Narcissists are a puzzle. Their bragging and arrogance interferes with the attainment of the status and recognition they so poignantly desire. Why do they continually undermine themselves in this way?
The research literature appears to have achieved some consensus about the nature of sub-clinical narcissism’ with respect to underlying cognitive, social, and affective processes (e.g., Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001).
The consensual model serves as a solid foundation for integrating narcissism research, and provides a partial explanation for narcissists’ perplexing behavior, but it relies heavily on conscious cognitive processes and omits an important category of explanatory variables: dispositions.
We shall argue that one possible key to the puzzle posed by narcissists’ behavior is that they are dispositionally impulsive: They lack the self-control necessary to inhibit the behaviors that thwart the attainment of their goals.
Narcissism is generally seen as deriving from an attempt to regulate and maintain unrealistically high levels of self-esteem (Raskin, Novacek, & Hogan, 1991b; Robins & John, 1997).
Narcissists’ self-views are on the one hand lofty (Paulhus & John, 1998), making it difficult for them to find affirmation, and on the other hand vulnerable or unstable (Jordan, Spencer, Zanna, Hoshino-Browne, & Correll, 2003), making such affirmation particularly important. This combination of arrogance and vulnerability is one of the paradoxes that 154 NARCISSISM AND IMPULSIVITY Morf and Rhodewalt (2001) addressed in their cognitive-affective processing model. As they and others argue (e.g., Westen, 1990), much of narcissists’ cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses are in the service of defending and affirming an unrealistic self-concept.
Cognitive-affective processing models (e.g., Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001) maintain that narcissists engage in ineffective or even counterproductive interpersonal strategies because they are insensitive to others’ concerns. In other words, although their behavior seems self-defeating to the outside observer, it is actually a deliberate, though ill-conceived, strategy that makes sense from the point of view of their internal subjective logic.
We propose a more parsimonious explanation for at least some of these self-defeating behaviors: The behaviors are not strategic at all, narcissists simply can’t help themselves. We propose that narcissists suffer from a dispositional lack of self-control (i.e., impulsivity, a concept closely akin to ego undercontrol; Block, 2002; Block & Block, 1980), and this contributes to their inability to meet the high self-regulatory demands of an inflated, unstable self-concept.
As a result, they are unable to successfully negotiate their social environments to obtain the recognition they crave. Many of narcissists’ behaviors may provide temporary immediate gratification of their desire for recognition, but it comes at the cost of long-term success—the classic framework of the concept of delay of gratification (e.g., Funder, Block & Block, 1983; Mischel & Ayduk, 2002).
Source: Vazire, S., & Funder, D. (2006). Impulsivity and the Self-Defeating Behavior of Narcissists. Personality & Social Psychology Review, 10(2), 154-165. doi:2006
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