Psychologists often divide narcissist personalities into three categories: grandiose narcissists, entitled narcissists, and vulnerable narcissists. New research appearing in the Journal of Research in Personality investigates which type of narcissist presents the most challenges for romantic relationships.
“It is important to first establish that the fundamental core of narcissism is conceptualized by inflated perceptions of self-importance,” says co-author of the study Kennedy Balzen of the University of Texas at Dallas.
Beyond this, there is considerable variation in how narcissism manifests in people. For example:
- Grandiose narcissists tend to be socially bold individuals who make themselves out to be better at things than they generally are (i.e., self-enhancers). Many of the behaviors linked to narcissistic grandiosity reflect heightened levels of dominance and extraversion (e.g., boastfulness). Although grandiosity has been linked to various negative interpersonal outcomes, it is also associated with charm and initial attractiveness.
- Entitled narcissists are those who continually expect special treatment because they view themselves as special or different than others. People with higher levels of narcissistic entitlement are generally focused on how to benefit themselves, even if it comes at the expense of others.
- Vulnerable narcissists tend to be hypersensitive to social criticism and feel that they are better than others but in a more private or withdrawn way. It is often considered to be the most maladaptive, or problematic, form of narcissism.
To study the effects of these three forms of narcissism on romantic relationships, the researchers recruited a sample of 108 heterosexual couples that had been in a romantic relationship for at least three months. They asked participants to complete a questionnaire that measured the different facets of narcissism. For example, grandiosity was measured via agree-disagree items such as “I am great” and “I show others how special I am.” Entitlement was measured via items such as “I enjoy it when another person is inferior to me” and “I want my rivals to fail.” And, vulnerable narcissism was measured with items such as “When people don’t notice me, I start to feel bad about myself.”
Then, the researchers sent participants a series of ‘daily diary’ questions measuring various experiences in their romantic relationships, such as their overall relationship satisfaction, the amount of jealousy they felt in their relationship, and the extent to which they were cognizant of ‘relationship alternatives.’
They found that:
- Grandiose narcissism was not linked to any of the relationship outcomes they measured. In other words, the case could be made that grandiose narcissists are the ‘easiest’ type of narcissist to date.
- Entitled narcissists reported greater non-sexual jealousy in their relationships. They also more prominently perceived available alternatives to their romantic partners. The finding that entitlement is linked to greater perceptions of available alternatives could indicate less concern for loyalty to a current romantic partner and therefore pose a threat to the relationship.
- Vulnerable narcissists also showed greater jealousy. They also exhibited significantly lower relationship satisfaction.
“Broadly speaking, our findings corroborate previous research showing that entitlement and vulnerability are associated with maladaptive outcomes in established romantic relationships,” say the researchers.
A full interview with Kennedy Balzen discussing this research can be found here: Which type of narcissist is hardest to have a romantic relationship with?