Ever thought about what motivates narcissism? It is driven by insecurity and not an inflated sense of self, finds a new study.
The findings suggest that genuine narcissists are insecure and are best described by the vulnerable narcissism subtype, whereas grandiose narcissism might be better understood as a manifestation of psychopathy.
“More specifically, the results suggest that narcissism is better understood as a compensatory adaptation to overcome and cover up low self-worth,” said lead author Mary Kowalchyk from the New York University.
“Narcissists are insecure, and they cope with these insecurities by flexing. This makes others like them less in the long run, thus further aggravating their insecurities, which then leads to a vicious cycle of flexing behaviours,” Kowalchyk added.
For the study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, the team surveyed nearly 300 participants. They examined Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), conceptualised as excessive self-love and consisting of two subtypes, known as grandiose and vulnerable narcissism.
A related affliction, psychopathy, is also characterized by a grandiose sense of self. They sought to refine the understanding of how these conditions relate.
To do so, they designed a novel measure, called PRISN (Performative Refinement to soothe Insecurities about SophisticatioN), which produced FLEX (perFormative seLf-Elevation indeX). FLEX captures insecurity-driven self-conceptualizations that are manifested as impression management, leading to self-elevating tendencies.
The PRISN scale includes commonly used measures to investigate social desirability (“No matter who I am talking to I am a good listener”), self-esteem (“On the whole, I am satisfied with myself”), and psychopathy (“I tend to lack remorse”).
FLEX was shown to be made up of four components: impression management (“I am likely to show off if I get the chance”), the need for social validation (“It matters that I am seen at important events”), self-elevation (“I have exquisite taste”), and social dominance (“I like knowing more than other people”).
Overall, the results showed high correlations between FLEX and narcissism — but not with psychopathy. For example, the need for social validation (a FLEX metric) correlated with the reported tendency to engage in performative self-elevation (a characteristic of vulnerable narcissism).