Narcissists Are Not Handling The Pandemic Very Well, Research Suggests

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
Image of a woman holding mirror to her face, showing signs of a somatic narcissist.

Most people have gone through a rough time amid this pandemic. But narcissists may be experiencing a unique type of misery during this time, according to a recent study published in the Personal and Individual Differences journal.

Researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 402 Americans about their emotional and behavioral responses to the pandemic, in addition to their levels of the four so-called dark personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism.

How dark personalities face dark times.

People high in narcissistic traits—which include feelings of superiority, entitlement, and need for attention—have been dealing with a lot more negative emotions during the pandemic, according to the study's findings. Additionally, the more narcissistic someone was, the more instability they felt as a result of COVID, and the more likely they were to agree with statements like "I have lost control of my life." 

People high in Machiavellianism—marked by a willingness to manipulate people for one's own benefit—experienced many of these same emotional struggles, the study found. 

"Machiavellians attain their goals by manipulating a predictable social system. Similarly, narcissists maintain their grandiose self-concept by seeking affirmation from others in social settings," the researchers write in the paper on their findings. "Therefore, individuals who are higher in Machiavellianism and narcissism may perceive the pandemic as a threat to the social stability that they rely on to exploit others and support their sense of superiority."

But this wasn't the case for people with psychopathic or sadistic tendencies. People with psychopathic tendencies simply had fewer positive emotions, whereas sadists actually had more positive emotions.

Psychopathy and sadism are both characterized by their antisocial behavior, the researchers note, so it's possible these folks cared less about social instability than people like narcissists who actually thrive on contact with others.

"Social instability may be threatening to narcissists because they rely on social feedback to support their grandiose self-concept," the researchers explain.

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Searching for validation in a socially distanced world.  

None of the dark personality traits were particularly related to adherence to COVID-19 precautions, the study found. Most people in the study were social distancing and washing their hands more than usual, and being a narcissist or another dark personality type was not correlated with the likeliness of hoarding food or supplies. 

"These results may support the notion that the pandemic is a 'strong situation' in which situational cues overpower the role of personality in predicting variability in behavior," the researchers explain. 

One thing that did set narcissists apart? Pro-social behavior. 

Yes, people high in narcissism were actually more likely to do things to try to help people affected by COVID-19, such as blood donation, making masks, or donating to food banks. The researchers suspect this behavior "may reflect a tendency to opportunistically engage in selfless acts to garner approval from others." 

In other words, one way narcissists may be getting their need for approval satisfied during this pandemic is by doing nice things for people who are suffering—not because they care about those people but because they simply want to be praised. 

Takeaways.

Narcissists are suffering through this pandemic just like the rest of us, but for them, this turbulent period of time is particularly threatening because of how it has removed their ability to get the validation they so desperately crave from others.

Importantly, the people in this study were not people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder but simply people who have some amount of narcissistic traits, which are actually fairly common for most people to have to some degree. If you're someone who's dealt with a loss of control during this time, narcissist or not, learning how to navigate uncertainty is as important as ever.

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