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Narcissism and Relationships

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Running head: NARCISSISM AND RELATIONSHIPS

ARE NARCISSISTS BAD FOR RELATIONSHIPS OR ARE RELATIONSHIPS BAD FOR NARCISSITS? : THE EFFECT OF NARCISSISM ON CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS

by
Sara K. Seward
200303585

A term paper presented to Dr. Christie Lomore in Psychology 341:20
The Self

Department of Psychology
St. Francis Xavier University

March 26th, 2007

The term narcissism was first introduced to us by Freud, (1914/1957, as cited in Campbell, Brunell, & Finkel, 2006) in reference to the story of Narcissus. Narcissus was the concept of self-love in human form. He viewed himself as better and more attractive than all of those around him, which in turn prevented him from developing any close, loving relationships with others. Narcissus spent him life looking for the “perfect” partner. One day he fell in love with his own reflection and could not bear to be separated from his newfound love. He remained by the pool of water until he eventually died. The story of Narcissus shows us that having a narcissistic personality can have detrimental effects on not only our relationships but on our selves as well (Campbell, Foster, & Finkel, 2002). By proposing the following research question I hope to identify a possible correlation between narcissistic behaviour and relationship satisfaction. My question is “Do narcissists engage in behaviour that negatively affects their relationships which may lead to a decrease in relationship satisfaction?” A suitable way to distinguish a narcissist from a non-narcissist is to consider that narcissists are very self-oriented whereas non-narcissists are primarily others-oriented. This difference may be due to the fact that narcissists are focussed on self-love whereas non-narcissists more frequently focus on the needs of others. There are nine characteristics that define a narcissistic personality, these are: a grandiose sense of self-importance, fantasizing about success, fame, power, beauty and/or ideal love, believing that they are special and unique and can only be understood by high-status individuals, constantly searching for an extreme amount of admiration from others, having an overstated sense of entitlement, exploiting others, lacking empathy, envying others and believing that others are envious of them, and having a sense of arrogance (DSM-IV: American Psychiatric Association, 1994). The fourth addition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states that to qualify as a narcissist at least five of these characteristics must be evident in an individual’s personality. However, according to Campbell, Brunell, and Finkel (2006) there are three primary characteristics which are identified as the fundamental components of a narcissistic personality; these are a positive and inflated self-concept, a lack of interest in close, warm, or intimate relationships and self-regulation (Campbell, Brunell, & Finkel, 2006).
Narcissistic Self-Concept The first of these, a positive and inflated self-concept is identified by the idea that narcissists have very positive self-views on many agentic domains but not for communion based domains (Gabriel, Critelli, & Ee, 1994). Gabriel, Critelli, and Ee (1994) identified narcissists as having inflated and grandiose self-views particularly regarding both their intelligence and attractiveness (agentic traits). Due to these magnified self-views narcissists have the tendency to constantly compare themselves to those around them; this comparison strategy is an effective method of self-enhancement (Campbell, Reeder, Sedikides, & Elliot, 2000). Campbell, Rudich, and Sedikides, 2002, found that the positive agentic self-views of narcissists are most commonly shown via their strong efforts to be admired by others. They do this by comparing themselves to and competing with other people with the hopes that they appear superior to those around them. Due to their lack of concern for communal traits, narcissists often create situations in which they can compete with others and through this they derogate others as a method of self-enhancement. However, narcissists only report being better than others on these agentic traits but not on communal traits. This shows that narcissists inflated self-views only apply to certain domains of their self-concept (Campbell, Foster, & Finkel, 2002).
Narcissists and Relationships The second fundamental characteristic of a narcissistic personality is a lack of interest in close, warm or intimate relationships (Campbell, Brunell, & Finkel, 2006), and is shown through the examination of narcissists agentic rather than communal approach to relationships. Initially narcissists are viewed as being confident, energetic, entertaining, (Campbell, Rudich, & Sedikides, 2002) and “not boring” (Paulhus, 1998), hence appearing as attractive individuals to potential relationship partners. Campbell and Foster (2002) showed that unlike non-narcissists, narcissists are attracted to prospective romantic relationship partners based on self-enhancement strategies rather than a caring personality (communion). In order to self-enhance, narcissists are usually attracted to individuals who have positive views of and admire the narcissist, increasing the narcissist’s sense of self-worth. Relationship partners enhance narcissists in two ways, directly or indirectly. A direct approach is simply to praise the narcissist, whereas an indirect method is via association (e.g. a trophy spouse) (Campbell, Rudich, & Sedikides, 2002). This idea of association is a primary factor in narcissists choosing a relationship partner. By being in a relationship with a high-status individual narcissists experience an elevated sense of self-worth and in doing so inflating their self-concept to an even greater extent. It is thought by some researchers that narcissists are attracted to these high-status individuals because they feel as though these potential partners are similar to themselves and they can benefit from that similarity (Campbell, 1999). This process of benefiting from the success of another is commonly referred to as “Basking In Reflected Glory” (Cialdini, Borden, Thorne, Walker, Freeman, & Sloan, 1976). Campbell (1999) states that narcissists look for partners who can satisfy their self-needs of admiration and identification (e.g. admiring and perfect). However, since the narcissistic desire for self-enhancement prevents narcissists from focussing on the intimacy of the relationship they are not attracted to partners who appear intimate (others-oriented) (Campbell, 1999). Instead they focus on the personal gains they may obtain from being in a relationship with a particular individual (self-oriented) (Foster, Shrira, & Campbell, 2006). However, as the relationship becomes more serious the narcissistic personality may become overwhelming for the relationship partner and this is when we may notice a decrease in the relationship satisfaction. This negative effect narcissists have on relationships seems to primarily apply to long-term relationships, whereas in the short-term, relationship satisfaction is fairly high for narcissist and their partners indicating that narcissism may actually be beneficial for short-term relationships (Foster & Campbell, 2005; Sedikides, Rudich, Gregg, Kumashiro & Rusbult, 2004). Foster and Campbell (2005) stated that generally narcissism has a negative effect for the relationship partner. However, under certain circumstances narcissism can be considered a “mixed blessing” for the narcissist (Paulhus, 1998). Paulhus (1998) found that regarding their use of their relationship partners to self-enhance narcissists can indeed benefit, to a degree, from their relationships. Sedikides, Rudich, Gregg, Kumashiro, and Rusbult (2004) found that although narcissism generally seems to have a negative effect on relationships, narcissists themselves are considered to be psychologically healthy individuals. In several studies they have shown that narcissism is inversely related to depression, loneliness, dispositional anxiety, and dispositional neuroticism while being positively related to dispositional subjective well-being, and couple well-being. Campbell (1999) suggested that narcissistic relationships may have some benefits; primarily self-esteem for the narcissist, but they may be deficient in stability especially when the partner’s capability to supply self-esteem for the narcissist diminishes. A narcissist’s relationship with a high-status individual may end when the partner loses their status. In the context of romantic relationships, narcissists also have the tendency to use hostile and egocentric communication, which allows the narcissist to dominate leading to self-enhancement but may also have a detrimental effect on the relationship. Narcissists also prevent equality in interpersonal communication from occurring and this may influence the partner to leave. If the partner does not feel like an important part of the relationship it may end quickly. Exline, Baumeister, Bushman, Campbell, and Finkel (2004) have shown that because of their high sense of personal entitlement narcissists are easily offended and not likely to easily forgive. Narcissists demand repayment and are hesitant to forgive for fear of “losing face”. Even though these narcissistic tendencies may protect the narcissists’ rights, the unwillingness to forgive can have damaging effects on their relationships. Narcissists have also been shown to be more aggressive than non-narcissists, particularly in the face of threat to their self-esteem. However, narcissists do not engage in displaced aggression that is, they only act aggressively towards the person that initiated the ego-threat (Bushman, & Baumeister, 1998). One of the most dominant factors that has been shown to negatively influence narcissists’ relationships however is relationship commitment. Narcissists have a very game-playing love style which suggests lower levels of commitment than are present in non-narcissistic romantic relationships (Campbell & Baumeister, 2001, as cited in Campbell, Brunell & Finkel, 2006). Narcissists have been found to have several other qualities that generate lower levels of commitment, that is narcissists are selfish, self-serving, less empathetic, less willing to perspective take and are less concerned with intimacy (Campbell, & Foster, 2002). Another factor which may influence commitment is that narcissists do not seem to remain satisfied with their romantic relationships for long periods of time which may be due to the fact that they are constantly looking for the “perfect” partner. Narcissists seek out a partner that they consider to be equal with themselves and because they have such inflated self-views and are constantly self-enhancing their satisfaction with their current partner does not seem to last very long resulting in lack of commitment on the narcissists’ part. Narcissists do however idealize their partners at the beginning of the relationship but this quickly dissipates (Campbell, & Foster, 2002). Narcissists are also much more interested in relationship partner alternatives than non-narcissists. Campbell and Foster (2002) have shown that narcissists are constantly looking for a “better deal” as far as romantic partners are concerned and therefore they are much more interested in meeting new potential partners than are non-narcissists. Again, due to their inflated self-views narcissists perceive themselves to have more alternative romantic partners to choose from and therefore they are more interested in attaining an alternative partner than are non-narcissists. This may also indicate higher levels of infidelity in relationships (Miller, 1997). All of which may indicate a narcissists’ lack of relationship commitment. This low level of commitment on the part of the narcissistic partner in a relationship may be associated with a decrease in relationship satisfaction of the non-narcissistic partner.
Self-Regulation of Narcissists Self-regulation, the third characteristic of narcissism, may also be related to negative effects on close relationships. The idea behind narcissistic self-regulation is that because of narcissists’ inflated self-concepts these individuals constantly need to self-enhance. Considering the fact that self-regulation is a method of maintaining control, it seems as though narcissists more readily engage in the self-serving bias, in relation to non-narcissists, in order to control and maintain their already inflated self-concepts (Emmons, 1987; McAllister, Baker, Mannes, Stewart & Sutherland, 2002). To facilitate upholding these highly positive self-views narcissists frequently fantasize about power and status (Raskin, & Novacek, 1991), hold the belief that they are better than everyone else (Campbell, Rudich, & Sedikides, 2002), and take credit for success while blaming others (e.g. other people, situations) for failure (Rhodewalt, & Morf, 1995). Emmons (1987) first suggested that by overestimating their contributions to success and underestimating their roles in situations of failure, narcissists are able to control (self-regulate) the preservation of their inflated self-views. This self-serving narcissistic tendencies leads to certain external behaviours such as the self-enhancement bias (positive illusions), an egocentric bias, and the self-serving bias. Murray, Holmes, and Griffin (1996) have determined that in most cases having positive illusions can have very positive effects on a relationship. Partners will come to see each other in a more positive light and will focus on each others strengths rather than weaknesses. However, since narcissists are so self-oriented it would be very difficult for them to use their positive illusions in order to enhance someone besides themselves. Robins and Beer (2001) have shown that although self-enhancement certainly can have very positive effects on a person’s well-being, due to the fact that narcissists commonly use the self-enhancement bias they also have very biased views of their abilities on specific tasks which in turn may imply that they may have distorted impressions of their abilities in real-world contexts. This regular use of a self-enhancement bias may have negative effects on narcissists’ relationships. Paulhus and John (1998) indicated that narcissists have a strong tendency to use an egocentric bias but rarely seem to apply a moralistic bias. Meaning that when narcissists make decisions they are considering only what is the best option for them and not considering the moral implications of making that decision. This is another possible explanation of why narcissists tend to experience lower relationship satisfaction because they do not consider their partners well-being when making decisions. Another factor that may negatively impact narcissists’ relationships is their use of the self-serving bias. Rhodewalt and Morf (1995) suggested that in the context of close relationships, narcissists have the tendency to blame others for any failures that occur while taking personal and total credit for any successes. This self-serving mechanism is used to ensure the narcissist can maintain his/her inflated self-concept. By blaming their partners for any transgressions that occur narcissists are able to self-enhance by taking the credit for a transgressions’ resolution. However, should a more appealing alternative partner appear this view that they are the victims of the relationship transgression enables them to detach from relationship responsibility allowing the narcissist to separate themselves from their partners without negatively impacting their self-concepts. It has been shown that this use of the self-serving bias can have negative effects on romantic relationships and can result in a decrease of relationship satisfaction (McCullough, Emmons, Kilpatrick, & Mooney, 2003.) As it seems that typically narcissists engage in much behaviour that appears have the ability to have negative effects on their relationships, we would assume that they may also have lower levels of romantic relationship satisfaction. Most of the previously done research has focussed on narcissism in the context of romantic relationships and therefore the following studies have been designed to investigate a possible correlation between narcissistic behaviour and close relationships outside of the context of romantic relationships. I also hope to determine if by engaging in certain behaviours narcissists’ relationships decrease in satisfaction over time.
Study 1
Method
In this study narcissists and their roommates’ relationship satisfaction will be compared to non-narcissists and their roommates’ levels of relationship satisfaction. The goal of this study is to demonstrate the predicted negative correlation between narcissistic personality and long-term relationship satisfaction. I hypothesize that the narcissists and their roommates will report lower levels of long-term close relationship satisfaction than the non-narcissists and their roommates
Participants
One hundred undergraduate students from St. Francis Xavier University will participate in this study for partial course credit. All individuals are required to have been roommates with someone for at least the six months preceding the study before being able to participate. The roommates of participants will not include romantic relationship partners. The participants will be selected based on their previous scores on the Narcissist Personality Inventory (NPI) (Raskin & Hall, 1979), administered in a mass testing session at the beginning of the academic year. Fifty of the individuals who score high on the NPI will be selected to participate as will fifty of the individuals that had score low on the test. Each participant who selected for the study will be required to bring a roommate to the laboratory. [1]
Procedure
In a mass testing session that will be held at the beginning of the academic year, participants will be asked to complete the NPI as well as several other questionnaires. Various individuals who score high on the NPI (narcissists) and some who score low on the scale (non-narcissists) will be asked to participate in the study. Each of the participants will be asked to bring their roommate to the laboratory. Upon their arrival the participants and their roommates’ will be placed in separate rooms where they will be asked to fill out individual questionnaires measuring their current levels of relationship satisfaction (Murray, Holmes & Griffin, 2000). These measures will be analyzed and then compared to determine if individuals in a narcissistic relationship tend to report lower levels of relationship satisfaction than individuals in a non-narcissistic relationship.
Measures
Relationship Satisfaction. A variation of a 4-item scale, developed by Murray, Holmes and Griffin (2000) will be used to determine the level of satisfaction of our participants and their roommates. The scale will be used to indicate our participants overall evaluations of their relationships. Participants provided their responses to these items using 9-point scales (1 = not at all true, 9 =completely true) (Murray, Holmes & Griffin, 2000). The scale will be slightly changed to pertain to a close roommate based relationship rather than a romantically based relationship.
Study 2
Method
The purpose of Study 2 is to consider the negative correlation between narcissism and close relationship satisfaction in order to explore a possible link between narcissism and long-term close relationship dissatisfaction; this link being certain narcissistic behaviours. This study will focus on one specific type of behaviour, the self-serving bias. It has previously been shown that narcissists perform the self-serving bias when comparing themselves to others meaning that they have the tendency to blame others for failure while taking personal and total credit for any successes that occur during interactions with other individuals (Campbell, Reeder, Sedikides, & Elliot, 2000). However since the focus of this study is on narcissists and their close relationships, I hypothesize that narcissists will blame their roommates for a transgression while taking personal credit for it’s resolution (success), which may show a decrease in their roommates’ relationship satisfaction. Whereas, non-narcissists, in the context of close relationships, will not perform the self-serving bias and share both the blame for the transgression and the credit for it’s resolution with their roommates. Thus they should show no significant decrease in their close relationship satisfaction. I also hypothesize that while narcissists engage in the self-serving bias with both their roommates and strangers (e.g., a store clerk) non-narcissists will only employ this behaviour when dealing with strangers but not in the context of their close relationships. This may be attributed to the idea that narcissists are constantly trying to feel and appear superior to others, including their close relationship partners, and therefore they may perform the self-serving bias in both conditions. Whereas, non-narcissists don’t share in this same degree of desire to be better than other people (Campbell, Brunell & Finkel, 2006). However, we all want our own in-groups to be viewed as superior to our out-groups and therefore non-narcissists and narcissists may both perform the self-serving bias when interacting with members of their out-groups (i.e. strangers) (Myers & Spencer, 2005).
Participants
The same group of participants will be used in this study that were used in Study 1. However, for Study 2 they will not be required to bring a roommate to the laboratory. An equal number of participants from each group (narcissists and non-narcissists) will be randomly assigned to one of the two conditions (roommate or stranger).
Procedure
The purpose of this study is to attempt to deduce a possible explanation for the correlation between narcissism and decreased relationship satisfaction, and therefore I will use the same participants to avoid any major discrepancies that may occur across the two studies. Taking this into account, it is necessary for the participants to carry out Study 1 before taking part in Study 2. The second study will occur not long after Study 1. Participants will be invited to return to the lab where once again they will be put in separate rooms where they will be asked to write about a transgression that had occurred between them and their roommates. They will also be asked to write about a transgression that occurred between them and a stranger (e.g., a sales clerk). They will be required to include how the conflicts were resolved. When the participants have finished the writing task they will be asked to answer a brief questionnaire concerning their feelings of responsibility regarding the success and failure concerning the transgression and its resolution. This questionnaire allowed the researcher to observe the use or lack of use of the self-serving bias. If my hypothesis is correct, narcissists should use the self-serving bias in both instances (i.e. transgressions between them and their roommates and between them and strangers); whereas non-narcissists will perform the self-serving bias only pertaining to transgressions with strangers but not within their close relationships (i.e. roommates). In this study the independent variables are the conditions in which the participants will be randomly assigned (stranger and roommate conditions). The dependent variables are relationship satisfaction as well as the use of the self-serving bias. The construct from Study 1 (narcissism/non-narcissism) is now considered to be a quasi-independent variable because it can not be directly manipulated. The presence of this variable makes this study a quasi-experiment. After completing the questionnaires, the participants will then asked to complete the relationship satisfaction questionnaire (Murray, Holmes & Griffin, 2000) first administered in Study 1. This may demonstrate that narcissistic behaviour (e.g., performing the self-serving bias in the face of transgressions) may be correlated with a decrease in relationship satisfaction. A decrease in satisfaction is expected to occur among the narcissists for both conditions but only for the stranger condition for non-narcissists. The participants will be debriefed and thanked for their participation.
Measures
Self-Serving Bias. A 4-item scale in the form of a questionnaire was used to determine the use of the self-serving bias by narcissistic or non-narcissistic individuals (e.g. “To what extent do you feel responsible success in the relationship between you and your roommate”; “To what extent do you feel your roommate is responsible for success in the relationship between you and your roommate”; “To what extent do you feel you are responsible for failure in the relationship between you and your roommate”; “To what extent do you feel your roommate is responsible for the failure in the relationship between you and your roommate”). Participants used 7-point scales to indicate their responses (1 = not at all responsible, 9 = completely responsible).

References

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[1]The gender of the participants was not an important factor in this study. Although, it has been previously shown that males are more likely to be narcissists it has been found that both males and females are equally as likely to engage in similar narcissistic behaviours (Campbell, Foster, & Finkel, 2002).…...

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