Yes, Narcissists Lack Empathy And Can’t Be Trusted, But Fortunately, They’re Honest!


There was a fascinating little story in the Washington Post last week. Apparently researchers have found that a long diagnostic survey used to identify narcissists is no more effective than a simple, direct question: “Are you a narcissist?”

Narcissists just aren’t ashamed of their narcissism, and as the story points out, that shouldn’t be surprising. Narcissists see the world as revolving around them, feel superior to everyone else, and typically aren’t inclined to hide their light under a bushel basket. They also are smart enough to know they are self-absorbed, and if they thought that was a bad thing, they wouldn’t be true narcissists, who tend to believe that everything about themselves is peachy keen. Narcissists also lack empathy, so comprehending why people like them are often distrusted (because, in fact, they aren’t trustworthy) might be beyond them.

Professor Brad Bushman, co-author of the study, tells the Post that being able to identify narcissists easily is a boon for everyone, including the narcissists themselves, pointing out that if you already think you’re perfect, you’re not going to make an effort to improve yourself. “And it’s bad for society as well,” he says, “because if you’re selfish you’re less likely to be a cooperative and helpful member of your community.”

Fortunately for them and society, narcissists, despite all their unethical tendencies, are honest…at least about their malady.

Prof. Bushman’s previous research leads him to believe that narcissism is increasing in the U.S. population. “In today’s digital age, when anyone can broadcast themselves to the world, narcissism is becoming more of a problem,” Bushman said. “Social media is absolutely related to narcissistic behavior.” The more narcissism, the less ethical behavior—or at least that’s his theory.

“I’ve been studying aggression for about 30 years, and I’ve seen that the most harmful belief that a person can have is that they’re superior to others,” Bushman said. “Men are better than women, my race is better than your race, my religion is superior to your religion. When people believe they’re better than other people, they act accordingly.” Thus getting narcissists to self-identify and to understand how their state of mind undermines a healthy, cooperative, respectful, fair society  can advance the cause of ethics. “If people could believe that everyone on the planet is part of the same human family, and deserves the same respect, so many problems would be solved,” he said.

14 thoughts on “Yes, Narcissists Lack Empathy And Can’t Be Trusted, But Fortunately, They’re Honest!

  1. I’m a monster of arrogance and ego. In fact my ego is so big it enters the room ten minutes before I do.

    I have a really high opinion of myself, and while I try to accept criticism and learn from it to improve, when it comes down to it, the only person’s opinion of me I really care about is my own.

    Perfect? *SNORT!!!!* That is megaparsecs from anything remotely resembling the truth. And just because I might know a bit more than some others about some things, and be a bit more cluey – this is supposed to make me “superior” in some way?

    Yeah, right.

    There are so many things I don’t know. So many people more talented, more knowledgeable, wiser, *kinder* than myself. Even if there weren’t, would that matter? They’re people. Like me. How can anyone *not* have empathy?

  2. “When people believe they’re better than other people, they act accordingly.”

    That explains SO many things about this administration, doesn’t it? And it’s fanatical, obstreperous supporters.

  3. This was a really interesting article, at least until I got to the subjectivist credo at the end. The thoughts on narcissism are valuable, but the urge to whitewash all of humanity as pure equal is just as destructive. Look at the people bending over backwards to equate Israel and Hamas, or overlook the differences between legal and illegal immigration.

    • I don’t see much of a problem with that driving principle… as long as it is rigorously applied and has associated consequences for violation.

      I can look at the Hamas vs Israel conflict with the starting point of “everyone is from the same human family and deserves respect” knowing that is a useless statement if it isn’t accompanied with some teeth. Knowing that, I’d then look at the conflict and realize that Hamas doesn’t want to play along, wants to annihilate a whole nation, wants to destroy civilization, and generally hates all the good qualities of healthy societies and therefore I can then realize they’ve forfeited any deserved respect.

      I would expect that guiding principle to apply to any situation in which you go without full information…until information becomes available.

      If you never ever heard of Charles Manson but met him, I would assume you would treat him with utmost respect until his true nature became revealed.

      • (caveat: with some people it doesn’t take long to find out)

        (and, in the Israel, Hamas situation, where we already know who the bad guy is, we don’t have to play lily livered bleeding heart games of “well, let’s try to understand each other”…no, kill the bastards)

  4. Yeah, it really is that last sentence that spoiled the rest. Some of the most odious forms of respect are when service people are following their polite scripts and NOT addressing the problem. Respecting others does not solve problems by itself.

  5. “He hopes that more research can help us understand where narcissism comes from, and perhaps help us to stem the tide.”

    I thought we already had some pretty good ideas about the causes of narcissism? This isn’t new territory.

    And the last sentence leaves me wondering how Bushman would attempt to convince narcissists that their opinions and beliefs about themselves were not true.

    • Especially since he seems to be judging that Narcissism is some kind of fault which needs correcting, instead of simply “believe that everyone on the planet is part of the same human family, and deserves the same respect, so many problems would be solved.” Why can he not accept narcissists as they are, and let them live their lives in their own way, instead of trying to change them?

      Aside from the fact that actually adhering to his policy would be the end of civilization.

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