop culture.
Like Mean Girls’ Regina George or Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, the antisocial narcissist is often “an extremely difficult, self-centered individual who expects excessive gratification from others in his or her life”, says Soeiro.
But there’s also a different, altogether more fun take on the behavioural trait.
According to Soeiro, a “prosocial” narcissist finds validation in good deeds and making people happy, driven by their overriding desire to be liked.
They are typically fun to be around, and take a lot of satisfaction in your positive reaction to them.
“They want to be known and appreciated by everyone in their lives, and their intentions are, overall, quite benign,” explains Soeiro. “Far from showing a lack of empathy, as in the person with traditional narcissistic personality disorder, these people use their empathy to tune in to what pleases you, and in doing so, they find validation.”
There’s another kind of narcissist at play here, too. The covert or vulnerable narcissist believes that they are great, but they keep this belief under the radar. As a result, they may be highly sensitive (though not to others) and “chronically victimized”, because the world has failed to recognise their perceived brilliance.
A 2018 study into childhood behaviour revealed that blushing may indicate narcissist traits. Researchers noticed that when children who scored highly on a narcissism scale were given only moderate feedback for a task, they blushed as a result; because the faint praise did not live up to their own vision of themselves and their talents.
Another report from the University of Louisiana found that all kinds of narcissists, along with manipulators and psychopaths, (the so-called “dark triad” of personality traits) are capable of being caring towards others; as long as they see benefit to themselves in doing so.
All in all, a few powerful silver linings for the narcissists we all know in life.