Collective narcissism (or group narcissism) is a type of narcissism where an individual has an inflated self-love of his or her own ingroup, where an “ingroup” is a group in which an individual is personally involved. While the classic definition of narcissism focuses on the individual, collective narcissism asserts that one can have a similar excessively high opinion of a group, and that a group can function as a narcissistic entity. Collective narcissism is related to ethnocentrism; however, ethnocentrism primarily focuses on self-centeredness at an ethnic or cultural level, while collective narcissism is extended to any type of ingroup beyond just cultures and ethnicities. Some theorists believe group-level narcissism to be an extension of individual narcissism, though others believe the two to be quite independent.
Development of the concept
Freud in his 1922 study Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, noted how 'every little canton looks down upon the others with contempt', as an instance of what would later to be termed 'Freud's theory of collective narcissism'. Thereafter, Wilhelm Reich and Isaiah Berlin explored what the latter called 'the rise of modern national narcissism: the self-adoration of peoples'; while ”Group narcissism” is described in a 1973 book entitled The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness by psychologist Erich Fromm.
Pierre Bourdieu in the nineties wrote of 'a sort of collective narcissism affecting intellectual groups...inclining them to turn a complacent gaze on themselves'; while the term “collective narcissism” was highlighted anew by researchers Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, Aleksandra Cichocka, Roy Eidelson and Nuwan Jayawickreme in 2009 in their study “Collective Narcissism and its Social Consequences.”
Noting how 'people's desire to see their own groups as better than other groups can lead to intergroup bias', Henri Tajfel approached the same phenomena in the seventies and eighties, so as to create 'social identity theory, which argues that people's motivation to obtain positive self-esteem from their group memberships is one driving-force behind in-group bias'
Collective narcissism is characterized by the members of a group holding an inflated view of their ingroup. It is important to note that collective narcissism can be exhibited by an individual on behalf of a group or by a group as a whole. Fundamentally, however, collective narcissism always has some tie to the individuals who make up a narcissistic group. Collectively narcissistic groups require—just as an individual narcissist requires—external validation. Organizations and groups who exhibit this behavior typically try to protect their identities through rewarding group-building behavior--positive reinforcement. According to Golec de Zavala and colleagues, collective is an alternative form of narcissism, not altogether connected to individual, where most characteristics of individual narcissism apply, but are manipulated to include the word “group” where “self” might be found. Golec de Zavala et al. state some parallels between individual and collective narcissism:
|I wish people would recognize my authority||I wish other people would recognize the authority of my group|
|I have natural talent for influencing people||My group has all predispositions to influence others|
|If I ruled the world it would be a much better place||If my group ruled the world it would be a much better place|
|I am an extraordinary person||My group is extraordinary|
|I like to be the center of attention||I like when my group is the center of attention|
|I will never be satisfied until I get what I deserve||I will never be satisfied until my group gets all that it deserves|
|I insist upon getting the respect that is due to me||I insist upon my group getting the respect that is due to it|
|I want to amount to something in the eyes of the world||I want my group to amount to something in the eyes of the world|
|People never give me enough recognition for the things I've done||Not many people seem to understand the full importance of my group|
Collective vs. individual
There are several connections, and intricate relationships between collective and individual narcissism, or between individual narcissism stemming from group identities or activities. No single relationship between groups and individuals, however, is conclusive or universally applicable. In some cases, collective narcissism is an individual’s idealization of the ingroup to which it belongs, while in another the idealization of the group takes place at a more group-level, rather than an instillation within each individual member of the group. In some cases, one might project the idealization of himself onto his group, while in another case, the development of individual-narcissism might stem from being associated with a prestigious, accomplished, or extraordinary group.
An example of the first case listed above is that of national identity. One might feel a great sense of love and respect for one’s nation, flag, people, or governmental systems as a result of a collectively narcissistic perspective. It must be remembered that these feelings are not explicitly the result of collective narcissism, and that collective narcissism is not explicitly the cause of patriotism, or any other group-identifying expression. But glorification of one’s group, such as a nation can be seen in some cases as a manifestation of collective narcissism.
In the case where the idealization of self is projected onto ones group, group-level narcissism tends to be less binding than in other cases. Typically in this situation the individual—already individually narcissistic—uses a group to enhance his own self-perceived quality, and by identifying positively with the group and actively building it up, the narcissist is enhancing simultaneously both his own self-worth, and his groups worth. However, because the link tends to be weaker, individual narcissists seeking to raise themselves up through a group will typically dissociate themselves from a group they feel is damaging to their image, or that is not improving proportionally to the amount of support they are investing in the group.
Involvement in one’s group has also been shown to be a factor in the level of collective narcissism exhibited by members of a group. Typically a more involved member of a group is more likely to exhibit a higher opinion of the group. This results from an increased affinity for the group as one becomes more involved, as well as a sense of investment or contribution to the success of the group. Also, another perspective asserts that individual narcissism is related to collective narcissism exhibited by individual group members. Personal narcissists, seeing their group as a defining extension of themselves, will defend their group (collective narcissism) more avidly than a non-narcissist, to preserve their own perceived social standing along with their group’s. In this vein, a problem is presented; for while an individual narcissist will be heroic in defending his or her ingroup during intergroup conflicts, he or she may be a larger burden on the ingroup in intragroup situations by demanding admiration, and exhibiting more selfish behavior on the intragroup level—individual narcissism.
Conversely, another relationship between collective narcissism and the individual can be established with individuals who have a low or damaged ego investing their image in the well-being of their group, which bears strong resemblance to the “ideal-hungry” followers in the charismatic leader-follower relationship. As discussed, these ego-damaged group-investors seek solace in belonging to a group; however, a charismatic, strong leader is not always requisite for someone weak to feel strength by building up a narcissistic opinion of their own group.
The charismatic leader-follower relationship
Another sub-concept encompassed by collective narcissism is that of the “Charismatic Leader-Follower Relationship” theorized by political psychologist Jerrold Post. Post takes the view that collective narcissism is exhibited as a collection of individual narcissists, and discusses how this type of relationship emerges when a narcissistic charismatic leader, appeals to narcissistic “ideal-hungry” followers.
An important characteristic of the leader follower-relationship are the manifestations of narcissism by both the leader and follower of a group. Within this relationship there are two categories of narcissists: the mirror-hungry narcissist, and the ideal-hungry narcissist—the leader and the followers respectively. The mirror-hungry personality typically seeks a continuous flow of admiration and respect from his followers. Conversely, the ideal-hungry narcissist takes comfort in the charisma and confidence of his mirror-hungry leader. The relationship is somewhat symbiotic; for while the followers provide the continuous admiration needed by the mirror-hungry leader, the leader’s charisma provides the followers with the sense of security and purpose that their ideal-hungry narcissism seeks. Fundamentally both the leader and the followers exhibit strong collectively narcissistic sentiments—both parties are seeking greater justification and reason to love their group as much as possible.
Perhaps the most significant example of this phenomenon would be that of Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler’s charisma and polarizing speeches satisfied the German people’s hunger for a strong leader. Hitler’s speeches were characterized by their emphasis on “strength”—referring to Germany—and “weakness”—referring to the Jewish people. Some have even described Hitler’s speeches as “hypnotic”—even to non-German speakers, and his rallies as “watching hypnosis on large scale”. Hitler’s charisma convinced the German people to believe that they were not weak, and that by destroying the perceived weakness from among them (the Jews), they would be enhancing their own strength—satisfying their ideal-hungry desire for strength, and pleasing their mirror-hungry charismatic leader.
Collective narcissism has been shown to be a factor in intergroup aggression and bias. Primary components of collectively narcissistic intergroup relations involve aggression against, and perceived threat from, outgroups with which the narcissistic ingroup has frequent interaction. Collective narcissism helps to explain unreasonable manifestations of retaliation between groups. A narcissistic group is more sensitive to perceived criticism exhibited by outgroups, and is therefore more likely to retaliate. Collective narcissism is also related to negativity between groups who share a history of distressing experiences. This intergroup callousness is the result of an unforgiving narcissistic party. For example, one might consider gang-violence and inter-gang aggression highly collectively narcissistic. Gangs are typically ultra-sensitive to perceived outward negativism.
It is common for narcissistic ingroups to have an unstable high group self-esteem. Because of this instability, narcissistic groups are especially prone to perceived negativity towards themselves. The members of a narcissistic ingroup are likely to assume threats or negativity towards their ingroup where threats or negativity were not necessarily implied or exhibited. It is thought that this heightened sensitivity to negative feelings towards the ingroup is a result of underlying doubts about the greatness of the ingroup held by its members. These perceived threats result in a damaged collective self-esteem, which is associated with increased intergroup aggression.
Similar to other elements of collective narcissism, intergroup aggression related to collective narcissism draws parallels with its individually narcissistic counterparts. An individual narcissist might react aggressively in the presence of humiliation, irritation, or anything threatening to his self-image. Likewise, a collective narcissist, or a collectively narcissistic group might react aggressively when the image of the group is in jeopardy, or when the group is collectively humiliated. On this point, Golec de Zavala et al. argue that collective narcissism—and not individual narcissism—is really responsible for intergroup aggression. This is to say that while the narcissism of an individual may govern the link between narcissism and interpersonal aggression on the individual level, that analogously, collective narcissism solely governs the link between collective narcissism and intergroup aggression at the group-level.
A study conducted among 6-9 year-olds by Judith Griffiths indicated that ingroups and outgroups among these children functioned relatively identical to other known collectively narcissistic groups in terms of intergroup aggression. The study noted that children generally had a significantly higher opinion of their ingroup than of surrounding outgroups, and that such ingroups indirectly or directly exhibited aggression on surrounding outgroups.
Collective narcissism and ethnocentrism are closely related; they can be positively correlated and often shown to be coexistent, but they are independent in that either can exist without the presence of the other. In a study conducted by PhD Boris Bizumic, some ethnocentrism was shown to be an expression of group-level narcissism. It was noted, however, that not all manifestations of ethnocentrism are narcissistically based, and conversely, not all cases of group-level narcissism are by any means ethnocentric.
It is suggested that ethnocentrism, when pertaining to discrimination or aggression based on the self-love of one’s group, or in other words, based on exclusion from one’s self-perceived superior group is an expression of collective narcissism. In this sense, it might be said the collective and group narcissism overlap with ethnocentrism depending on given definitions, and the breadth of their acceptance.
In the world
In general, collective narcissism is most strongly manifested in groups that are “self-relevant,” like religions, nationality, or ethnicity. As discussed earlier, phenomena such as national identity (nationality), and Nazi Germany (ethnicity and nationality), are manifestations of collective narcissism among groups that critically define the people who belong to them.
In addition to this, collective narcissism that may already exist among a group is likely to be exacerbated during conflict and aggression. And in terms of cultural effects, cultures that place an emphasis on the individual are apparently more likely to see manifestations of perceived individual greatness projected onto social ingroups existing within that culture. Also, and finally, narcissistic groups are not restricted to any one homogenous composition of collective or individually collective or individual narcissists. A quote from Hitler almost ideally sums the actual nature of collective narcissism as it is realistically manifested, and might be found reminiscent of almost every idea presented here: “My group is better and more important than other groups, but still is not worthy of me”.
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