It has been shown that narcissism is on the rise with each new generation. This report discusses narcissism in relation to the personal detrimental qualities a narcissist has, such as a lack of empathy, focus on the self and self destructive behaviours, as well as the interpersonal damaging effects narcissism has on personal relationships such as loss of important relationships and violence against individuals which threaten their self-image. Narcissism is discussed in the organisational context and the detrimental factors that a narcissistic leader can have on an organisation, followed by the impact of narcissism on society as a whole and the way by which we can combat the rise of detrimental narcissism.
Studies have shown that narcissism is increasing with each generation (Twenge and Foster, 2010), and has been linked with a number of both desirable and undesirable behaviours, such as high self-esteem on the bright side, and lack of empathy on the dark side of narcissism (Campbell, Hoffman, Campbell & Marchisio, 2011). This report will further evaluate the undesirable behaviours linked to narcissism by discussing a number of key research papers, first starting with the personal detrimental behaviours of narcissists, moving onto the interpersonal aspects such as aggression and violence, followed by narcissism in the organisational context and finally discussing the important impacts narcissism has at the societal level.
As stated in DSM-5, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration, and lack of empathy; indicated by both intrinsic and extrinsic symptoms including a grandiose sense of importance, a belief that he or she is special and unique, desire for excessive admiration, and holding a grand sense of entitlement (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Recent research has investigated the sub-clinical form of narcissism: those that display some characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder but do not display enough to be clinically diagnosed with the disorder (Foster, Campbell & Twenge, 2003), this sub-clinical form of NPD therefore suggests that narcissistic tendencies can be viewed as a personality trait.
Narcissism as a personality trait is characterised by feelings of self-importance, superiority and entitlement, and a continual focus on the enhancement of one’s self-esteem (Twenge, Konrath, Foster, Campbell & Bushman, 2008). It has been suggested that Narcissism as a personality trait contains three components: the self, interpersonal relationships, and self-regulatory strategies. The narcissistic self is characterised by positivity, uniqueness, vanity, a sense of entitlement and a desire for power and self-esteem. Secondly, the narcissistic interpersonal relationships contain low levels of empathy and emotional intimacy, instead involving shallow relationships that range from exciting and engaging to manipulative and exploitative. Finally, the narcissistic self-regulatory strategies involve strategies for maintaining the inflated self views including seeking out opportunities for attention and admiration, boasting, and stealing credit from others (Campbell et al, 2011).
But how does the personality trait known as narcissism develop? Twenge and Foster (2010) suggest that cultural influences, such as the move towards a more individualistic society and away from a collective culture, has resulted in an increase in narcissism and an inflated sense of importance of the self. An individualist culture encourages a greater focus on the self and self-promotion, in contrast to a collectivist culture that promotes a focus on the group (Foster et al, 2003). This can be seen through our increasingly popular social media websites encouraging user generated content, such as photos and videos of even the most common areas of life such as daily posts about meals eaten, updates on individual’s location, and the ever-increasing popularity of the “selfie”. Therefore, a culture that promotes such a focus on the self rather than on the group inevitably paves the way for an increased level of narcissism within its population.
Foster et al (2003) found evidence to support this theory, with world regions that displayed higher individualism also reporting greater narcissism in a study comparing the United States, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It should be noted, however, that the data from this study was collected through an online questionnaire, with the majority of participants being white females from the United States, of college age and middle-class. This sample, although inclusive of others, is not representative of the population at large and therefore, cohort effects may have confounded narcissism scores within the sample.
This individualist culture is further exemplified through school programs containing messages such as “I am special”, with the objective being to increase student’s self esteem, while also inadvertently increasing narcissism in some students (Twenge & Foster, 2010). Furthermore, parenting practices with the similar aim of increasing a child’s confidence and self-esteem could be seen to have the same effect.
In addition to increasing the focus on self-promotion and self-image, narcissism has been associated with detrimental behaviours that can impact the individual, interpersonal relationships and society at large. On the personal level, the inflexible nature of the narcissist’s detrimental personality traits can result in damaged relationships, particularly long term, after prolonged levels of grandiosity, lack of empathy and focus on the self within personal relationships (Campbell et al, 2011). Other long-term effects of narcissism have been found to include failure caused by an inability to learn from mistakes, or the destruction of resources (such as money) that is needed for long term success (Campbell, Bush, Brunell & Shelton, 2005). It should be noted however that the research mentioned has been conducted from the one university and lead by the one individual; which may have resulted in experimenter bias or results confounded by situational variables relevant to the United States sample that the data was collected from.
On the interpersonal level, it has been found that narcissism has a relationship with physical aggression in both provoked and unprovoked situations (Reidy, Foster & Zeichner, 2010). Baumeister, Smart and Boden (1996) explain this link through the theory of threatened-egotism. According to this theory, the narcissist is particularly susceptible to threats to their self-esteem, acting as provocation. The resulting aggression is a means by which the narcissist defends the highly favourable view of their self against the person that seemingly seeks to undermine that view. The aggression then maintains the unrealistic favourable self-image by violently rejecting the negative personal information from the provocateur (Bushman & Baumeister, 1998). Furthermore, it was found that violent and nonviolent individuals can be distinguished on the basis of level of narcissism, thus predicting violence (Bushman & Maumeister, 2002), although this finding is somewhat conflicted by the finding by Bettencourt, Tally, Benjamine and Valentine (2006) stating that narcissism was only associated with aggression under conditions of provocation. It should be noted that this area of research is still lacking in depth, with the majority of research being led by Bushman and Baumeister. In order to eradicate any possible experimenter bias within this area, a greater breadth of studies from multiple sources is required, as well as from samples that can be generalized to the population, given that the findings from Bushman and Baumeister were based off a sample of inmates imprisoned for violent crimes.
It has been found that a narcissist will take more resources for themselves, leaving less for others, when faced with common resources (Campbell, 1999), this style of behaviour is applicable in the organisational context in order to illustrate the ways by which narcissism has an effect not only on the individual, but on interpersonal relationships and society at large when the narcissist is in a position of power.
Narcissistic personalities are regularly found in leadership positions within organisations (Campbell et al, 2011). Kets de Vries and Miller (1984) suggest that this is due to narcissistic personalities holding a need for power, prestige and glamour while using their ability to manipulate others, and using their capacity to establish superficial relationships quickly in order to climb the ranks to top management positions within an organisation. On the interpersonal level within the workplace, it has been found that individuals in top management positions that score high on narcissism have also been condemned for their lack of empathy and for being oversensitive to criticism (Campbell et al, 2011), this noted criticism oversensitivity compliments the findings previously mentioned by Baumeister et al (1996) in which it was found that the narcissist is oversensitive to a perceived threat to self esteem. Apart from the effects these behaviours can have on personal relationships, these behaviours provide a state of negativity in the social working environment surrounding such an individual, creating a level of discomfort for the individuals working under the narcissistic manager due to their lack of empathy and oversensitivity to criticism.
Furthermore, when a narcissist holds a leadership position within an organisation, there is a question regarding ethical leadership. In a study by Blair, Hoffman and Helland (2008), narcissism was negatively related to supervisor ratings of leader integrity. This negative correlation between narcissism and leader integrity could be due to the narcissism clouding the individual’s judgment in relation to achieving ethical goals so that instead of the narcissistic leader working for the good of the organisation, the focus is on working for their own personal benefits (Hornett & Fredricks, 2005). The narcissist’s tendency to exploit others in order to achieve personal gains and focus on self-enhancement rather than enhancement of the organisation indicate the problems associated with narcissistic personalities being in a position of power, both within an organisation, or applying these findings to individuals in positions of power outside the professional realm. These behaviours can have dire consequences for working relationships, friendships, group cohesiveness and the success of an organisation or society as a whole (Campbell et al, 2011).
The repercussions of an increasingly narcissistic culture on society are extensive. With narcissistic personality traits increasing from one generation to the next (Twenge and Foster, 2010), the increase in a focus on the self, personal failure caused by an inability to learn from mistakes, and the destruction of resources such as money that is needed for long term success (Campbell et al, 2005), this does not paint a promising picture for the youth of society that will come of age in a culture that is essentially set up for failure through their own personality traits. When a rise in narcissism in each individual is collated to form the collective of society, Campbell’s (1999) finding that the narcissist will take more resources for themselves, leaving less for others, when faced with common resources is concerning when put in the context of preserving the earth’s energy and the current combat against global warming. In order to fight the increase in narcissism with each generation, it is essential to find a happy medium in school education programs between building children’s self-esteem and confidence, and ensuring there is an understanding that although the self is important, it is also important to take into consideration the good of both their country and their fellow members of society. Future research into successful messages to include in a school program that tackle the sensitive balance between the two sides of self-confidence/narcissism and working for the better of the community would assist in tailoring an effective school program. This would combat the rise in narcissistic tendencies right from the start, before entrenched personality traits exist.
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