Researchers at Queen's University Belfast assessed a total of 340 Italian high school students and found that narcissism could actually be a positive attribute linked to higher achievement in school.
"Previous studies indicate that narcissism is a growing trend in our society but this does not necessarily mean that an individual who displays high narcissistic qualities has a personality disorder," explained Dr. Kostas Papageorgiou, one of the leaders of the research.
The study published in Personality and Individual Differences focused on subclinical or "normal" narcissism, which can include some of the same features of clinical narcissism like grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority.
Dr. Papageorgiou explains that while narcissism is considered a socially malevolent trait, it can also run parallel to a strong sense of self-worth.
"If you are a narcissist you believe strongly that you are better than anyone else and that you deserve reward. Being confident in your own abilities is one of the key signs of grandiose narcissism and is also at the core of mental toughness. If a person is mentally tough, they are likely to embrace challenges and see these as an opportunity for personal growth."
The study suggests that a relationship between mental toughness and narcissism could help explain why some students do better in school than others, but more research needs to be done to test this theory.
"It is important that we reconsider how we, as a society, view narcissism," explains Papgeoriou. "We perceive emotions or personality traits as being either bad or good but psychological traits are the products of evolution; they are neither bad nor good - they are adaptive or maladaptive. Perhaps we should expand conventional social morality to include and celebrate all expressions of human nature."
If this also sounds like a way to justify an increasingly selfish culture, you're not alone. But according to psychologist and counselor Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, there is a difference between the normal, healthy subclinical narcissism we are all guilty of from time to time and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which can involve a lack of true empathy for others and self-aggrandizing behavior that masks deep and painful insecurity.
It seems important to emphasize this distinction and an understanding that normal narcissism is just that, a common behavior, while also educating young and old people alike in the importance of empathy and emotional intelligence, which can help keep those evolved narcissistic habits in check.
So go ahead and be loud and proud, just not all the time.