Ever met a guy who talks only about himself, thinks he's superior to everyone and who tends to view women as little more than playthings?
That man may very well have narcissistic personality disorder, a condition marked by an inflated sense of self-importance and a profound lack of empathy for others.
And new research suggests the anger, hostility and short fuse that accompany a man's narcissism tend to be directed toward straight women.
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"Heterosexual, narcissistic men become enraged at people who deny them gratification, whether it's social status, having a trophy partner or sexual gratification," said lead study author Scott Keiller, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Kent State University Tuscarawas in Ohio.
"The group that could gratify heterosexual men the most is heterosexual women," Keiller said. "To the extent narcissistic men would get resistance, that would make them enraged."
For the study, published online in the journal Sex Roles, Keiller and his colleagues gave 104 male undergraduates questionnaires designed to measure narcissism. Questions included: "I love to be the centre of attention" or "It embarrasses me when I am the centre of attention." The former is associated with narcissism, the latter with modesty and humility.
They were also asked about their attitudes toward gay men, lesbians, straight women and other straight men, including how much they ascribed to traditional - some would say sexist - male and female stereotypes.
None of the men questioned had diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder, said Keiller. (The disorder is diagnosed when one meets five symptoms on a list that includes grandiosity, a strong sense of entitlement, and an overwhelming need for admiration, according to the American Psychiatric Association.) But narcissism is a continuum, and plenty of the young men had a pronounced tendency toward those traits, he said.
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Men who scored the highest on the narcissism test were more likely to view women as conniving gold diggers, as teases who tempt men with sex and don't deliver, or as seductresses with plans to trick men and "get them under their thumb," Keiller said.
"Narcissistic men hold overtly hostile, adversarial ideas about women," Keiller said.
While narcissistic men also showed rancour toward gay men, their hostility toward them was no worse than that of other straight men.
About the only group that escaped narcissistic men's anger were lesbians, possibly because straight men tend to eroticise them, Keiller said.
Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement," said the study fits with other research on narcissists.
"Narcissists don't have a problem with everyone, or with people that are different. They have a problem with people who may reject them," Twenge said. "They have a problem with heterosexual women, because those are the people who might see through them, reject them and not give them the attention and adulation they feel they deserve."
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The findings suggest they view their relationships with women as patriarchal rather than egalitarian, the authors said.
Men tend to have more narcissistic traits than women, possibly because girls, more than boys, are taught to be nurturing, selfless and to put others first, according to background information in the article. Likewise, men are more frequently diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder than women.
Research suggests narcissistic men are also more likely to commit domestic violence because of their egocentrism and lack of empathy, although many men who commit violence are not narcissists, Keiller said.
Over time, narcissistic men do tend to get their comeuppance. Eventually, their anger and aggression turns off loved ones and employers, experts say.
"They can be charming, self-promoting and even in the face of evidence they are not great, they still think they're great," Twenge said. "But as they age, they are also more likely to fail at school, work and relationships. It's tough to be a middle-aged narcissist."
Just ask actor Mel Gibson, who's made headlines recently with aggressive verbal outbursts directed at women. According to Keiller, it's impossible to know if he's a narcissist without a full exam, but his sexist comments toward a female police officer and his latest reported tirades toward ex-partner Oksana Grigorieva would seem to indicate he fits the bill. (August 2010)
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