While being narcissistic is not considered a good trait in someone, it can help them adapt to mental health challenges.
Over-confidence, a lack of empathy and having little shame or guilt are all typical characteristics of someone described as narcissistic. While these traits do little to make a person seem pleasant to be around, researchers have found those who fall in this bracket might be able to cope better with stress and depression.
In two papers published to the journals Personality and Individual Differences and European Psychiatry, researchers from Queen’s University Belfast revealed the results of three independent studies involving more than 700 subjects.
Dr Kostas Papageorgiou, who led both studies, said that narcissism falls into the ‘dark tetrad’ of personality that also includes Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism. Furthermore, two subsets of narcissists – the grandiose and vulnerable – also experience different traits.
‘Dark traits such as narcissism should not be seen as either good or bad, but as products of evolution and expressions of human nature that may be beneficial or harmful depending on the context’
– DR KOSTAS PAPAGEORGIOU
Vulnerable narcissists are likely to be more defensive and view the behaviour of others as hostile, Papageorgiou said, whereas grandiose narcissists usually have an over-inflated sense of importance and a preoccupation with status and power.
“However, what this research has questioned is: if narcissism, as an example of the dark tetrad, is indeed so socially toxic, why does it persist and why is it on the rise in modern societies?” Papageorgiou said.
Not all good
A key finding of the research was that grandiose narcissism was found to offset symptoms of depression and lower levels of stress, meaning these people were less likely to view their life as stressful. There was also a correlation found between grandiose narcissism and being confident and goal-oriented.
However, Papageorgiou noted that being narcissistic isn’t so great overall. “While of course not all dimensions of narcissism are good, certain aspects can lead to positive outcomes,” he said.
“This work promotes diversity and inclusiveness of people and ideas by advocating that dark traits, such as narcissism, should not be seen as either good or bad, but as products of evolution and expressions of human nature that may be beneficial or harmful depending on the context.”
He added that the findings could help reduce marginalisation among those who are found to fall into the dark tetrad.
“It could also facilitate the development of research-informed suggestions on how best to cultivate some manifestations of these traits, while discouraging others, for the collective good,” Papageorgiou added.