Our ongoing research showed that people who agreed with statements like ‘My national group deserves special treatment‘; ‘Not many people seem to fully understand the importance of my group.‘ or ‘I will never be satisfied until my group gets the recognition it deserves.’ voted to Leave the European Union in the referendum in the UK in June 2016. They elected ultraconservative, isolationist government in Poland. They voted for Donald Trump in the US presidential election. These people can be described as collective narcissists and we will face the consequences of their getting to power in the years to come. Thus, we should understand how they think and act.
Collective narcissism is analogous to individual narcissism: emotional dependence on admiration by others (Rhodewalt & Morf, 2001) but collective narcissists seek admiration for groups they belong to. In general, people relate to important groups in similar ways they relate to the self. Insightfully, Jean-Jacques Rousseau differentiated two types of self-love. Amour propre (self-love) is a preoccupation to amount to something in the eyes of others. It can be compared to individual narcissism, self-esteem contingent on recognition by others. Amour de soi-même (love for the self) is a need to care for and nourish oneself. It can be compared to self-acceptance or self-compassion.
Similarly, attachment to groups can take two distinct forms. Collective narcissism is an emotional investment in an exaggerated image of an(y) important group contingent on recognition and admiration of others (analogous to image-cautious self-love). It is characterized by an unrealistic belief in group’s grandiosity and demands for privileged treatment (Golec de Zavala et al., 2009). Collective narcissism may be contrasted with attachment to a highly valued group expressed as feeling responsible for the group’s welfare (analogous to love for the self). The two forms of group love have distinct consequences for inter-group relations. Collective narcissists are hostile towards groups that they see as a threat to their group’s image. People satisfied with their group but not narcissistic about it hold positive attitudes towards other groups (Golec de Zavala et al., 2013a).
Collective narcissists believe their group is unique but not sufficiently recognized by others. In fact, they themselves unconsciously doubt their group: They do not automatically associate group symbols with positive stimuli. People who are attached to a group believe in its good qualities (Golec de Zavala et al., 2009). For example, in our ongoing studies collective narcissists voted to Leave the European Union because they feared and rejected immigrants. Those who were proud but not narcissistic about being British, voted to Remain because they saw their country as indispensable in defining the European Union’s identity.
Collective narcissists are determined to get the recognition of others. When they think their group is not sufficiently recognized, they advocate hostile revenge. They attack not only the ‘offenders’ but the whole groups they represent. In our studies, when their group was criticized by one person, collective narcissists responded with aggressive intentions and behaviours towards the whole group (Golec de Zavala et al., 2016). Collective narcissists are also indirectly hostile. They rejoice in misfortunes of groups or people they hold accountable for offending their group.
Worryingly, collective narcissists can construe almost anything as offence to their group. For example, Polish collective narcissists felt offended by a movie about one of the least laudable aspects of Polish modern history: post-war anti-Semitism. In response, they attacked a celebrity actor who played the protagonist in this movie. They expressed intentions of harming and offending him. They rejoiced in his personal hardships (Golec de Zavala et al., 2016).
Since they constantly monitor their group image, collective narcissists are prone to conspiracy thinking to explain anything that may undermine their group (Golec de Zavala & Cichocka, 2012). Consider the catastrophic plane crash in 2010 that killed 96 members of the Polish ruling elite including the President and his wife. Collective narcissists could not believe such monumental national loss might have been caused by something as mundane as human mistake. Especially, not one made by the president himself who ordered the plane to land despite averse atmospheric conditions. Thus, they spread and believed in conspiracy theories about a secretive Russian attack. Our ongoing research shows that national collective narcissism predicts support for political parties that most actively promoted such theories.
- 1. Clarke, J. (2009). Rousseau, recognition, and self-love. An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, 52(6), 636-651.
- 2. Golec de Zavala, A., & Cichocka, A. (2012). Collective narcissism and anti-Semitism in Poland. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 15, 213-229.
- 3. Golec de Zavala, A., Cichocka, A., & Bilewicz, M. (2013a). The paradox of in-group love: Differentiating collective narcissism advances understanding of the relationship between in-group love and out-group attitudes. Journal of Personality, 81, 16-28.
- 4. Golec de Zavala, A., Cichocka, A., Eidelson, R., & Jayawickreme, N. (2009). Collective narcissism and its social consequences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 1074-1096.
- 5. Golec de Zavala, A., Peker, M., Guerra, R., & Baran, T. (2016). Collective narcissism predicts hypersensitivity to in-group insult and direct and indirect retaliatory intergroup hostility. European Journal of Personality, 30, 532-551.
- 6. Morf, C. C., & Rhodewalt, F. (2001). Unraveling the paradoxes of narcissism: A dynamic self-regulatory processing model. Psychological Inquiry, 12(4), 177-196.