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Science Says Narcissists Are More Likely To Downplay The Risk Of A Covid-19 Infection

Feeling more important than others doesn't lead to healthy outcomes.

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girl wearing a mask in the Covid-19 pandemic

Do you think you’re indestructible and you won’t catch the coronavirus? Do you believe you’re great at taking care of yourself and that your body can overtake any virus, including the Covid-19? Then you might be a narcissist.

A 2017 study done by Zlatan Krizan and Anne D. Herlache concluded that narcissism is a spectrum and is characterized by three core issues: self-importance (entitlement), vulnerability (defensiveness), and grandiosity (arrogance) that form a triangle. 

Zlatan & co. suggest that the higher you are on these three scales, the more likely it is that you have narcissistic traits or even a full-blown NPD.

The problem with narcissists is that many of them won’t get an official diagnosis because they may not think there’s something wrong with them. If someone tries to point out to a narcissist that they’re a narcissist, the latter may look at the disorder as a quality and not as a character flaw. 

The only people who may seek psychological help are the victims of narcissists who may learn that they are in a toxic relationship. However, the narcissist remains unaware of his/her issues and may struggle with their unresolved traumas their entire life.

Traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Having a narcissistic personality disorder is more severe than having some narcissistic traits. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) characterizes narcissistic personality disorder as a disorder where one lacks empathy and compassion, has a high level of self-absorption, references everything they do to others to improve self-esteem, and is preoccupied with excessive self-appraisal to project a perfect image of themselves.

Other traits are the ability to set very high personal standards and expecting everyone to rise to these standards, depending on people’s reactions to what they do to regulate their emotions, flesh out an identity, and feel good about themselves.

Another NPD trait is the need to enter relationships to exploit the other person and not to have a mutually loving and supportive bond with another human being.

Narcissists see relationships as purely transactional. They look at others and the events that happen to them as sources of satisfaction. They think in terms of what they can gain from this person or this event.

Narcissists often feel so special that they may feel entitled to break rules, cross people’s boundaries, and do whatever they want even though they may hurt or offend others.

Knowing this, we can begin to understand why the researchers involved in a 2021 study, tried to connect narcissistic traits with feeling susceptible to getting sick with the coronavirus and not following public health advice.

The study suggests that people who often downplay the risk of getting infected don’t engage in social distancing or wear masks when needed. Moreover, these people may even use health crises to get certain benefits from others.

The researchers asked people in Western countries and the UK in 2020 how likely it is that they’ll catch the coronavirus. In a second study, the researchers added the element of ‘worry’. They asked the participants how worried they are about becoming infected with Covid-19. All three studies used NPI-16 and NARQ, two measurements that determine narcissistic traits in people.

The researchers included in their tests two cognitive biases that are more often used in conversation by narcissists. 

These biases are the optimism bias and the downward social comparison tendency.

Cognitive biases and narcissism

People’s reactions to health crises are not at all positive. Some may be in denial and downplay the severity of the situation. Some may become too preoccupied with current events and may let themselves be consumed by them.

However, narcissistic individuals engage in cognitive biases that help them feel more in control of an event that they have little to no control over.

The optimism bias explains why narcissists think negative events such as an infection with the coronavirus are more likely to happen to other people than to themselves. This bias is more often used by narcissists than the general population. Narcissistic individuals have a higher level of entitlement and superiority, thus, the belief that they’re not likely to get sick like the general folk makes sense to them.

The downward social comparison tendency explains a tendency to compare yourself to others who are worse off than you. For example, when a narcissist wants to shine or feel better about their health, they may bring into conversation stories of people who suffer from chronic illness or are in deep pain. This way, their own health issues won’t be as bad.

The study only analyzed grandiose (overt) narcissists and not people who suffer from a full-on disorder. NPD is a rare disorder and not the easiest to diagnose.

The results

The researchers found out that those who didn’t think they are susceptible to become sick with coronavirus had higher traits of grandiose narcissism. These people were more likely to be men than women.

On the other hand, there was a group of people who reported having a higher susceptibility to becoming infected with Covid-19 and who had narcissistic traits themselves.

The researchers saw this as a contradictory finding. However, the arrogance and entitlement traits of narcissism might explain this result.

Grandiose narcissists who are more arrogant might benefit from a positive Covid-19 test. That’s because they might see this result as a boost in his/her social status and a chance for them to gather a long-term supply of attention, care, and validation from others.

If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a narcissist, you might know that he or she benefits from their sickness. Narcissists like to exploit others during their recovery time and use a pity ploy to make others do what they want.

The participants who believed they’re less susceptible to getting sick from Covid-19 had a higher than normal confidence in their ability to stay healthy.

A 2014 study that aimed to connect narcissism to health concluded that narcissists are more likely to inflate their health and fitness levels even though they may not engage in rigorous health-related exercises. This can be understood if you know that a narcissist relies on their false image to maintain good relationships.

They may lie or inflate their skills to appear in a more favorable light. Deep down, narcissists don’t want others to know they are flawed or imperfect, which explains their fixation with their image.

The 2021 study’s aim was not to help others understand grandiose narcissism. It was done to explain how grandiose narcissists may react in a health crisis like the current pandemic and why they may not take preventive measures that may keep them safe.

The study can help policymakers create more inclusive prevention campaigns that don’t appeal to the narcissist’s reasoning or empathy levels but to what drives them. 

For example, prevention campaigns may include the narcissist’s need to engage in reward-seeking behaviors, the need for validation, and for feeling special or more important than others.

Conclusion

It is easy now to understand how a person with strong narcissistic traits might behave in a pandemic and why cognitive biases make sense in the fragile and ego-driven world of a narcissist.

A narcissist’s level of awareness over who they are and how they affect others is often skewed. They more often than not deny their wrong deeds or the entire reality of a specific situation. They can even use a health crisis or their illness to gain emotional benefits from others to boost their self-esteem.

If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, acknowledge that their level of awareness is low compared to the average person. They may not wear masks in public or maintain social distance just like everyone else.

Although this may make you worried (for your health but their health too), you can do something about it.

Try setting healthy boundaries and keep emotional and physical distance from them.

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