New research shows that we can learn a lesson about positivity from narcissists, but it should be approached with caution.
Nobody wants to be considered a narcissist. Not only is it a term used to indicate that someone is utterly obsessed with themselves, psychologists have identified narcissism as part of a “dark triad” (aka damaging and toxic to others) alongside Machiavellianism and psychopathy. However, new research shows that we could actually learn something positive from narcissists. And it could help with managing burnout.
A study, which examined 700 people, found that narcissists are likely to be happier than most people.
The research, conducted by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast and published in the Personality and Individual Differences and European Psychiatry journal, reported that narcissists are less likely to be stressed or depressed. This is partly because their self-confidence and heightened sense of self-importance protects them from things that others see as stressful. It also means that they are insulated against feeling bad about themselves.
Of course, all of these benefits come at the cost of being… well, of being a narcissist. Indeed, the same research defined a narcissist as someone who “engages in risky behaviour, holds an unrealistic superior view of themselves, is over-confident, shows little empathy for others, and has little shame or guilt”.
But, in a world where we’re constantly experiencing burnout, can we actually learn something about “de-stressing” from narcissists?
“While of course not all dimensions of narcissism are good, certain aspects can lead to positive outcomes,” explains researcher Dr Kostas Papageorgiou. “This work promotes diversity and inclusiveness of people and ideas by advocating that dark traits, such as narcissism, should not be seen as either good or bad, but as products of evolution and expressions of human nature that may be beneficial or harmful depending on the context.”
So perhaps borrowing a little confidence and goal-orientation from narcissists is fine, but only if we’re channelling it in a positive way.
The study was carried out because of the rise of narcissistic characters in politics, social media and celebrity culture. It also found that there are two types of narcissism: grandiose and vulnerable.
“Vulnerable narcissists are likely to be more defensive and view the behaviour of others as hostile, whereas grandiose narcissists usually have an over-inflated sense of importance and a preoccupation with status and power,” continued Dr Papageorgiou.
The researchers claim that, in particular, it is the attributes found among individuals with grandiose narcissism – including confidence and goal-orientation – that may reduce their likelihood of experiencing symptoms of depression or perceived stress.
And this isn’t the first time we’ve reported on (slightly) positive findings about narcissists.
Earlier this year, a psychological theory suggested that a narcissist’s desire for approval can lead to an unexpected streak of empathy. According to a Psychology Today column by New York City-based psychologist Loren Soeiro, a “prosocial” narcissist finds validation in good deeds and making people happy, driven by their overriding desire to be liked”.
Essentially, perhaps borrowing a little confidence and goal-orientation from narcissists is fine… but only if we’re channelling it in a positive way.