By Eric Charles, MA., PhD-c
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“In the final analysis I believe in man in spite of men.” ~Elie Wiesel
I recall as a young boy thinking of girls as alien beings inhabiting the same planet but playing by a whole different set of rules. They were seen as the enemy and I was convinced that boys were superior to girls. I recall my sister arguing that boys had cooties and that girls rule. I believe she won that argument. Without awareness, we were taking part in collective narcissism. Collective narcissism, also known as group narcissism, is a type of narcissism where an individual has an inflated self-love for their in-group. The individual will see his or her group as superior to all other groups and it may function as a narcissistic entity. At that point of my young life, my sister and I were actively part of our respective in-groups; boys versus girls. We both idealized the group we belonged to and believed it was superior to the other group. It appears that collective narcissism is natural for children. Studies show that children between 6 and 9 generally have a higher opinion of their in-group and will directly and indirectly exhibit aggression towards those who are not part of their in group.
While collective narcissism in children appears to be innocent and part of creating self-identity, for adults it often takes a darker tone. Collective narcissism has the potential to create the same destructive chaos of an overt narcissist. It is interesting to note that the term “Collective narcissist” was first used by Theodore Adorno to describe the sentiment that gave support to Nazi rule in Germany in the 1930’s. It is normal and part of our society to identify with many diverse groups throughout our lifetime but we must be careful not to let the pride we feel for our group turn into hate or hostility for another group. Once in a while, put yourself in the other group’s place and try and see things from their point of view. If possible, engage in discussions. Perhaps, by having an open discourse we can learn to respect each other’s differences and get along.
Here are some characteristics of collective narcissism:
1. Person exhibits an exaggerated belief in the superiority of their in-group
An individual who is taking part in group narcissism believes that their group is superior than all other groups. They are not able to find any fault in their group. They seek to be validated as superior and will seek revenge towards anyone who does not recognize their group.
2. The group requires constant validation
Much like the narcissist who outwardly displays an over confident persona to hide a weak and vulnerable inner self, the group is comprised of individual’s who may doubt the prestige of their in-group and will seek constant validation. The individuals are the source of the group’s narcissistic supply. Validation may be gained by engaging in group building behaviors such as political rallies. The group activities will feed the group’s narcissistic need for a continuous flow of praise and validation. Further, the group will constantly seek validation from outside its group and will become hypersensitive to any perceived or imagined slight.
3. The more involved a person is in a group the higher their opinion is of that group
As a person becomes more invested in the group, they begin to see the group as an extension of the self. The group becomes a manifestation of their narcissistic ego and they will praise it to no end.
4. Individuals with a low or damaged ego may seek strength by belonging to a group
Studies show that the individuals within a group of collective narcissists have low self esteem and tend to rely on negative emotions. They avoid interpersonal closeness and are vulnerable to shame. They fully embrace the group’s exaggerated image in order to experience positive emotions and connections.
5. Collective narcissism goes beyond cultures and ethnicities
The group may be comprised of different cultures and ethnicities all sharing the same blind devotion.
6. The collective narcissistic group will create a common enemy
The group will cultivate hate and reject or attack any group that threatens their group’s grandiose image. They may believe in conspiracy theories about the other group, however unrealistic it may be.
Here are some examples of group narcissism:
In this group, the leader is the mirror-hungry narcissist who wants an endless flow of admiration and respect while his followers, the ideal-hungry narcissists find confidence and comfort in the charisma of their leader. The two groups within the group feed off each other and exist only to raise the other’s weak ego. They will go to great lengths to praise and insure the other’s existence. They will convince each other of their greatness.
2. National Narcissism
An example of this would be, “My country is better than yours.”
3. Religious Groups
An example of this would be, “My religion is better than yours.”
4. Political groups
The daily news is often filled with narcissistic entities opposing one another.
5. Specialized groups
Some examples of this are branches of the military and police forces.
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