Suddenly the world seems to be filled with narcissists, and a bunch of everyday people are diagnosing their exes and bosses as such. What is going on? To explore this topic, Peter McGraw speaks to Anthony Hermann, a psychology professor at Bradley University and co-editor of the book “The Handbook of Trait Narcissism: Key Advances, Research Methods, and Controversies.”
Listen to Episode #140 here
Suddenly, the world seems to be filled with narcissists, and a bunch of everyday people is diagnosing their exes and bosses as such. What is going on? To explore this topic, I speak to Anthony Hermann, a Psychology Professor at Bradley University. Professor Hermann received his PhD in Social Psychology at the Ohio State University in 2002. Most of his research focuses on how self-evaluations are maintained and how they are related to interpersonal dynamics.
He is the co-editor of the book, Handbook of Trait Narcissism: Key Advances, Research Methods, and Controversies, and bonus material is back and available to the Solo community. You can sign up for it at PeterMcgraw.org/solo Anthony or Tony, as I know him. He also happens to be an old friend from graduate school and a member of the Solo community.
Since I became an adult, I have only had six roommates across a total of four years, and Tony was a roommate of mine for two of those years. We talk about our time together as roommates as a precursor to my participation in the Solo movement. I hope you enjoyed the episode. Let’s get started.
I should say good morning, Tony.
We are up early at the Mind Under Matter Festival.
I got a little gravel in my voice early morning.
No coffee coursing through those veins?
We are going to make do. You are a member of the Solo community, a new member. As you know, people can sign up for it at PeterMcgraw.org/solo. I often solicit questions from the community, and we are going to lead with one. We are here to talk about narcissism. A timely topic. I hope I don’t realize I’m a narcissist by the end of this conversation.
That’s an empirical question.
Readers, you be the judge. This is from a member of the community who says, “I’m interested in your expert’s thoughts on what defines narcissism. How to differentiate it from who’s simply being an A-hole and how to deal with it?” We are punting on how to deal with it until the end. That’s the cliffhanger. “I have a close friend who was in love with a woman for two years who mistreated him terribly. He said she was a narcissist, had ADHD, etc. When he sought my counsel, I told him, ‘I had no idea if she was a narcissist or not, but I never let someone treat me that way,’” and I love that question. It encompasses the culture now. People throw around the term narcissist a lot. The one thing that they get right, whether or not the people are narcissistic, is don’t treat me that way.
Which is the bottom line, anyhow. You might have this question, “Is this person a narcissist?” What matters in that situation is how the person is being treated, no matter what person they are. I will say that narcissism is an interesting collection of traits. It’s a thing but not everybody who’s an A-hole is narcissistic.
It’s everyone who’s a narcissist and an A-hole. That’s a key to it all.
Yes. That’s a good frame.
If you are not an A-hole or narcissist but if you are an A-hole, you may be a narcissist.
That’s fair. I don’t think I have ever broken it down that way myself but that’s true.
What is a narcissist?
The simplest working definition that I go with is someone who is invested in self-enhancement. That’s a psychology term but interested in looking good and believing that they are awesome, better than other people. Superior and grandiose beliefs like, “The world would be a better place if I ran it.” That’s an item in the narcissistic personality inventory. That’s an interesting scale because it’s a forced choice. It’s like, “Which of these statements do you believe more?” The choices, “The world would be a better place if I ran it or running the world scares the crap out of me,” or something like that.
You are getting away from the things that I want to do.
That’s testing for a little humility there like, “Do you believe it would be a better place or are you that good?” It’s grandiosity and investment in looking good. A lot of times, people who are friends or in relationships with people who are narcissistic have experiences like, “They don’t care about me. They care about looking good.” A trophy spouse would be an example. People who are in narcissism are more likely to have relationships that are based on self-enhancement, “This person makes me look good.”
Versus like you are seeking a partner who is superior to you in some way.
Yeah, because, “I need help with this sort. I have a blind spot, and I would love a partner that could help me with that or help me grow.” The other piece is a lack of interest and concern in relationships. Those things go together nicely in a sense like, “You sacrifice your relationships to get what you want and to look good.” Other things that go along with narcissism, it’s a complex trait, entitlement, and antagonism. They tend to be difficult people. They tend to do what they want when they want. Belief in their leadership ability. They see themselves as a leader. They often are leaders. Exhibitionism.
What do you mean by that?
It’s showing off. I love to show off. I like how my body looks. I like to show it to other people. There’s a lot of handing whether social media is pushing us in a narcissistic direction as a culture.
It certainly highlights the narcissist of the world. They can find a way to thrive in that environment. It’s one way.
You can ignore the haters. It’s, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”
You mentioned one tendency that describes me. I joke a lot that I’m a narcissist or vain.
Vanity is part of it.
Are they aware of their vanity like I am?
I hesitate there because that is an interesting question on its own. More generally, are narcissists aware that they are narcissistic? The answer is yes. They are not in denial. They also are aware that other people see that as a bad thing. They see it negatively but think it’s the best way to be.
In some ways, another indicator that you or someone else may be a narcissist is they are like, “You don’t get it.”
“You should probably be more like me.”
Not, “I’m sorry, I can’t handle this. I’m not so good at this.”
There is a little bit of data out there suggesting people that are narcissistic tend to have relationships with other people who are also. They attract each other.
They compete like a frenemy thing.
Even in romantic relationships.
It’s why Kanye and Kim Kardashian might be drawn to each other.
What relationship do they have? They care about similar things. They do. They are trophy partners for each other.
A way to elevate, “Make myself more powerful,” and so on. A-holes may have other characteristics that make them repulsive and difficult.
They don’t have this investment in believing in seeing themselves as superior.
Already we have done the world a favor.
A curmudgeon is not usually narcissistic. They are grumpy and think everybody else is a jerk.
Someone who’s mean. You can be mean but not think that you are very special. Narcissists tend to be insensitive but someone who’s insensitive is not necessary a narcissist.
They could be lots of different things. They could be a psychopath.
Foreshadowing, we still want to distance ourselves from people who don’t make us feel good and don’t treat us well. We are going to get a little bit wonky here. You are an academic. I try not to be. There are more fine gradations and variants of this. Let’s go through and talk about some of them. This is a constellation. Is that the way to think of it?
They share some common characteristics but it manifests in different ways. That’s how I think about it.
The first one, and this is the typical one, is grandiose narcissism.
That’s what we have been talking about. This strong investment in believing that you are better at things, life, and whatever skillset. All these dimensions are like, “I’m awesome.” We are usually about competence like, “I’m better than other people at these things, whether it’s making money.”
As academics, we know these people.
If you work in politics, you know these people too.
In sports, there are these people. In entertainment, there are these people. Competitive structures draw them.
Also, foster it.
Especially if you believe that you are better than others, and then there’s an objective metric. That reveals that you are indeed better than others. You can score more points than others. You can publish more papers than others. You are on the top of the billboards compared to others. You win major elections and do all those things.
That’s true and can reinforce it.
I want to ask a question about grandiose narcissism before we get to some of the other variants. Let’s suppose you believe this but you are not better. Do you opt out of these competitive situations? How does the grandiose narcissist deal with the fact that they believe this but, “The system is against me,” or what’s happening there?
I don’t know that there’s data on this but what you see is a phenomenon where people who are narcissistic select out of domains, relationships, friend groups, and things like that. When the going gets tough or maybe there’s another narcissist that’s part of that group that now they have to compete with and that there are costs to do it doing it or maybe they burn bridges. “There’s this awesome charismatic person. We hang out and are part of this friend group.” Over time you realize they are an A-hole, and that’s about the time when the narcissist isn’t around as much and moves on to a new friend group. That’s a phenomenon.
What’s worth saying is that we have been talking about these abstracts or these big names. We could list the names, and some people be like, “Yes.” Some other people would be insulted. What we care about, we, being these members of the community, ask this question, and we may encounter it. They are not famous.
It’s a personality trait that varies in the population. We have ways of measuring it, and it varies. You can be a little bit narcissistic, and you can be a lot. It’s important to realize that when we are using the term narcissist, that’s the shorthand. It’s not a typology. It’s not like you either are or you aren’t. It’s the same thing. You don’t have high or low self-esteem. It’s more a matter of degree.
The idea of being of very few people is far out on the tail with all of it, and very few people are all the way on the other tail.
That’s not true in this trait. Statistics speak, we would call it a positively skewed distribution. I can’t tell you how it’s skewed but there are a lot of people that get a zero.
This is not a normal bell-shaped curve. For the person who’s imagining a bell-shaped curve, imagine the peak of the curve being pushed almost all the way to the left. At the bottom of the distribution, which means that most people show very little narcissistic tendencies.
You have very few people that are extremely high.
It runs counter to the common belief now, which is, “We are surrounded by all of these narcissists.”
That’s like we are surrounded by social media, which is an avenue for narcissistic expression.
The narcissist reached us when they used to not reach us.
Yes. The other thing is that a lot of social life pushes back on narcissism. We are a cooperative species. We cooperate a lot, where us social creatures, as you can imagine or even more social than ants. Narcissism creates friction. People get a lot of pushback, so it’s hard to be a narcissist. Basically, I have to disregard a lot of social norms.
One of the variants and I was surprised to learn this, is called vulnerable narcissism. Suddenly, it seems like this idea of vulnerability is also a thing. Brené Brown talks about it. I talk about it in my show sometimes. It’s something I try to practice, this idea that vulnerability is bravery. The benefits come from being vulnerable to the counterintuitive nature of the vulnerability, and so now we have vulnerable narcissists.
This term was coined before Brené Brown.
As a quick PSA, this happens in science a lot. It’s very difficult to name things, and often the words that we use have multiple meanings.
People start naming the same thing differently in science.
It’s also a problem. This is not something to aspire to. What is a vulnerable narcissist?
One of the core features of grandiose narcissism, all of this, the narcissism we have been talking about so far, is this antagonism and a sense of entitlement but it’s combined with thinking highly of yourself. Vulnerable narcissism is that same sense of entitlement antagonism like being a difficult person but paired with low regard for yourself. Low self-esteem.
Is insecure might be a word to describe that person?
Yes. Someone who’s insecure but people will frequently say, “The world revolves around them. They believe they deserve special treatment, and they are like this tornado.” They may harbor certain feelings like, “I’m the best. I deserve entitlement.” It believes you deserve special treatment and things but don’t have a high opinion of themselves explicitly.
How does that manifest differently within a relationship? To me, narcissism is a relational problem.
It manifests in relationships because you feel dominated by the person but not because they think they are the best. It’s like you have to attend to them all the time. When I first came across this construct, this idea of vulnerable narcissism and was looking at the scale and researchers and like, “Isn’t this tendency toward borderline personality?” Which is a psychology term for people who are highly emotional, psychologically unstable, and need reassurance and all those things. There are a lot of overlaps there. That’s how it manifests itself.
We did a little informal soul salon here at the Mind Under Matter Festival. It was fun, and you were kind enough to do a Q&A. One of the people who joined us talked about her mother being a vulnerable narcissist who essentially got cancer and then turned it into this type of person.
“Look at me,” scenario. “Everybody should feel sorry for me and attend to me.” It was a great example. You could see how that self-centeredness.
The way the woman characterized it, which was fascinating to me, was, “Mom was almost happy to have cancer. Look at this great opportunity to put the attention on me.” That sounds extreme.
That’s more common than you might think. That’s my feeling.
Speaking of social media, there is a lot of victimhood that people are using.
That’s our conversation went that way too, which I love thinking about, and I have done a little bit of research on this notion of victimhood and narcissism. Once you know what vulnerable narcissism is, it’s like, “They are totally the victim all the time,” but so are grandiose narcissists.
I ran a study where I gave people a list of wrongdoings, and I was replicating a previous finding. People high in grandiose narcissism think that people wrong them all the time. If you make them look at the same list again, it’s like, “How often have you done these things?” They are also more likely to have done them. If you think of the prototypical narcissist in your life, the grandiose ones, it’s like, “They are always saying, people are always out to get them.” It’s a different kind of victimhood. Like, “Don’t pity me. Be on my side. I got a lot of haters.”
“That’s because I’m so great.” There’s this term narcissistic personality disorder, and that’s distinct from the personality trait.
We have been talking about how it varies.
At some point, this becomes a diagnosis.
It can. They are diagnostic criteria and clinical psychology manuals for it. It’s a checklist. The stats are that less than 1% of the population is diagnosed with this highly infrequent, and people are like, “What? I can come up with a list of people off the top of my head.”
“My last 6 boyfriends or 7 girlfriends.”
The thing is, how do people become diagnosed with any disorder? They have to seek out help.
The rates are likely higher to some degree, especially out on that tail but very few people get diagnosed.
There’s also this thing to be diagnosed with a disorder. Your life has to be dramatically affected by it.
It seems to me that a narcissist could make their way through their entire life and never experience the full repercussions. They never hit rock bottom and go, “I need to see a therapist. I need to get fixed.”
They are the ones that don’t seek therapy. There’s a certain level of humility in doing it. Recognizing like, “Maybe I’m not the best at something.” That’s true, and the functioning aspect of clinical psychologists is very practical. It’s not a disorder unless it’s interfering with your life.
That’s a big thing about alcoholism, for example. One of the major issues is, “What negative consequences are you having?”
Narcissists end up in these situations where they are diagnosed because other people are saying they are being shunned.
Their partner is divorcing them.
It may be mandated anger management training. There are lots of ways that people are forced to go get help. That’s what happens, and they are high functioning. They are doing awesome, and ask them.
You put them in the right lane. They could thrive.
That’s the flip side. There are compelling things about people that are narcissistic. Why is your last boyfriend a narcissist?
They are fun. They are exciting.
They are charismatic.
They are confident, which you often want in a partner.
In a job interview, you want self-promotion. That’s the term we use. People are not afraid to say positive things, be confident, and not care what other people think. There’s an adaptive feature of not caring about other people and what they think of you.
I can totally see that, especially if you are hiring for a leadership position.
If you think about tips that people give you to do well in a job interview. Be narcissistic a little bit. Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself in glowing terms, what you can do or how you are better than the competition.
“Why did your last job not work out?” “I had this terrible boss who treated me very poorly. I’m going to get out there.”
We love that like, “That is so awesome.”
They left out the part where they were run out. CEOs are this way frequently. Companies that have narcissists that are confident and they frequently believe and come across as, “I know how to get things done and fix this company.”
Founders can be like this too. They have to believe that they are the best person in the world to create this product.
Yes. That is functional, and you break eggs. Depending on your viewpoint on that. It’s like, “Maybe this is what’s necessary.”
We can celebrate those people if you own stock in that company or if you use that product. There is some adaptive element to this. By in large, these are not good people to have in your life but they can serve a function within society.
They sure do. Especially in our society. Individualism breeds this and values this.
That’s a nice tease. This strikes me as a positive side which we haven’t talked about this notion of communal narcissism. I have never heard of this before.
There’s much less research development in my field. The idea is that there are two personality theories. A little wonky here. Traits fall. There are two main kinds of dimensions to think about personality traits. One is the agency that’s competence. The degree to which you believe you can do things and value that versus you don’t, and then there’s commonality, which is the degree to which you think relating to other people is important and values that support relationships and things like morality. These researchers are like, “Grandiose narcissism is all about agency and about believing you are the best. Achievement.” There’s another flavor. People can believe they are best at communal things. They can believe they are the most moral.
“I’m the best mother. I’m the best father.”
“I’m the best pastor.” They have special insight. That’s a beautiful insight, and you can measure it as distinct. It makes sense to me in a common-sense way like a lot of people who you might think are narcissistic are not braggarts in the way that Kanye is.
I like Kanye. I want to go on record. I have mixed feelings about him but nonetheless.
In that realm, he’s the prototype.
It would be hard to have Kanye as a friend. I get it. I could see how that would be puzzling because here’s this person who’s doing good. They are feeding the homeless. They have a flock that they are inspiring.
They are charismatic. Sure, exactly, but because of those things, we don’t see it as narcissism. One of my favorite items from that scale is to what degree do you agree with the following statement? “I will bring freedom to the people.” It’s so absurd. A lot of statements on narcissism scales are that way because it’s like, “Do you dare to endorse that even though the social norm is like, ‘What are you crazy?’”
What if the item was, “I’m going to bring freedom to single people?” We have been talking about trait narcissism, which means that it’s part of your personality. It’s who you are. It’s part of your identity even in this case but there’s another notion in psychology about the state. Trait versus state, and there’s state narcissist or state narcissism.
There’s less research on this but it’s true. It’s easy to think about state self-esteem like how you are feeling about yourself. We all fluctuate on that.
Something good happens, and you get a boost.
“I feel awesome about how things are going with me.” Something bad happens and you are like, “I’m not sure about myself.”
Even though you generally may be high, medium or low, you could vary and surround this.
That’s a good way to think about it. Your average tendency is your trait but you can fluctuate. Human beings are in constant motion and change. Narcissism can be this way too, where you can be in a situation or because of circumstances that you can feel like, “Maybe I am the j***. I don’t care about those losers,” and then come back down like, “I don’t feel that way now.”
Some people might say you are having a bad day in the sense of it’s bad for other people.
Also, maybe adaptive. Maybe it’s a circumstance where you are like, “I’m going to finally tell this SOB off.”
“I don’t deserve this. I am better than this person.”
You then are in a state where that’s what enables you to move. It goes back to this notion of it being adaptive. In leaders, it is, in some ways. If you have a leader that is constantly self-absorbed and antagonistic, you can’t run a company for a long time that way. You can’t run your life that way unless it’s special.
There’s this book, Lincoln’s Melancholy. This idea is that we think of personality disorders and so on as bad things. There are some circumstances where they are useful like a wartime president. The characteristics that you need might be different from a peacetime president, for example. As a result, it’s about this thing. In some circumstances, this can be adaptive. My guess is that this is related to the relationship side of this thing. It’s rarely so in most intimate relationships or close relationships, or familial relationships.
It’s because you have interdependence.
You want some warmth, kindness, and support.
That’s what people need in relationships.
Some reciprocity. Most relationships have some fundamental element to reciprocity and caregiving.
Mutuality and all those things. It’s fun to do research on narcissism. It’s fun to talk to people about it because people have their stories like you wouldn’t believe this guy or this woman. The core of it usually is that I was expecting them to be mutuality and reciprocity, and it wasn’t there. Can you believe how they treated me or other people?
You talk and then, “When I tried to talk to them about it, they blamed me for it.” You mentioned individuality but then you also talked about how narcissists might have a trophy partner. Let’s be honest, a trophy wife who is more likely to be a narcissist. I can imagine the anti-single person or the pro-family person saying, “Singles are more likely to be narcissists. Even Peter McGraw’s SOLOs, especially, see themselves as complete, self-reliant, and conventional.”
I’m prepping an episode on the lone wolf trope because they can’t connect with others. They move along to other groups. I had a member of the community ask the opposite question about this couple-centric person who advertises and seeks external validation for their couple status or couple achievements, anniversaries, and so on. Are they narcissists? That was a question that I got. Can you be a coupled narcissist?
Sure. I tend to think of that like, “Can people be show-offs in couples?” Of course, they can.
It’s easier to show off as a couple, at least relationally. Single people rarely show off their singleness.
That’s fair, and it can be narcissistic. It’s a matter of degree. You can be a show-off about anything but in your question, was this need for validation issue? That is a longstanding debate that I don’t think has been resolved. Maybe it never will be because it’s so fascinating. We will circle back here. With the grandiose narcissist, is there underlying vulnerability? Is there an underlying need for others’ approval? An underlying belief that they are not great. This is a front. The jury is still out on that. You can find some evidence that their reactiveness is vulnerability because they don’t like to be crossed.
I also think that if you have to be better than everybody else, that’s what you believe. This is also an untenable situation. It’s going to read conflict. Is their reactivity and aggressiveness mean like they don’t believe it, and there’s a sense of undervalue or whatever but there are also a lot of others that honestly believe that they are awesome? Let me circle back to your question about who’s more likely to be narcissistic.
It’s relationship status. Individualism obviously is something.
Being a loner, there are many reasons why people might seek a more solitary life that has nothing to do with narcissism at all.
If any would think, it’s the opposite.
It could be an extreme level of social responsibility. That’s your preference. That’s your attachment style. You have fewer close relationships. You might be avoidant of close relationships because of your history but that doesn’t mean that you think that you are awesome. It might look self-centered and self-absorbed because you are not tending to everybody else’s needs but that’s not narcissism.
There’s a lot of mythology around single people. You can be a single person who has deep, varied, and complex relationships that are very warm and loving. You don’t happen to have this traditional partner. It seems self-centered but it’s very communal in a sense.
One thing that’s working with that stereotype is that people who are grandiose narcissists probably relationship-hop more. Bad partners are more likely to be single.
The single by chance is a phenomenon.
You get into relationships, and people get sick of you. It’s like, “I got to break up with you.” There’s probably a little bit to that, I would say. I also think narcissists because they have this need to believe they are the best. That’s what they are committed to. They are also surrounding themselves with people and partners. It’s complicated.
Does it skew male?
A little bit, yeah. That’s probably fully accounted for by gender norms, for self-expression or at least a good chunk of this. It’s more okay to say, “I’m a j***,” if you are a man than if you are a woman.
I have a couple of questions here. They are very related. I’m going to only read one of them. I will reference the other one. We have painted a largely negative picture of this type of person. There are some adaptive benefits. We are drawn to them oftentimes. We can also be useful for particular situations. Especially if they are a little bit distant, and this was alluded to at the beginning of the question like, “You have a narcissist in your life.”
Here’s what we are going to do. I’m going to combine 2 questions from 2 members of the community about how to deal with this. My first question is that when narcissists keep on taking advantage of people, how to break the cycle? I have difficulties setting boundaries, and it becomes more prominent in relationships with narcissists, and then the other person writes as a tag.
If there isn’t a way for them to stop being narcissists, then how do we find a balance between protecting ourselves and loving them? It identifies the idea that you may be in love with this person. You may care about this person. You may have a deep connection to them. Otherwise, are we doomed to a fate of canceling them from our lives and leaving them to die lonely? I realize this is a little bit outside your research. I’m asking you to put on a coaching hat.
My first reaction to that second part is that you care an awful lot about the person that doesn’t care about you. You are worried about whether they are going to be lonely at the end of their life.
I know the person who wrote that question, and I’m not surprised. They are very sensitive.
That gets to the core of why it’s so hard to be in a relationship with someone who’s narcissistic. People are sensitive to having their feelings hurt and whether or not they are hurting other people’s feelings.
They then get blamed if they try to, in any way, set a boundary.
Exactly, and it’s maddening. Gaslighting is also a popular term and concept. That’s related to narcissism. This notion of a person manipulating into believing that things are true when they are not. Manipulation is a tactic. That some grandiose narcissist use. Even if they are not purposely doing it, you find yourself questioning yourself.
Especially if this person has all these other great characteristics like, “Why can’t I make them happy?”
They may share with you with praise like, “You were so beautiful,” but a lot of that praise is going to be indirectly self-enhancing too, when the person is narcissistic. You are like, “You are the hottest woman in this room,” but guess who’s standing next to you is the subtext. Back to the original question like, “What do you do in setting boundaries?” If you google this topic or search for it on Amazon, there’s a cottage industry of books about what to do with the narcissist in your love life, and boundaries are central.
These aren’t one-page books that says, “Dump him.” If you are married to a narcissist, you have children with the person or your business partner is a narcissist.
It’s funny. They should be one-page books but these books are about sense-making. Making sense of this because it is confusing to be in a closer relationship or the subordinate of a narcissist. They have a lot of mixed signals. They are compelling in other ways. They may even support you in some thoughtful ways but also, you have this feeling like, “They are only in this for themselves.”
Most people want some level of authenticity and respect in a relationship and mutuality, and that is hard to come by, even when with someone who’s narcissistic. It is complicated. That’s why these books are complicated. One overlooked issue, and a lot of this advice is that narcissists respond to power. They want power. They think they are leaders. They want to be in charge. They believe they could run the world and all these things. If you are in a relationship where you lack power, that is going to be freaking tough. You can put yourself in a situation where you are allied with someone who has power that’s more reasonable.
You have some independence within that relationship. I can imagine this financial independence. What if this person controls the purse strings? It can be very difficult.
That suggests like the man in the relationship is a narcissist. The woman in a relationship could be a narcissist. What’s more typical is that they are controlling the emotional tenor of the relationship, and that’s hard to disentangle from the two.
I could see that, especially in a heteronormative way. If you are a man and you are now isolated emotionally because you’ve let your friends go. You have no female friends, and so on. Now you’ve become very reliant on this partner for your emotional well-being.
If they are self-absorbed, and maybe even complimentary of you in some ways and being charismatic and people love them.
There’s this phenomenon that happens a lot where someone has a very difficult parent. I had this. Anybody who reads knows this. People on the outside are like, “Your mom is so great. She’s so wonderful,” and you are like, “You have no idea.”
You and I shared this phenomenal.
That may make it hard to get help in some ways to have your friends recognize it or see it because they are like, “Bob is fantastic.”
Also, think about growing up. You don’t know any difference and those narratives, the beliefs, and the assumptions you have, you don’t question them until something else happens. It can be a lifelong process to unearth the truth.
This might not be narcissism per se but there is this idea of this private and public or you have to get close enough to feel the sting of these people who have personality disorders.
It’s because they might be beloved.
Charismatic, funny, successful, and all these things. It sounds like there are three things going on. One is that you distance yourself from these people, and that seems to be the common thing. You don’t persist in a relationship with them if possible. That’s a very good strategy. Move on. The other one you said is to find coping strategies. There are some resources for how to deal with this stuff. I’m sure there are communication styles.
There are certain ways to how do you find some hedge against their power. The last one is this idea is that person changes. They get help. Suppose you have a self-aware narcissist or they care enough about this relationship that they are like, “I’m going to lose it. I’m going to go get help,” and they get diagnosed. Is there like, “Can I do a mushroom trip if I’m a narcissist and realize this?” How do you help people be less narcissistic? Is there a pill?
You would hope. I slip it into his drink. I have no answer for that. The field doesn’t either, as far as I can tell. There are some suggestions.
I could imagine. I have done a lot of therapy in my life. How does a counselor bring you along to realize that you think you are better than everyone else?
I would love to have a clinician here because these are the most difficult clients who have blind spots where you are sitting across from. If you are in a relationship with someone who’s narcissistic, you have the same feeling, “You have some blind spots here that I can’t penetrate.” I don’t think there’s a good answer to that. If a person is seeking more humility and continue to seek it, that’s a great anecdote. Any humility and commitment to the truth involve like, “If I want to be a better person, what are the consequences of my actions?” That thing is going to undermine narcissism but is that treatment?
That’s part of the reason why this is getting so much attention, in part because it feels so dire. If you are involved with someone who’s an alcoholic, and it’s causing profound problems. You are like, “There are these different paths.” There are many paths to becoming sober and dealing with it. Oftentimes the person who is abusing alcohol recognizes. I’m not saying it’s easy, this is a highly addictive substance but there’s a path. There’s hope.
That’s an interesting contrast because it’s a little bit more objective to see the problem. There are empty bottles.
Hangovers and alcohol poisoning.
Whereas the problems lie in the wake of narcissism, which usually hurts feelings more than anything else. They have hurt people, and I’m not minimizing that. I think it’s a lot more subjective.
There’s no DUI for narcissists.
Not usually. You can be fired from your job because you are an A-hole.
Tony, this has been good. It’s important. Is it fair to end on this idea if you have someone in your life personally or professionally who is treating you poorly, lying to you, and belittling you? Even though in other ways, they are appealing. They are fun and exciting. They are complementary in other senses. Regardless of whether they are narcissists or not is reasonable if you try to repair the situation. If you talk to them and say, “This bothers me when you do this,” they are not responsive in their actions, especially. They may say, “I can fix that. I get it.” They are not responsive in their actions, so you should minimize your relationships with them.
Relationship common sense. The beauty of that advice is that it doesn’t matter whether you can diagnose the person’s problem. It’s like, “Do I have a relationship with this person where my perspective and feelings about how things are going matter?” If you don’t, then it’s like, “At some level, you have to question that. What relationship do I have with this person?”
What if someone is reading, is going, “I have some of these things. I tend to be like this sometimes,” and they have some awareness? Maybe they are not all the way out on that right skew of that tail.
That’s a good question too because part of the fun of being a narcissism researcher is, “Can you believe these people?”
There is a tendency to look down on them.
I’m guilty of that as well but I try to see it as, “This is one kind of human failing or a certain variety of human failing.” It’s a tendency that we all have to some degree, like who among us is not so self-absorbed at times and thinks, “I should be the center of things and antagonistic when people aren’t seeing that.” It’s a human thing.
It’s easy to look down on the narcissist in a way you can’t with the depressive, for example. It’s hard to have sympathy for this type of characteristic.
Empathy even, and you feel wronged by them.
You want to hit back. One of the things that can happen is that you can look to fight these people, and that seems like a bad decision.
It’s because, by and large, they are good at fighting. They are good at defending themselves.
If you are concerned, go see a therapist.
Go see a therapist, and if you are concerned, that probably means you are thinking to yourself like, “To what degree am I doing?” Truly prosocial things in my life. Giving because I want to give to other people.
“Am I having a hard time maintaining relationships? Am I getting dumped?” They are saying you are mean and these things.
If you are concerned about that, people work on that all the time. This is not like it’s a mutable biological characteristic. As you said, the essence of this is that this is a relationship problem.
Tony, thank you for sharing your expertise. I have found this fascinating.
Thanks for having me. This has been fun. I love the show and am happy to be part of the community.
- Anthony Hermann
- Handbook of Trait Narcissism: Key Advances, Research Methods, and Controversies
- Lincoln’s Melancholy
About Anthony Hermann
Anthony Hermann is a social psychology professor at Bradley University. Professor Hermann received his Ph.D. in Social Psychology at The Ohio State University in 2002. Most of his research focuses on how self-evaluations are maintained and how they are related to interpersonal dynamics. He is the co-editor of the book “The Handbook of Trait Narcissism: Key Advances, Research Methods, and Controversies”