During a global pandemic, many essential workers have been hailed as heroes.
Some are uncomfortable with the title, but there’s a certain group who especially love being viewed in this way. Narcissists.
In a study from Ohio State University, researchers found that essential workers who scored higher on a narcissism measure shared more than others did about their work. They also found that in sharing about their job on social media, or in person, their narcissistic feelings increased.
“There’s a difference between appreciation and admiration. Fueling admiration fosters narcissism, which alters ones sense of self-importance and how they relate to others. Narcissistic people might feel good about themselves, but they are poor at interpersonal relationships - both from the standpoint of their personal lives as well as their work lives,” Amy Brunell, co-author of the study and an associated professor of Psychology at Ohio State University told Theravive.
“Narcissism comes in different forms. First there’s agentic grandiose narcissism and communal grandiose narcissism. What distinguishes the two is that agentic narcissists pride themselves on agentic domains such as assertiveness, power, intelligence whereas communal narcissists pride themselves on their prosociality and communion. There’s also vulnerable narcissists who experience lower self-esteem, anxiety, and desire of approval from others. They are narcissists because they also feel uniquely important and deserving of more than they think they get,” she said.
Together with co-author Stephanie Freis, an assistant professor of psychology at Presbyterian College, the two undertook two identical online studies, one globally, and one focused just on the United States. The 312 participants were people who reported being essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. This included jobs like grocery or convenience store workers.
The participants reported how often they shared with others about their job and also completed measures of narcissism.
The researchers found that those who scored higher on two specific types of grandiose narcissism, communal and agentic, were more likely to share about their work with others either on social media or in other contexts.
Communal narcissists believe they are better at being helpful than other people and were more inclined to agree with statements suggesting they would be known for their good deeds.
Agentic narcissists are the form of narcissists people commonly imagine when they think of narcissism. They were more inclined to strongly agree with statements that said they would show off if given the chance.
“Traditional narcissists (i.e., those who feel confident in their self-importance) were more likely to brag about their work to others and this attention gave them a boost to their self-importance, making them feel unique or like a hero. But individuals who we call 'vulnerable narcissists' (i.e., narcissists who feel insecure at the same time) may have felt more pressure from the attention so didn't brag as much. That said, vulnerable narcissists could still experience a boost if the attention they did receive felt highly validating,” Freis told Theravive.
Vulnerable narcissists often don’t feel good about themselves overall, but are still self-absorbed and often are of the belief they don’t get the attention they deserve. They were more likely to agree with statements that suggests they had enough on their own hands without having to worry about the troubles of others.
The word “hero”, the researchers say, can be a trigger for narcissists, especially during the current global pandemic.
“Feeling like a hero can occur in many contexts across a narcissist's life but the unique circumstance we're in now - which brings national attention to essential workers in a pandemic - offers narcissists an easy answer to boosting their self-importance. They have a ready-made scenario that they can manipulate for their own self-gain. This can benefit communal and agentic grandiose narcissists greatly and even have positive outcomes for vulnerable narcissists. Therefore, the average person might start noticing the increasing narcissism levels in the people around them,” Freis said.
The researchers say that narcissists may be using the COVID-19 pandemic to benefit themselves.
“Narcissists thrive on attention and admiration. They want to feel special and important. It seems that working during the pandemic provided a means to garner all of these, especially when it is brought to other people’s attention over social media,” Brunell said.
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.