Humpty-Dumpty Dignity: How Narcissists Keep Their Delicate Outer Shell Intact

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A new study by PsychTests delves into the minds of narcissists – how they think, how they behave, and how far they’ll go to boost their fragile ego.

As confident as they appear, most narcissists tend to have very low and very fragile self-esteem.

They may look confident to the point of arrogance, but narcissists don’t really have the self-esteem to match it.

A person who has high, solid self-esteem doesn’t need to jump through hoops to maintain this façade or to appear perfect.

Many people are their own worst critic – even enemy. They sabotage themselves and their chances for success through self-doubt, indecision, and fear, and build shrines to their personal insecurities. Narcissists, however, are a different sort. While they almost certainly suffer from low self-esteem, they refuse to acknowledge it. Instead, they go out of their way to keep themselves and their self-image from falling apart, like gluing together a vase that has been broken so many times, the cracks are visible.

Analyzing data from 14,000 people who took their Self-Esteem Test, researchers at PsychTests focused their attention on a group of 403 people characterized by distinct traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Not only were they more likely to struggle with severe self-esteem issues, they also had a tendency to actively, even desperately, do anything they could to keep up their self-assured façade. Here’s how they compared to people who are not narcissists in PsychTests’ study:

In general:

  •     Non-narcissists had higher self-esteem scores than narcissists (64 vs. 45, on a scale from 0 to 100).
  •     Non-narcissists had a stronger sense of self-worth than narcissists (65 vs. 49).
  •     Non-narcissists felt more accepted and loved than narcissists (65 vs. 45).
  •     Narcissists were more likely to experience a chronic sense of inadequacy (57 vs. 37).
  •     Narcissists had a stronger need for approval (59 vs. 40).
  •     Narcissists had a propensity to set unrealistic expectations for themselves (55 vs. 34).
  •     Narcissists tended to be more defensive when given negative feedback (61 vs. 32).

So with their self-esteem already quite fragile, how is it that narcissists can appear so confident? According to researchers at PsychTests, they go to great lengths to boost their ego. For example:

  •     73% of narcissists point out other people’s mistakes, no matter how minor (compared to 7% of non-narcissists).
  •     84% of narcissists hold strongly to the belief that they are superior to most people (compared to 3% of non-narcissists).
  •     84% of narcissists prefer to associate with people who are successful and/or popular (compared to 7% of non-narcissists).
  •     70% of narcissists form friendships exclusively with people who benefit their social status (compared to 1% of non-narcissists).
  •     69% of narcissists will cast aside anyone who doesn’t live up to what they want and expect them to be (compared to 5% of non-narcissists).
  •     60% of narcissists constantly seek out reassurance that they are still loved (compared to 16% of non-narcissists).
  •     57% of narcissists avoid conflict because they don’t want to be disliked (compared to 15% of non-narcissists).
  •     62% of narcissists will change their appearance, personality, and opinions in order to be accepted (compared to 18% of non-narcissists).
  •     80% of narcissists determinedly and purposefully seek out the spotlight so that they can be the center of attention (compared to 1% of non-narcissists).
  •     77% of narcissists bring up their accomplishments in conversations (compared to 6% of non-narcissists).
  •     56% of narcissists only acknowledge and listen to positive appraisals and ignore negative criticism (compared to 6% of non-narcissists).
  •     Similarly, 62% of narcissists respond to negative criticism by ignoring it (compared to 9% of non-narcissists), pointing out their good qualities (55% vs. 6% of non-narcissists), or assuming that the people criticizing them are simply jealous (72% vs. 9% of non-narcissists).
  •     62% of narcissists will not take on a task, project, or goal if there is any chance that they will fail to accomplish it successfully (compared to 15% of non-narcissists).
  •     Along the same lines, 55% of narcissists ignore their failures and focus only on their successes (compared to 7% of non-narcissists).
  •     67% of narcissists refuse to acknowledge or admit when they are wrong (compared to 16% of non-narcissists).

“With the amount of energy that goes into self-promotion, defending their dignity, clawing up the social ranks, chasing the spotlight, and saving face, being a narcissist is likely to be a tiring and draining endeavor, emotionally and psychologically – it’s like wearing a mask all the time,” explains Dr. Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “A person who has high, solid self-esteem doesn’t need to pretend to be someone they’re not. They don’t need to jump through hoops to maintain this façade or to appear perfect. They recognize that they have flaws. They accept that they will make mistakes, fail, and even humiliate themselves sometimes. Yet, in spite of it all, they still love themselves. Most importantly, they don’t need to bring others down or rub elbows with the ‘elite’ in order to feel good about themselves. Their self-love comes from within. They can look at themselves in the mirror and say ‘I love and appreciate myself, flaws and all’. Some narcissists may be able to do this, but it will feel hollow. They know that deep down, they don’t really believe it, and reject or punish anyone who might see through their mask,” concludes Dr. Jerabek.

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About PsychTests AIM Inc.
PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a pre-eminent provider of psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. PsychTests AIM Inc. staff is comprised of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers, and artificial intelligence experts (see The company’s research division, Plumeus Inc., is supported in part by Research and Development Tax Credit awarded by Industry Canada.

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Ilona Jerabek
PsychTests AIM Inc.
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