Study finds some types of narcissists are more prone to forgiveness than others

Though narcissistic people are usually assumed to hold grudges, new research suggests that not all narcissists are unforgiving.

The study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, broke narcissism down into three subtypes: antagonistic, agentic and communal.

Antagonistic narcissism describes the tendency to strive for supremacy and derogate others, while agentic narcissism refers to the tendency to self-promote oneself and seek admiration. Communal narcissism describes the tendency to have a grandiose view of one’s own helpfulness to others.

“The construct of narcissism has fascinated me since I was working on my PhD thesis on the correlates of forgiveness. Already there I discovered that not all types of narcissism come across as unforgiving as previously assumed, as only the antagonistic (but not agentic) narcissists tend to show revenge-related reactions following conflict or transgression,” said Ramzi Fatfouta of the University of Potsdam, the corresponding author of the study.

“My co-authors and I wanted to follow up on the relationship between different narcissism facets and forgiveness, further examining a third facet – communal narcissism – as well as narcissists’ forgiveness at an implicit (i.e., automatic) level.”

In the study of 1,101 individuals, the researchers found evidence that certain forms of narcissism may actually be linked to a more forgiving stance. Individuals who scored high on measures of agentic and communal narcissism tended to agree with statements like “I tend to get over it quickly when someone hurts my feelings.” However, the oppose was true of those who scored high on a measure of antagonistic narcissism.

“Not all types of narcissists seem to be unforgiving, merciless, or resentful,” Fatfouta explained to PsyPost. “In fact, those narcissists who elevate themselves above others based on their self-perceived moral superiority (communal narcissists) or for the sake of being admired by others (agentic narcissists) described themselves as being particularly lenient.”

“In contrast, those narcissists marked by a hostile interpersonal style (antagonistic narcissism) reported greater levels of unforgiveness,” he continued. “Interestingly, however, all three narcissism types were not correlated with implicit self-views of forgiveness. This observation may indicate, for example, that the concept of forgiveness is not central to narcissists’ ‘inner’ self-views. However, this hypothesis remains to be tested in future research.”

The study collected data using a cross-sectional survey, preventing the researchers from making an inferences about cause and effect.

“The causality of the narcissism-forgiveness relationship is yet to be established,” Fatfouta said. “Do experiences of conflict and associated (un)forgiveness cultivate narcissistic traits or, alternatively, does narcissism ultimately lead to the development of a more or less forgiving stance?”

“Also, we focused on grandiose narcissism as a continuous trait of normal (i.e., subclinical) personality. An open question pertains to whether the observed relationships hold for pathological narcissism as well. These and other questions need be addressed in future investigations.”

The study, “I’m merciful, am I not? Facets of narcissism and forgiveness revisited“, was also co-authored by Virgil Zeigler-Hill and Michela Schröder-Abé.