You have been waiting in line for a coffee and suddenly, you see a man coming aside you by the register telling the barista that his coffee is cold. Would you say this individual is narcissistic? You are driving in what seems to be moving traffic, and you notice in your rearview mirror a fast car approaching in racing speed, cutting in between cars and zig-zagging in a frightening way as if he’s going to cause chain accident. Would you say he is narcissistic? You notice a little boy at the playground who would not give a turn to any other child on the swings, no matter how many are standing there baffled and upset. Would this little boy be considered narcissistic in your eyes?
Most psychologists have said that a healthy sense of self is key to reaching life’s goals. However, overreaching for a level of self-confidence that crosses over into the realm of pathological is a personality flaw. Narcissism is associated with various interpersonal dysfunctions, including the general inability to maintain healthy long-term interpersonal relationships, low levels of commitment to romantic relationships, aggression in response to perceived threats to self-esteem and unethical and/or exploitative behaviors, such as academic dishonesty, white-collar crime and destructive workplace behaviors.
Some researchers, believe this personality trait occurs for both genetic and cultural reasons. Some societies encourage this quality more in men, as narcissism is often equated with masculinity. Narcissism vs. Hubris; two of the most commonly misunderstood and misused terminologies are not what most people believe to be conceptually. As a business coach and psychologist, whether working with executives, business owners or couples, and families, I am often intrigued by how commonplace hubris is. Hubris, the sin of overweening pride or arrogance, may be the most misunderstood but common infliction among all groups of the population regardless of education, socio-economic status etc. As the psychoanalyst Carl Jung observed, “Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface … a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune.”
This is when an executive has luckily or perhaps because of effective human resources strategies has accessed a very talented pool as his cadre of staff members and as a results is able to show growth in the bottom-line year after year but attributes it to his/her effective and visionary business acumen, and product capabilities rather than his people. In an interview he boasts about the wins over the years saying nothing will ever get in his company’s growth. Suddenly however, when the growth is marginalized by a competitor and numbers begin to plummet, his overconfidence turns to mere puff. This is not just narcissism; it’s much more dangerous than that; This is Hubris.
The same applies to the couple where the main caretaker of the children has constantly been shut down by the breadwinner because he/she doesn’t contribute directly to their income and suddenly their child is ill and the same bolstering breadwinner is baffled at how he/she can take care of the sick child.
Remember the famous story of the Tortoise and the Hare? The Hare, in a circumstance where he technically should have outran the tortoise, falls to his defeat, after making his pompous remarks about what a joke this is going to be and that he doesn’t even need to try. The Hare allowed his ego to get the best of him and his behavior and outcomes as a result.
By contrast, narcissism is a disorder, which usually begins to manifest in the teen years is not circumstance related, it is the operative formula and all the person knows. It is the result of a childhood, which is comprised of multiple memories, and episodes of being robbed of one’s sense of self-confidence, dignity and self-efficacy. The child was likely victim to being completely non-existent and nothing he/she ever did was good enough or even noticed. This child after a very angry adolescent life, forms a self-defense mechanism toward self-promotion, lack of empathy toward others and a dictator style of communication with others. To merely stay afloat psychologically, this individual needs to stick with this defense for as long as possible. In fact, they will make every attempt at self-preservation at the cost of turning everyone in to enemies.
Narcissism is certainly not limited to only one gender. However, new research shows that it is much more prevalent in males than in females.
At the University of Buffalo, NY, according to a new large-scale study which resulted from an analysis of 355 previously published studies, examining three decades worth of research involving more than 475,000 study participants, the researchers found that statistically, when taking personality tests, men scored higher on narcissism than women in every age group.
This may not come as a surprise to many because as a society, one of the early sociological norms that our children learn is that to be a lady means to be sociable and considerate of others’ needs and to be a man means being emotionally detached. The norms may not be communicated to our children in that exact way, however, their overall message is exactly that.
In the corporate world, in general we constantly see men as more outspoken in how they interact with others, while women tend to be a little more soft-spoken. In fact, one of the issues facing women who aspire to be tapped for leadership positions is that, others may not necessarily perceive them as outspoken as they should be. Can one be a good leader if they are soft-spoken and considerate? In an article from Fortune magazine that is in fact what one of the readers had asked. The truth is, it is not Narcissism in and of itself that is tied to perceptions of leadership, but as always it is the perception of what those behaviors mean to different people. According to Ann-Marie Slaughter the former advisor to Hillary Clinton, there are certain miro-behaviors or status cues that are interpreted and hence handled differently by males vs. females that lead to assertive vs. passive behaviors. The video interview which was conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, goes to lengths to explain that women can in fact be great and even better leaders if they display their knowledge and charisma with confidence. In our practice specifically, through our Communication Training and our Emotional Intelligence Coaching Strategies, utilizing bio-feedback Dr. Namin is able to precisely measure the point in time at which the individual let’s say the female executive receives a status cue that makes her feel uncomfortable and hence wants to automatically fold or discontinue. Not to say this is not a common phenomenon in communication between males and males, because the dynamic of competition among male counterparts is even a higher culprit to narcissistic behavior. According to Dr. Namin, “some individuals simply gain their voice, because as effective as they are at work and in their everyday lives, in communicating with decision-makers in the workplace their communication needs to more clearly carry that confidence and assertive capability”. These philosophies and findings are consistent with what we know when dealing with narcissism.
What we are talking about here is not even grandiose narcissism, which is an inflated view of yourself as being special and important, but just simple things such as “my time is very short today”, or “you have 5 minutes to tell me why I need this” or even a simple glance across the shoulder by someone when another walks into the room as you are talking to this individual.
In the study published in March of 2015 in the journal of Psychological Bulletin, researchers assessed gender differences in the scoring of Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which looked at three aspects of behavior: leadership/authority, grandiose/exhibitionism and entitlement. They found the widest gender gap in entitlement, which indicated that men are more likely than women to exploit others and feel entitled to certain privileges.
Interestingly, males also scored higher on the leadership/authority scale, meaning they were more likely to exhibit qualities or assertiveness and the desire for power.
One component of the study that probably could be better described was that “Narcissism had a seemingly positive relationship with some indicators of psychological health such as self-esteem and emotional stability and evidence suggests that narcissists tend to emerge as leaders.” We would oppose this theory and say that in our experience, a majority of Narcissistic individuals whether male or female have a tendency to be very self righteous which could result in high emotional volatility and even destructive behaviors. In our practice in working with hundreds of executives, the narcissistic types were never self-referred for coaching because their impressions of themselves are very clouded by their egocentistic views. Furthermore, they are the least prone to change and that is for the same exact reason as well. Even when 360 assessments and unanimous interviews reveal a sense of entitlement, bullying or harsh treatment, which could potentially undermined their effectiveness as a leader, they still are stunned.
So the question is what kind of leaders do they emerge as? In a most recent study in the Netherlands it was found that as a culture apparently we are not the only people douped by narcissistic leaders. While narcissists may look like good leaders, according to this study by B. Navicka the University of Amsterdam , they’re actually really bad at leading. As published in the Journal of Psychological Science, “because narcissistic individuals are particularly skilled at radiating an image of a prototypically effective leader, they tend to emerge as leaders in group settings. But despite people’s positive perceptions of narcissists, when it comes to performance, narcissists actually inhibit information exchange between group members and thereby negatively affect group performance.” Whether in corporate settings, or in the legislative process, or just at home, no one wants to feel that their uniqueness or ideas don’t matter. You can dictate and force people to follow you, which they will but only temporarily, or you can influence them and you will transform them forever and they will you. This was a topic of one of the recent Speaking Engagements that Dr. Namin presented regarding Leadership and Emotional Intelligence, which stirred a lot of ‘emotions’ pun intended.
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