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Ask most women and they will gladly tell you that men are more egotistical, power-hungry, and arrogant than women. Now, science backs up these claims. A team of researchers analyzed three decades of research involving nearly 500,000 people and concluded that men are, in fact, more narcissistic than women. But, are men born narcissistic or do they have narcissism thrust upon them?
Of the aspects of narcissism examined in the latest analysis, men were more likely to display leadership and authority and a sense of entitlement than women. Men and women were equally likely to demonstrate a third aspect of narcissism – grandiose exhibitionism, which includes qualities like vanity and being self-absorbed. The authors reported that there was no evidence of either gender becoming more or less narcissistic over time.
The gender differences observed by the authors likely have at least something to do with gender roles that are learned at a young age. For men, leadership and assertiveness are valued in today’s culture. For women, these qualities often lead to less-than-flattering nicknames and reputations.
Narcissism, at least in name, has roots in Greek mythology. Narcissus was a hunter who was known for his beauty. He saw his own reflection in a pool of water and, being so entranced with it, was unable to leave and died next to the water. This tale is designed to caution listeners of the dangers of being overly vain and fixated on one’s own self. And, today we know that narcissism is associated with dysfunctional interpersonal interactions and behaviors, including the inability to maintain long-term relationships, unethical behavior, impulsivity, and aggression.
But, will narcissism always lead to a lonely waterside death? Some experts argue that narcissism is necessary for survival and is required for self-esteem, emotional stability, and effective leadership. Narcissism can and should be a part of normal functioning and development. For example, children are necessarily narcissistic; self-preservation depends on a child’s ability to worry about its own needs. But, most children grow and mature into healthy adults who are capable of thinking beyond their own immediate needs. Further, leadership and authority dimensions of narcissism are associated with adaptive outcomes. And, narcissism is positively associated with physical activity and healthy eating patterns.
Still, not all dimensions of narcissism are good. Narcissism is associated with risky health behaviors, and entitlement, exploitativeness, and grandiose exhibitionism are associated with maladaptive outcomes. Narcissism can be problematic for both individuals and for society. For individuals, people who already think they are great never try to improve themselves. For society, people who are self-involved do not help others.
There is a complex relationship among narcissism and self-esteem and healthy functioning. And, while extreme variations of narcissistic traits can cause serious social and health implications, dimensions of narcissism such as leadership, assertiveness, and even a little vanity can be balanced with humility and outward-focused behaviors to establish mature, stable, and effective relationships.
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