Are narcissists as attractive as they believe?

Paris Hilton mirror moment

Not surprisingly, people who enjoy gazing in the mirror rather too much like to think that they are very good looking. But could they be right? Some new research now suggests that others would probably agree with them — narcissists really do seem more attractive than average.

Narcissism

Narcissism is a personality trait characterised by excessive self-love — a state in which a person loves himself so obsessively that there is little room for anyone else to share the love (as in the myth of Narcissus, below).

Narcissus

That, at least, is what it looks like on the surface.

Psychologists, however, have described narcissism as a pattern of being addicted to self-esteem. [1]

It is not simply vanity but a need to believe in oneself as special in some way — and to have that belief constantly reinforced. Other people’s reactions are a constant source of feedback in life. A narcissist sets out to manipulate others’ perceptions of herself in order to get the right feedback that will keep her own self-esteem high.

Verbally, for example, a narcissist will tend to overestimate or exaggerate her better qualities. And physically, a narcissist will tend to highlight the attractiveness of her physical appearance.

But do narcissists simply overestimate their physical attractiveness?

Narcissism and attractiveness

Psychologists Nicholas Holtzman and Michael Strube, based at Washington University in Saint Louis, have undertaken a review of various studies of narcissism conducted over the last 15 years. [2]

The researchers took a group of test subjects and first of all measured their degree of narcissism. This assessment is based on individual qualities like vanity and a sense of superiority. Next, the researchers got another group of people to assess the test subjects’ level of attractiveness. Finally, they compared the two to look for any patterns.

Their analysis revealed a “small yet reliable correlation” between narcissism and perceived attractiveness.

This suggests that the inflated self-esteem of narcissists is not entirely unfounded, at least on the level of surface appearance. It doesn’t mean that all narcissists are beautiful people, or that all beautiful people are narcissistic. It simply means that narcissism does tend to be associated with better-than-average attractiveness.

Chicken and egg situation?

So Holtzman and Strube go on to ask the pertinent question: Are narcissists deemed attractive because they are naturally good-looking? Or is it because, being narcissists, they put a lot of effort into grooming and beautifying themselves? Or could it be a combination of these?

The researchers don’t have an answer at this point, but hope to in about a year.

I’m putting all my money on the last option — it’s a combination — simply because the entire history of psychology research can be summarised as follows:

Q. Is this human behaviour caused by factor A or by factor B?

A. [After 30 years of heated debate and intensive research] It’s caused by both.

So in the case of narcissism and attractiveness, I would expect that (a) natural attractiveness would lead a budding narcissist to become fixated on her physical appearance, and (b) this fixation, once in place, would lead to a habit of constant self-checking and self-grooming.

Of course, not everyone who is born physically attractive becomes vain and narcissistic. It is most likely to happen to someone who is raised in a competitive situation in which the feedback of others is all-important.

In such an environment, her day-to-day experience would be one of “winning” (getting lots of attention, receiving praise or admiration) versus “losing” (receiving scorn or criticism, or simply being ignored). She would soon learn that being seen to have a weakness or imperfection is unacceptable, whereas being perceived as attractive is a winning factor.

Needing to stand out as special in the eyes of others, she would become fixated on exploiting her natural attractiveness to her best advantage. The more she then emphasised her attractiveness, the more she would be noticed and admired, or at least not looked down upon. But she would also become locked into a feedback cycle, dependent upon her regular self-esteem “fix”.

Narcissism and arrogance

This would appear to be consistent with the development of the chief feature of arrogance in a young soul, perhaps in combination with a goal of dominance or acceptance, as these are described in the Michael teachings. In other words, a perceived need to compete distorted into a need to feel special in the eyes of others (arrogance).

Vanity, in this framework, is the negative pole of arrogance (the positive pole being pride). Arrogance in turn derives from a childish fear of showing vulnerability.

The “normal” arrogant person exaggerates positive qualities to divert attention from vulnerabilities. The narcissist has gone a step further: she actually believes in her enhanced self-image, at least superficially. And if she happens to be physically attractive, then that merely serves to “justify” her self-esteem.

Notes

  1. Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Narcissism as addiction to esteem. Psychological Inquiry, 12, 206-210.
  2. Holtzman, N. S. & Strube, M. J. (in press) Narcissism and Attractiveness. To be published in the Journal of Research in Personality. See Abstract.

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5 thoughts on “Are narcissists as attractive as they believe?

  1. Physical appearance is just one small element of narcissism. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) can be loosely summed up by an inability to perceive anything other than your own identity. Other people exist, but not as separate people in the same way that a more healthy perception would perceive it. So consequently, they don’t matter as much, boundaries aren’t observed, and their emotions are only secondary.

    I’d say it has much to do with stopping some level of perceptual growth as an infant because it really has something to do with the “Me and Other Me” or flipping out to “Me and Not Me” perception that we associate with manifesting infant or baby perceptions. I think there’s some correspondence with Arrogance, but wouldn’t oversimplify in that way.

    PS. What did you think of Karen’s recent channeling on Arrogance?

    • Thanks Matthew. I believe the research in question is addressing ordinary narcissism as a character trait (synonymous with vanity, egotism), not clinical narcissistic personality disorder. I totally agree that NPD is a lot more than just vanity. I also recognise that with NPD there’s a very early developmental arrest – the [m]other is not well perceptually differentiated, but subsumed under the self. Do you see pathological narcissism being more a factor of Infant/Baby soul age then?

      barry

      PS – Haven’t read it yet. I’ll take a look.

  2. Hi Barry! I just wanted to know what sort of karmic debt do narcissists have in your opinion.. why do they never seem to learn from mistakes and treat people so badly… because they have an actual disorder, does this justify any karmic debt they may incur in this life?
    Also what if your soulmate is a narcissist and keeps using/abusing and abandoning you.. but then coming back to do it again, and cheating, and putting others before you, and so on..
    I hope you are feeling better 🙂

  3. Hi Barry! I just wanted to know what sort of karmic debt do narcissists have in your opinion.. why do they never seem to learn from mistakes and treat people so badly… because they have an actual disorder, does this justify any karmic debt they may incur in this life?
    Also what if your soulmate is a narcissist and keeps using/abusing and abandoning you.. but then coming back to do it again, and cheating, and putting others before you, and so on..
    I hope you are feeling better 🙂

    • Hi Sara

      Feeling better – yes, many thanks!, though I now have a cold (sniff).

      My thoughts on narcissists – Well, a narcissist is by definition someone who exploits others for their own self-aggrandising ends, and is incapable of seeing anything wrong with that. So if a narcissist finds someone who is easy or convenient to keep using/abusing, soul-mate or not, then they will obviously keep coming back to do it.

      I suspect the typical “high functioning narcissist” is a young soul, while the more pathological type is an infant or baby soul. Either way, I imagine their personality overleaves probably combine mode of power (“everything I say is right”), chief feature of arrogance (“I must be seen as special”) and either goal of dominance (hence exploitative) or possibly goal of rejection (hence turning others off so easily); an attitude of idealism might also contribute to the idealisation of the self.

      I can imagine several reasons why a soul would go through life with narcissistic traits:
      – By entering into this narcissistic personality and lifestyle, the soul (post death) will learn from the experience of exploiting and rejecting others.
      – Having lacked self-love in previous lives, a soul might choose to focus on it above all else in this life.
      – A soul might explore the difference between egotism vs altruism (this life being about egotism, and maybe the next one being about altruism).

      If they appear to never learn from their mistakes, I guess this is because they do not perceive “mistakes” as others do. It’s a matter of different goals and different levels of consciousness. For example, a mature soul who values equality and integrity in relationships will be horrified by a narcissist’s self-obsessed, exploitative traits. The narcissist’s values are more primitive. Similarly, someone with a goal of acceptance will see the narcissist’s behaviour as baffling – “Can’t he see that by acting like that he’s turning people away?” From the narcissist’s perspective, however, it’s probably more a case of getting what he can out of others for as long as they are around, and then simply replacing them once they leave.

      So not many people probably will stick around long enough to try to teach the narcissist what they are doing “wrong”. But I suspect the narcissist wouldn’t get what is “wrong” with their behaviour anyway. Not until their after-death review at least. And from a higher perspective, there is nothing “wrong” with narcissism – it’s a valid way of being for consciousness at a certain level. It’s just that in a family or neighbourhood or society in which most consciousness is further on, that kind of behaviour stands out as pathological and intolerable.

      You ask, does their condition justify such karmic debts? In a sense, all our karmic debts are justified because of the limited level of consciousness we are at when we commit them. And if a soul incurs any karma through narcissistic actions in one life, then they will no doubt have the “opportunity” to experience the receiving end in a subsequent life.

      Food for thought! Thanks Sara.

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