Odds are you know some narcissists. Odds are they’re smart, confident and articulate. They make you laugh, they make you think; the first time you met, they probably charmed the pants off of you — perhaps even literally. The odds are also that that spell didn’t last.
It’s a deep and all but certain truth about narcissistic personalities that to meet them is to love them, but to know them well is to find them unbearable. Confidence quickly curdles into arrogance; smarts turn to smugness, charm turns to smarm. They will talk endlessly about themselves, but when they ask about you — well, never mind, because they never do.
Narcissism falls along the axis of what psychologists call personality disorders, one of a group that includes antisocial, dependent, histrionic, avoidant and borderline personalities. But by most measures, narcissism is one of the worst, if only because the narcissists themselves are so clueless.
Their coworkers dislike them — but it must be because they’re jealous. Their spouses divorce them — but it’s because they don’t understand them. Their friends abandon them — but only because they can’t keep up with them. It’s this obtuseness that makes narcissists so hard to treat. How, after all, can you address a problem if you have no idea that it even exists?
That, anyway, has always been the theory. But a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (and wonderfully titled “You Probably Think This Paper’s About You”), is casting doubt on all that. According to the investigators, narcissists do think extraordinarily highly of themselves but, over time, realize that their friends — or former friends — don’t share that view. They know they’re seen as cocky, as conceited; they know, in short, that they’re obnoxious.