How narcissists can be so ridiculously disarming.
Most people—even the most narcissistic—claim that being around a narcissist brings little joy.
We are annoyed by their preening, their conceit, their false assumptions about their level of personal or business achievement, and let’s not forget their need to be the center of attention. It can grow to become draining and unsatisfying to spend time with people who are much more interested in themselves than participating in authentic engagement and mutuality in a relationship.
What are the Most Irritating Traits of a Narcissist?
When you think about it, some things immediately come to mind. Four of them are:
- Unrealistically high levels of self-perception and self-assessment
- Obsession with themselves above all others
- Expectations of others shaped by unsupported feelings of entitlement
- Disregard for others’ needs, interests, and preferences
What Draws Us to Narcissists?
Despite narcissists being hopeless candidates with regard to maintaining long-term friendships, there are studies that clearly show that narcissists have the power to draw people into their magical circles of one-sided relationships. How do they succeed? Have you ever wondered?
Basically, narcissists insist on being the life of the party. Of course it usually feels good to be around that kind of person, at least for a while. It is also pretty cool to know that our own admiration and attention are valued by a narcissist. They make us feel good for helping them feel good. At the start of a relationship, it’s a win-win situation.
The Importance of Looking Good to the Narcissist
Data released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons indicate that there has been a modest 115% increase in the number of “cosmetic procedures” since 2000. Today, the most popular surgeries still include facelifts, while breast lifts, butt-lifts, lower-body lifts, and upper-arm lifts have increased exponentially. Breast augmentation, liposuction, and tummy tucks are also right up there in popularity. Even men are increasingly undergoing surgery to enhance their physical appeal to others and themselves. Males made up 8% of cosmetic procedures in 2015; who knows about 2017!
In most bird and many non-avian species, it is the male, not the female that carries the most vivid colors or physique. The human narcissist, in the same fashion, works terribly hard to stand out and dedicates a great deal of time to enhance their attractiveness to others. Research indicates that most of us are attracted to the handsome and the beautiful, so it’s only natural that we are drawn to narcissists from the very outset. Additionally, because narcissists care deeply about for admiration, they can usually find ways to make us feel good about being around them, at least in the beginning. It’s only as a relationship timeline develops that the pretense of mutual caring evaporates.
Both Confident and Charismatic
One of the short term, desirable qualities that narcissists typically have down pat is extroversion and something called “social boldness.” These qualities are driven by the need to be admired and valued. What narcissists are able to do is create a cloud of charisma around themselves. They lure us into their influence where most of us find satisfaction in being around people who show confidence in themselves, whether they be friend or romantic partner. Although friendships with narcissists rarely make it very far, romantic relationships can be often be maintained as far as the wedding altar—or the U-Haul—and beyond. But the day does come when the veil accidentally slips and the narcissist’s egocentric self-interest overwhelms any superficial attempts at joint and mutual concern or relating. How many of you have had that experience?
When Do We Learn?
If you do a “search” for narcissism in academic databases or just Google it as I did, you’ll be amazed at how many hits you get. Psychologists, coaches, and the rest of us all want to better understand this behavior, as if we believe that understanding it will undo it or inoculate us from being hoodwinked by our friend the narcissist. Both are pretty unlikely.
Unfortunately for us, research suggests that the level and incidence of narcissism is on the rise in Western countries today. It’s way too easy to fascinate oneself with the creation of an “altered ego,” ”a constructed fiction,” through the mishmash of social platforms available to us. A couple of decades ago, we were creating “profiles” for personal ads in hard copy, video, and online. People usually tried to project the image of the perfect partner for an unidentified romantic partner. We hoped that Mr. or Ms. Perfect would be attracted to a glamour shot and carefully crafted personal statement. Today, people create profiles in social media realities and through moment-by-moment updates of their dreary lives that are made all the more engaging and exciting by the virtual blow-by-blow sharing through the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter feeds.
It’s amazing how pleased a person can feel by seeing an image of themselves broadcast across an anonymous screen! Pitiful, but true. The original narcissist, Narcissus, only had a pond available to reflect his image Today, we have smartphone screens, monitors, and huge home theater projection screens to satisfy our self-love needs. It’s no wonder that the developmentally fitting adolescent preoccupation with appearance can so easily morph into full-blown narcissism in early adulthood. It’s all they know. On top of that, neuroscience research indicates that feelings of marginalization create an overstated feeling of social pain for individuals with high levels of narcissistic traits. Adolescents are especially sensitive to conformity and acceptance. So by focusing on the “self” as a love object, the risk of exclusion is almost completely removed.
A news article I read noted that today’s teenagers are changing their ways from years past when I was younger. They are drinking less, using drugs less, and having less sex. One headline about the article stated, “Teens Having Much Less Sex: Tech Could be to Blame.” In terms of sexual engagement, there may be more sexting going on, more use of online pornography, and more time alone for potentially more…ummm, self-gratification, but the rest are greatly reduced. Combined with the rise in narcissism, it makes some kind of sense that teens and young adults are spending more time online and on their own. If you are at the center of your own magical universe and the object of your most passionate affection, expectations regarding affinity and shared engagement just get in the way of the intimate self-courtship.
Narcissism for the Greater Good?
If the base level of narcissism is increasing over time, it is likely that its appeal will only grow, even though we all recognize the long-term outcome for any kind of satisfying long-term relationship with a narcissist will be poor at best, and shitty more than likely.
One way that comes to mind of trying to capitalize on the narcissistic culture is to play on the good feelings and esteem that making “green choices” or socially responsible decisions might generate. Perhaps if the pendulum should swing and make lasting relationships—not the number of hook-ups—a point of pride and high esteem, individuals with narcissistic traits might re-prioritize their relational behaviors. Hey, it’s worth some thought; stranger things have happened.
But until the time comes that those types of cultural shifts make the mainstream, let the buyer beware. Not every pretty shiny thing is worth the effort to keep—or keep polished—especially when there is little to no actual return on your investment of time, energy, and emotional resources. Admire the narcissist’s confidence and beauty from afar; it really is safer that way, and don’t get caught up in the mystical dark side of their outward appeal. It can crush you.
In a culture of narcissists, remember that an “altered ego” rarely offers long-term stability or mutuality in the way that a healthy long-term relationship requires.
So, what do you think? Do you have a narcissist in your life?
If you have one in your life, give me a call so we can talk about it… schedule a time for a free call and tell me about it.
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Cascio, C. N., Konrath, S. H., & Falk, E. B. (2015). Narcissists’ social pain seen only in the brain. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
Dufner, M., Rauthmann, J. F., Czarna, A. Z., & Denissen, J. J. A. (2013). Are narcissists sexy? Zeroing in on the effect of narcissism on short-term mate appeal. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Naderi, I., & Strutton, D. (2015). I support sustainability but only when doing so reflects fabulously on me: Can green narcissists be cultivated? Journal of Macromarketing.
“Teens Having Much Less Sex; Tech Could Be To Blame.” KCBS Local News. June 9, 2016.