We all know people who demonstrate paradoxical narcissistic behaviour: self-aggrandizing and self-absorbed, yet easily threatened and overly sensitive to feedback from others. Emotionally volatile. Extroverted and often the centre of attention. Often outwardly charming and socially facile while simultaneously insensitive to others when there is the need for true empathy and compassion. People that when they are on a high, they are unstoppable. But when they are on a low, they are unbearable.
Self-confidence is an overriding theme when one looks to determine the personality traits of top sales professionals. However, there’s self-confidence and there’s over-confidence. The key personality traits of top business-to-business salespeople (The Personality Traits of Top Salespeople « The Edge), including achievement orientation combined with a lack of self-consciousness, are considered to play a critical role in determining success. The danger lies in the mis-interpretation of these traits and consequent behaviour. The behaviour associated with over-confidence may be experienced by the client as that associated with narcissism, especially when things are not always going the way of the sales professional.
Morf and Rhodewalt (in their Psychological Inquiry article, Unraveling the Paradoxes of Narcissism: A Dynamic Self-Regulatory Processing Model) review empirical evidence that narcissists use their social interactions to construct and maintain a grandiose self. These studies also show that narcissists are more concerned with garnering admiration from, and impressing and having an impact on others, than obtaining social approval or even real social feedback. For example, they derogate a better performing other to his or her face, they self-handicap prior to performance, and they engage in grandiose self-presentations in situations that call for modesty. Read more: There’s Confidence . . . . . . . . and then there’s Narcissism | The Edge « The Edge.
However, if some of the statements below best suit your predisposition, I would consider taking the Narcissistic Personality Inventory – Psych Central:
- I have a natural talent for influencing people.
- Modesty doesn’t become me.
- I am assertive.
- If I feel competent I am willing to take responsibility for making decisions.
- I expect a great deal from other people.
- I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve.
So, do you have narcissistic tendencies? Perhaps not. You do, however, like most people believe that positive self-statements provide high self-esteem? And high self-esteem, in turn, improves your performance as perceived by your peers? You also believe or have been told to believe that if you’re experiencing self-doubt or your self-esteem has taken a knock based on adversarial feedback or antagonism, then the answer is to think up positive things about yourself? And that repeating these self-affirmation until you believe them restores you self-esteem? And, this works for you?
Russ Harris, in his book The Confidence Gap, discusses a self-esteem trap that disputes the validity of these beliefs, back-up by empirical research. People in conditions of low self- esteem, making positive affirmations of self-acceptance, have thoughts that typically trigger strong negative reactions and a resultant low mood. It makes them feel worse. Harris goes onto discuss how we have been trapped into continual self-judgement based on society’s definition of success and categorisation of people into winners and losers. The fragile self-esteem driven by the “winner/loser” mind-set, that creates a desperate need to over-achieve, leads to the paradoxical narcissistic behaviour described earlier.
Harris cites research that correlates high self-esteem with:
- egotism, narcissism and arrogance,
- prejudice and discrimination,
- self-deception and defensiveness when faced with honest feedback.
So, if confidence associated with self-esteem does not deliver desirable results and sustainable relationships, what is the alternative?
The central theme of Harris’ book, in my appreciation, is that confidence built from a foundation of “self-acceptance” – which is basically letting go of self-judgements. Self-acceptance is a powerful mind-set because when we step outside of our comfort-zone, as required for growth, creativity and moving towards our goals, things will not always turn out as envisaged. We will err. We will occasionally perform below our self-imposed standards due to reasons even within our control. There will be times that we achieve our goals and times that we fail horribly. The mind-set of self-awareness is aptly described (in Harris’ book) by Michael Jordan, the commonly acclaimed greatest basketball player of all time: “I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots in my career. I’ve lost almost three hundred games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.”
Unraveling the Paradoxes of Narcissism: A Dynamic Self-Regulatory Processing Model by Carolyn C. Morf (Behavioral Science Research Branch National Institute of Mental Health) and Frederick Rhodewalt (Department of Psychology University of Utah), Psychological Inquiry 2001, Vol. 12, No. 4, 177–196