Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: 'Horrible but happy'? Why I doubt life of a narcissist like Trump is all it's cracked up to be up to be

Fionola Meredith is highly sceptical of QUB study that postulates the totally self-important are content with their lot

Donald Trump is the ‘Big Daddy’ of narcissists
Donald Trump is the ‘Big Daddy’ of narcissists
Fionola Meredith

By Fionola Meredith

Being called a narcissist is probably second only to being called a fascist when it comes to the top 10 of modern insults.

This is the age of extreme epithets, zipping around like heat-seeking missiles. It's no longer enough to say: "Well, old chum, I must say I disagree with you there, but let's not fall out over it."

Now, if we don't like somebody or if we don't like what they say, we shriek that they're a latter-day member of the Third Reich or that they should be locked up in an insane asylum.

How dare you have an opinion that's different to mine? You clearly must be mad or bad.

So much for the insults.

But what about the real, true, dyed-in-the-wool narcissists?

I don't mean people who are a bit selfish or thoughtless at times, or who spend a little too long putting on their make-up in the morning.

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I'm talking about the genuine article: the hyper-inflated egos, who are so concerned with the Great I Am - aka themselves - that they will trample over anyone and anything to get their way.

Well, it turns out they're doing just fine. Finding life pretty sweet, actually. Yes, they're deluded about their over-weening self-importance, but apparently they are also likely to be happier than most people.

Stressed? Depressed? Nah. What's to whine about it? They're at the toppermost of the poppermost, aren't they? Shining gold, just like the Big Daddy Narcissist himself Donald Trump. Not like those pathetic, whining losers stumbling around in the muck beneath them. Sad.

This "horrible but happy" view of narcissists derives from some much-publicised research released this week by a team at Queen's University in Belfast.

They define narcissists as being likely to "engage in risky behaviour, hold an unrealistic superior view of themselves, [be] over-confident, show little empathy for others, and have little shame or guilt".

But lead psychologist Dr Kostas Papageorgiou says that negative responses to narcissism can overlook the positive benefits to the narcissists themselves.

It seems that their self-confidence and heightened sense of self-importance can act as "protective" qualities which stop them feeling deflated or knocked back when confronted with life's challenges. It's not the first time that Dr Papageorgiou and his team have highlighted the personal benefits of narcissistic traits.

Last year they found that these types may be more motivated, assertive and successful than others. Their "mental toughness" and "the ability to perform at their very best in pressured and diverse situations" makes them sound like ideal workers. So, what gives?

Based on all this you'd be forgiven for wanting to cast all remaining shreds of modesty or humility aside and embrace the life of a full-blown ego-monster.

After all, we already live in a culture gripped by celebrity-driven narcissism: revoltingly selfie-ridden, with massive over-sharing and constant attention-seeking behaviour. Politicians and media people are frequently among the worst offenders, but it's a society-wide phenomenon.

For instance, what's all this with plastering pics of your cute kids over Facebook or Twitter in order to harvest 'likes'? Isn't that a rather gross invasion of their privacy in order to fuel your own self-esteem?

And I find it remarkable that retweeting praise about yourself or your own work is now considered normal and even to be expected - as if it would be weird if you didn't share the admiration with the whole world.

I mean, it's so great that I'm great, isn't it? Ten years ago a pair of American academics called Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell wrote a book called The Narcissism Epidemic, which charted how the massive rise in narcissistic personality traits mirrored the upswing of obesity rates in the US, and was every bit as damaging to social health.

And that was before the effects of social media really kicked in. Lord knows how bloated with "malignant self-love" - as the self-declared narcissist Sam Vaknin calls it - we have become by now. But no matter what the academics at Queen's say, I refuse to believe that narcissists really are happy people. Successful, perhaps, but not happy. The ones I've come across seem to be empty inside, always hungry for another person to use as a mirror to reflect back some kind of borrowed self-worth.

They are performing all the time, always seeking narcissistic supply, which must be exhausting.

And it's as if the void can never be filled - no matter how much attention they get, no matter how successful they are, it's never enough. That void is bottomless.

The other problem that narcissists have is that they can be so unpleasant to be around, so relentlessly self-serving and unempathetic, that they end up shunned by other people.

You might trump the world, but if there's nobody by your side, what have you really got?

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