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- Narcissism in small doses can make you a healthier, more successful person.
- Scientists have studied the myriad benefits of being mildly narcissistic.
- Those benefits include greater life satisfaction, stronger relationships, and less social anxiety.
In his 2015 book, “Rethinking Narcissism,” Harvard Medical School psychologist Craig Malkin adds some nuance to the conversation around narcissism. News flash: It’s not all bad.
Malkin introduces the concept of “healthy narcissism,” which means that you display some narcissistic qualities – but they contribute to, rather than detract from, your success in life.
He also suggests that narcissism isn’t a fixed trait – you can display more or less of it at certain points in your life.
As it turns out, there’s a growing body of research on the relative benefits of narcissism (though not all scientists use the term “healthy narcissism”). We checked out some of that research and highlighted the most compelling insights on how narcissism can change your life for the better.
Narcissistic people can sometimes be psychologically healthier than other people
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Five studies, published in 2004 in the journal Personality Processes and Individual Differences, looked at some benefits of narcissism. Hundreds of people participated.
Results showed that narcissists tended to be less depressed, lonely, anxious, and neurotic, and reported greater well-being than people who scored low on narcissism.
The study authors write:
“[H]igh narcissists may be socially callous, but that is no reason for them not to be psychologically healthy. To use a far-fetched metaphor, the mind of a narcissist is like a sports utility vehicle. It is great to be in the driving seat, but fellow motorists must watch out, lest a collision with this mobile fortress demolish their more humble hatchbacks.”
Being moderately narcissistic seems to protect against social anxiety
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A 2010 study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, found that female college students who scored moderately high on a measure of narcissism were less worried about the way their bodies looked during exercise.
Narcissistic adolescents and young adults tend to be more satisfied with life than their peers
For the study, 368 college students and 439 of their family members filled out surveys on narcissism, life satisfaction, and personality traits. “[O]ur findings suggest that the link between narcissism and life satisfaction is greater for adolescents and young adults than for adults,” the authors write.
Specifically, participants who were younger than 26 who displayed certain types of narcissism reported higher life satisfaction and well-being; mothers of students who displayed the same traits did not.
That said, the study also found narcissists of all ages were generally perceived more negatively by others.
Narcissists tend to make great first impressions
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But those positive impressions deteriorate quickly.
Two studies published 1998, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that narcissistic college students were at first perceived as agreeable and well-adjusted by their peers.
Interestingly, after a few weeks, those perceptions become more negative: Narcissists were perceived as less agreeable and well-adjusted, and more hostile and arrogant, than other students.
Being slightly narcissistic is linked to having strong relationships
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In “Rethinking Narcissism,” Malkin gives a definition of healthy narcissism: being able to move “seamlessly between self-absorption and caring attentiveness.”
Malkin and a colleague developed the Narcissistic Spectrum Scale, on which two key indicators of healthy narcissism are responding “no” to the statements, “I like to dream big, but not at the expense of my relationships and “I can rein myself in when people tell me I’m getting a big head.”
If you do score high on healthy narcissism, Malkin writes, you’re likely to have an easy time giving and receiving emotional support, and to enjoy closeness and emotional intimacy.