Narcissism, envy and stress: the eternal golden braid*

Narcissists who are entitled and exploitative (as opposed to those who are merely grandiose) have relatively high levels of stress chemicals in their saliva, according to one study. According to another study, the  “vulnerable” (or “covert”) narcissists, as opposed to openly “grandiose,” are prone to dispositional envy and schadenfreude.

Our interpretation: Watch out for Salieri.

Reinhard DA, Konrath SH, Lopez WD, Cameron HG. Expensive egos: narcissistic males have higher cortisol. PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e30858. Epub 2012 Jan 23. PubMed PMID: 22292062; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3264640. (Free)

Krizan Z, Johar O. Envy Divides the Two Faces of Narcissism. J Pers. 2012 Jan 6. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2011.00767.x. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 22225413. (Paywall)

The taxonomic category “Narcissism” seems a bit superfluous to us: grandiose, exploitative, attention-seeking, lacking empathy – isn’t this all a phenotype relating to biological components of brain anatomy and perhaps genetic predisposition?

Perhaps narcissist sub-species taxonomy is due. From Zeigler-Hill V, Clark CB, Pickard JD., “Narcissistic subtypes and contingent self-esteem: do all narcissists base their self-esteem on the same domains?” Journal of Personality 76: 753-74 (July 2008): Epub 2008 May 12. PubMed PMID: 18482357 (Paywall), at page 756:

. . . Part of the confusion concerning the link between narcissism and contingent self-esteem may be due to narcissists actually being a heterogeneous group composed of two subtypes: grandiose narcissists and vulnerable narcissists. The possibility of narcissistic sub-types has been repeatedly suggested in the narcissism literature for decades [citations omitted].  Grandiose narcissism is characterized by arrogance, self-absorption, a sense of entitlement, and reactivity to criticism.  This is the form of narcissism that is captured by the diagnostic criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Vulnerable narcissism is similar to grandiose narcissism in that both subtypes share grandiose fantasies and expectations about the self, harbor feelings of entitlement, and display a willingness to exploit other individuals for their own gain [citations omitted].  However, and important difference between the two subtypes is that vulnerable narcissists conceal these feelings and behavioral tendencies beneath a façade of inhibiton, modesty, and concern for others, whereas grandiose narcissists do not bother to do so.  Thus, a fundamental difference between grandiose and vulnerable narcissists is that grandiose narcissists regulate their self-esteem through overt strategies (e.g., self-aggrandizement, the devaluation of people who threaten their self esteem; [citation omitted]), whereas vulnerable narcissists are believed to rely primarily upon the approval of others [citations omitted]. . . .

This psychological labeling sounds like mumbo-jumbo to us, but we bend to convention and customary usage.

Openly grandiose narcissists are said to have internal fortitude to support an aggrandized self image, whereas the “vulnerable” narcissist is said to require second-party affirmation. We read into the description that the “vulnerable” narcissist is more Machiavellian.  And so, those who closet their inflated self image perhaps are secretly envious?  See, Mozart and Salieri. We’re also reading into this the cortisol aspect — it must be stressful to be the Salieri, and hiding that envy from Mozart (n.b., this stress was found in males, and the correlation seems inconclusive for females).

*Using the term “eternal golden braid” in the title is our self-aggrandizement.

(Updated to type out the page quotation that didn’t show up as a jpeg).