Narcissistic individuals are more likely to keep objects from their ex-partners as trophy keepsakes, according to new research published in Personality and Individual Differences.
“I find human relations to inanimate objects fascinating, because very often people’s attitude towards an inanimate object (such as gifts from someone or photographs) tells us a lot about their motivations,” said study author Aleksandra Rabinovitch Niemyjska of SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities.
The researchers conducted a survey of 330 Polish participants, which found those who scored higher on a measure of narcissism were more likely to agree with statements such as “Things associated with my ex-partner document my success” and “I consider my ex-partner’s stuff to be a sort of prey or trophy that belongs to me.”
“Narcissistic individuals use inanimate objects as if they were trophies that prove their attractiveness and mating success,” Niemyjska said.
Niemyjska and her colleagues were also interested in whether there were differences between grandiose and vulnerable narcissists. Grandiose narcissism is characterized by an exaggerated sense of superiority, extroversion and domineering behavior, while vulnerable narcissism is characterized by excessive self-absorption, introversion and insecurity.
In their second survey, which included another 414 Polish participants, they found that the link between narcissism and viewing keepsakes as trophies existed among both types of narcissists. This was true even after accounting for gender, quality of past relationships, and self-esteem.
Vulnerable narcissism — but not grandiose narcissism — was also associated with viewing keepsakes as cues for nostalgia. In other words, vulnerable narcissists were more likely to agree with statements such as “Things associated with my ex-partner bring back moments we spent together.”
“This research shows that people obsessed with their own greatness and/or those who are very sensitive about their image may use belongings left by their ex-partners to bolster their self-esteem,” Niemyjska told PsyPost.
“They may, for example, show off nude photos of an ex-partner in front of their friends or a wider audience. So, after a romantic relationship ends, it is worth considering if we really want our ex-partner to have our photographs and other keepsakes.”
But it is unclear, Niemyjska said, whether a keepsake from a partner becomes a trophy as soon as it is received or only after the relationship has ended.
“On the one hand, people obsessed with their self-esteem may want to use every opportunity to inflate their self-image,” she explained. “On the other hand, relationship dissolution substantially decreases self-esteem. Therefore, some people may need inanimate objects left by their partners to repair their self-esteem only after the relationship ends.”
The study, “Hunting lovers: Narcissists keep trophies from their past relationships“, was authored by Aleksandra Niemyjska, Róża Bazińska, and Krystyna Drat-Ruszczak.