New research shows why narcissism is a ‘mixed blessing’ when it comes to emotional dysregulation

A study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences provides new insight into the relationship between narcissistic personality traits and the ability to monitor, understand, and modify one’s emotional states.

The new research indicates that two aspects of narcissism are differentially associated with emotion regulation difficulties.

“We were interested in expanding what is known about the connections between narcissism and the abilities of individuals to regulate their own emotions,” said study author Virgil Zeigler-Hill, a professor and the Director of Graduate Training for the Department of Psychology at Oakland University.

“Past research has examined this issue but most of those studies conceptualized narcissism as a unidimensional construct. However, it has become increasingly clear in recent years that there are important distinctions between the facets of narcissism.”

“This study used a model of narcissism that distinguishes between the agentic aspect of narcissism (as captured by narcissistic admiration) and the antagonistic aspect of narcissism (as captured by narcissistic rivalry).”

Narcissistic admiration is characterized by grandiosity and charmingness, while narcissistic rivalry is characterized by aggressiveness and asserting supremacy.

Specifically, people high in narcissistic admiration tend to agree with statements such as “I deserve to be seen as a great personality,” while those high in narcissistic rivalry tend to agree with statements such as “Other people are worth nothing.”

For their study, the researchers conducted a survey of 1,018 undergraduate students, which found that the two types of narcissism had divergent associations with emotion regulation difficulties.

Participants who scored higher on a measure of narcissistic admiration were less likely to report problems regulating their emotions, such as impulse control difficulties and lack of emotional awareness. Those who those who scored higher on a measure of narcissistic rivalry, on the other hand, were more likely to report having such problems.

“The basic pattern that emerged from this study was that narcissistic admiration (which captures the agentic aspect of narcissism) was negatively associated with problematic responses to emotions and poor recognition of emotions, whereas narcissistic rivalry (which captures the antagonistic aspect of narcissism) was positively associated with both of these aspects of emotion dysregulation,” Zeigler-Hill told PsyPost.

“This suggests that narcissism may be something akin to a mixed blessing with regard to emotion regulation because narcissistic admiration is linked with better emotion regulation but narcissistic rivalry is linked with worse emotion regulation.”

The study — like all research — includes some caveats.

“One issue is that we relied exclusively on self-report questionnaires, so it is certainly possible that our results were distorted by certain response biases (e.g., individuals lacking insight into their own emotion regulation abilities, individuals being unwilling to report certain negative characteristics even though they are aware of them),” Zeigler-Hill explained.

“Another issue is that we distinguished between the agentic and antagonistic aspects of grandiose narcissism but we did not include any indicators of vulnerable narcissism in the present study.

“It would also be helpful if future studies considered the role that contextual features may play in the links between narcissism and emotion regulation. For example, it is possible that being immersed in a highly competitive environment or experiencing feelings of powerlessness may alter the extent to which narcissistic individuals are able to regulate certain emotional experiences,” Zeigler-Hill said.

“The results of this study continue to add to previous work illustrating the importance of distinguishing between different aspects of narcissism. These distinctions are often vital for developing a more nuanced and complete understanding of the links that narcissism has with a wide array of outcomes.”

The study, “Narcissism and emotion dysregulation: Narcissistic admiration and narcissistic rivalry have divergent associations with emotion regulation difficulties“, was authored by Andrea Cheshure, Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Destaney Sauls, Jennifer K. Vrabel, and Mark J. Lehtman.