YANSS 206 – How new research reveals narcissism isn’t excessive self-love but excessive self-loathing

In this episode we explore what narcissism is and what is most-definitely is not.

According to new research, there is a form of narcissism which has been, up until now, confused with psychopathy. But a new paper, the result of years of experiments, suggests narcissists are not psychopaths, and psychopaths are not narcissists.

In the psychological literature, narcissism comes in two varieties. Grandiose narcissists tend to really love themselves and heavily manipulate their social environment for personal gain. Vulnerable narcissists don’t love themselves, not their true selves. Vulnerable narcissists love their image, and they are highly aware of the fact that it is an image and work very hard to prevent anyone else realizing that. According to the research explored in this episode, there is no such thing as a grandiose narcissist -– that’s just another way to describe a psychopath.

All narcissism is what we traditionally classify as vulnerable narcissism, and though it took until 2021 to quantify this, to provide evidence, this is something that was predicted and explored in depth for years by a television show called Mad Men, whose main character is, easily, the greatest portrayal in fiction, ever, according this research, of what true narcissism really looks like, and we will explore that in this episode as well.

In fact, narcissism may even need to be renamed, because it isn’t excessive self-love, it’s excessive self-loathing. Narcissists like Don Draper in Mad Men cope with their insecurity by donning a mask, and then spend most of their lives protecting that mask out of a fear of what will happen if people ever see what it hides.

Mary Kowalchyk

Mary Kowalchyk is a Clinical Research Coordinator in the Department of Psychiatry at ISMMS. Her research interests include prodromal psychosis, self-image and world view in psychosis populations, and innovative treatment modalities. Twitter: @marykowalchyk

Pascal Wallisch
Pascal Wallisch

“How do people construct the subjective reality they inhabit?” That’s the question at the center of the work of Pascal Wallisch, who studies how human beings differ in the their interpretations of the objective truth. He is a Clinical Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology at New York University. Twitter: @pascallisch

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Previous Episodes

Narcissism through the lens of performative self-elevation