Do You Recognise the Early Warning Sign of Narcissism?

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Research has shown that Narcissists are masters of making a good 1st impression. People tend to like Narcissists when they first meet them. However, this positive impression can fade pretty quickly. Narcissists begin to show their true colours during conflicts. Arguments with Narcissists can be pretty nasty. They are typically hostile, argumentative, domineering and care little for how their behaviour makes you feel. For this reason, being in a long-term relationship with Narcissist can have a detrimental effect on your self-esteem. The term 'Narcissist' traditionally refers to a person who consider herself superior to others. She also believes that she is entitled to better treatment than those around her. Her conversation is often focused on herself, and she may not be particularly interested in hearing about other people’s experiences. As a result of these behaviours, the Narcissist struggles to build intimate relationships. Narcissists exhibit a number of personality traits. However, in this article I will focus on one trait in particular. Many Narcissists have a tendency to “exaggerate their accomplishments and talents”. (DSM IV) This tendency springs from the Narcissist's underlying belief that she is superior to those around her.

Narcissists exaggerate their accomplishments

  • Self-enhancement bias. Psychologists typically use the term ‘self-enhancement bias’ to refer to the tendency to judge oneself more favourably than others typically judge you.
Psychologists often use the following method to identify people who self-enhance.
  1. Researchers provide a person with a list containing a number of personality attributes. They then ask the person to rate herself in relation to each attribute. Try this now if you like. Give yourself a score out of 10 for each of the following questions. How intelligent are you? How good looking are you? How popular are you? Are you a good driver? How nurturing are you? So how would a researcher decide if you are a self-enhancer?
  2. In order to complete this test, the researcher also questions some other people who know you well. She asks these acquaintances to rate you in relation the same attributes used in 1) above. So in our current example she might ask 5 of your friends the following questions: How intelligent is Jo? [Replace ‘Jo’ for your own name.] How good looking is Jo? How popular is Jo? …etc
Start Quote On average, we tend to judge ourselves slightly better than other people judge us. However, self-enhancers judge themselves significantly better than other people judge them. End Quote
So if a self-enhancer answered the above 5 questions, she would score herself significantly higher than her friends would score her. Many people who self-enhance would not be diagnosed with full blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder. However, Narcissists typically are self-enhancers. And so the two traits are strongly linked. And extreme self-enhancement is typically associated with Narcissism.

Self-deception about your ability brings negative outcomes

In order to help us better understand self-enhancement, I am going to outline the results of some research conducted at the University of California in Berkeley. This research was pretty impressive in terms of the number of people involved and the time-span the study covered. 508 students beginning their studies at Berkeley were recruited for this research. Here's how the research was conducted.
  1. Students rated themselves Firstly, each student was asked 8 questions concerning how they perceived their academic ability and how well they felt they would perform at Berkeley. Here are 2 examples of the questions asked: Compared to the average student in your high school, how would you rate your academic ability? Realistically, what overall GPA do you think you will attain? Each students' average response score was used for the purposes of this research.
  2. Students' school exam results and GPA scores were obtained Univerisity records contained students actual past school/college SAT and GPA scores. Students' scores were obtained by the researchers.
  3. Self-enhancement bias Scores for both 1) and 2) were then compared. A student would be considered to have self-enhanced if she reported that her academic ability was very high, even though her actual past results had been low. As outlined above, the standard method for measuring self-enhancement involves asking friends to rate a person’s abilities or attributes. This method of measuring self-enhancement bias is even better, since it involves actual measurements of a student’s performance. Using a student’s actual exam scores is clearly a more accurate method of measuring ability than is asking friends to rate each student’s ability.

How do self-enhancers differ from other people?

The results of this research appeared to show that self-enhancers differed from other people in a number of ways. Here are some of the key results obtained from the research.
  1. Narcissists self-enhance There was a link between Narcissism and self-enhancement. It was a medium sized relationship (as opposed to a strong one). Narcissists tended to self-enhance more then other people.
  2. Self-enhancers blame shift Various other questions were asked in order to try to understand how self-enhancers evaluated their own performances. It was found that self enhancers made ‘self-serving attributions'.
    • Self-Serving Attributions. Self-serving attributions involve believing 2 things: a) When I am successful I believe this is due to my own efforts and abilities. b) However, when I fail, I believe this is due to external events which are out of my control. It had nothing to do with my lack of ability.
      Start Quote In other words, people who self-servingly attribute take credit when they do well, but blame shift when they do badly. End Quote
      Would you like to find out if you have a self-reflection bias?: CLICK HERE to try the Achievement Self-Reflection bias test. CLICK HERE to try the Relationship Self-Reflection bias test.
  3. Self-enhancers lose interest over time Over the 5 year study period, self-enhancers became less interested in their studies.
  4. Self-enhancers' self-esteem decreased over time Questionnaires were used to measure self-enhancers' self esteem. Of course, this presents an obvious problem. Self-enhancers over-estimate their strengths. Therefore, they may well be prone to exaggerate their level of self-esteem. Self-enhancers reported having a higher level of self-esteem compared to others who filled out the questionnaires. However,
    Start Quote ...during the 5 year period of study, self-enhancers also reported that their self-esteem decreased somewhat. Bearing in mind that self-enhancers typically overestimate their strengths, this is an impressive result. One might have expected self-enhancers to deny that their self-esteem had decreased. End Quote
  5. Self-enhancers’ well-being decreased over time Questionnaires were also used to measure personal well-being. Self-enhancers reported that their well-being also decreased during the 5-year period. These results were similar to those found relating to self-esteem.
  6. Self-enhancers perform no better than others In the past, many theorists have proposed that people who believe they will do better go on to do better. However, in this study, self-enhancers performed no better than the other students. But, the following finding may help to explain the common misconception. Of course some people generally do obtain better exam/study results than others. If people who have consistently performed better than others in the past believe they will continue to outperform others, then they are basing their beliefs on past experience. So, for example, at the time of this study, some students had already achieved higher grades in college before they entered university. If any of these students believed they were able to achieve higher grades than their peers, this belief would be based on how they had performed in the past. It is a realistic appraisal of their abilities based on past experience. Most of the people who believed they would do better than their peers fell into this category: they were basing their beliefs on past experience. And of course, since these students performed above average at college, typically, they did then end up performing better than their peers at university. So in this sample, the reason why most people who believed they would do better actually went on to do better, was because most of these students based their beliefs on past experience. So their beliefs were simply an accurate appraisal of their abilities.
    Start Quote Self-enhancers, on the other hand, believe they will do better than others, despite the fact that in the past they have not outperformed others. They are simply deceiving themselves. End Quote
    In this large sample, self-deception did not appear to enhance performance outcomes.
  7. Self-enhancers may be prone to giving up The researchers had theorised that self-enhancement may predispose people to be more likely to give up on their studies.
    ‘We speculated that self-enhancers might not adjust well in the long term, because eventually they would face the reality that they are less competent than they thought and thus would exhibit higher [drop-out] rates than individuals who were already aware of their limitations.’
    A small relationship was found between self-enhancement and drop out rate from university. The researchers feel the relationship would need to be demonstrated again in future research before any firmer conclusions could be drawn. I suspect that the number of students who dropped out of University was probably so small that it would be hard to demonstrate a strong relationship between self-enhancement and dropping out of university. However, I think that these results are an encouraging first step towards investigating this possible relationship between self-enhancement and giving up on personal goals over the long-term.

Narcissists struggle in long-term relationships

The following is a central feature of Narcissism: Narcissists believe that they are superior to those around them. And self-enhancement bias appears to be quite central to Narcissism. Narcissists believe they are better than others, even when the evidence proves otherwise. Narcissists are also typically unable to sustain intimate relationships. I believe one reason for this is that Narcissists typically refuse to accept criticism.
Start Quote Anyone who has tried to have a relationship with a Narcissist will probably be painfully aware of how impossible it is to point out to a Narcissist that she has done something wrong. End Quote
As outlined in the Berekely research (see above), self-enhancers blame shift. They take credit when they do well, and blame others when things go wrong. This inevitably leads to arguments. If someone is not able to recognise her mistakes, the arguments will not get resolved. Why might admitting being wrong be such a problem for a Narcissist? Admitting she is to blame and you are not would undermine her belief that she is better than you.

So what’s the early warning sign of a Narcissist?

  1. So if you meet someone who consistently boasts about themselves and their achievements, you may be talking to a self-enhancer (i.e. they may be prone to exaggeration. You would do well to keep an eye on their behaviour as you get to know them.
  2. Do they refuse to take the blame for anything they do wrong? Do they always have to be right? Do they always act like they know more than you? This person is displaying traits that are typically associated with Narcissism. They may not have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But beware: relationship with this person is likely to be difficult.

Improve your life outcomes

Self-enhancers refuse to recognise when they have failed or made mistakes. If we are unable to recognise when we have failed, then we are likely to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Start Quote If we want to succeed in life and in our relationships, then we need to recognise which of our behaviours have resulted in failure. If we are fully aware of our mistakes, then we are able to begin to make the changes necessary in order to improve our life outcomes. End Quote
This is why at Live Life Satisfied our motto is Know Yourself Better …Be Yourself Better! We believe that the better we understand ourselves, the better our life outcomes will be. Our articles are designed to help you to ‘Know Yourself Better’. I publish around 1 article a month in which I share lessons I have learned that have significantly improved my life outcomes. Why not have my articles sent directly to your inbox? SIGN UP FOR MY EMAIL UPDATES to have my articles sent directly to you! (Alternatively click the orange 'Subscribe to Email Updates' button below.) Please Give Feedback: Did you find this article helpful? I love to receive feedback from people: it's what makes writing these articles worthwhile. If you found this article useful, or if you have any questions or comments please let me know. Click here to e-mail me, or leave a COMMENT BELOW. Your feedback means a great deal to me.


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