Finding Meaning in the Mirror: The Existential Pursuits of Narcissists

  • Constantine Sedikides
  • Claire M. Hart
  • Sylwia Z. Cisek
  • Clay Routledge


Narcissism refers to a self-centered, self-aggrandizing, dominant, entitled, and manipulative orientation. Narcissists are high on agency (i.e., have inflated perceptions of themselves) and low on communion (i.e., have deflated perceptions of others). This chapter proposes that narcissists rely on agency to seek, attain, and sustain meaning in life. Narcissists may derive meaning from at least three agentic domains: achievement, materialism, and reflections of glory. Narcissists pursue achievements, conspicuous consumption, and glory reflection, because these pursuits inject their self-system with positivity by making them feel successful, special, and mighty. Alternatively, they may do so in an effort to compensate for inner fragility.


Social Connectedness Conspicuous Consumption Mortality Salience Material Possession Existential Threat 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Arndt J, Solomon S, Kasser T, Sheldon KM (2004) The urge to splurge: a terror management account of materialism and consumer behavior. J Consum Psychol 14:198–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Back MD, Schmukle SC, Egloff B (2010) Why are narcissists so charming at first sight? Decoding the narcissism-popularity link at zero acquaintance. J Pers Soc Psychol 98:132–145PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bartels DM, Urminsky O (2011) On intertemporal selfishness: how the perceived instability of identity underlies impatient consumption. J Consum Res 38(1):182–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Becker E (1971) The birth and death of meaning, 2nd edn. The Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Belk RW (1985) Materialism: trait aspects of living in the material world. J Consum Res 13:265–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bogart LM, Benotsch EG, Pavlovic JD (2004) Feeling superior but threatened: the relationship of narcissism to social comparison. Basic Appl Soc Psychol 26:35–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boldero J, Hulbert C, Lim CMJ, Wright B, Aytekin S, Meaklim H (2007) The contributions of personality and self-esteem to overt and covert narcissism. Paper presented at the 10th annual conference of international society for the study of personality disorders, The Hague, the NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  8. Bosson JK, Prewitt-Freilino JL (2007) Overvalued and ashamed: considering the roles of self-­esteem and self-conscious emotions in covert narcissism. In: Tracy JL, Robins RW, Tangney JP (eds) The self-conscious emotions: theory and research, 2nd edn. Guilford, New York, pp 407–425Google Scholar
  9. Bradlee PM, Emmons RA (1992) Locating narcissism within the interpersonal circumplex and the five-factor model. Personal Individ Differ 13:821–830CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Braun OL, Wicklund RA (1989) Psychological antecedents of conspicuous consumption. J Econ Psychol 10:161–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brunell AB, Gentry WA, Campbell WK, Hoffman BJ, Kuhnert KW, DeMaree KG (2008) Leader emergence: the case of the narcissistic leader. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 34:1663–1676PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bushman BJ, Moeller SJ, Crocker J (2011) Sweets, sex, or self-esteem? Comparing the value of self-esteem boosts with other pleasant rewards. J Pers 99:78–106Google Scholar
  13. Campbell WK (1999) Narcissism and romantic attraction. J Pers Soc Psychol 77:1254–1270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Campbell WK, Foster JD (2007) The narcissistic self: background, an extended agency model, and ongoing controversies. In: Sedikides C, Spencer S (eds) The self: frontiers in social psychology. Psychology Press, New York, pp 115–138Google Scholar
  15. Campbell WK, Reeder G, Sedikides C, Elliot AJ (2000) Narcissism and comparative self-­enhancement strategies. J Res Personal 34:329–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Campbell WK, Rudich E, Sedikides C (2002) Narcissism, self-esteem, and the positivity of self-­views: two portraits of self-love. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 28:358–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Campbell WK, Bush CP, Brunell AB, Shelton J (2005) Understanding the social costs of narcissism: the case of the tragedy of the commons. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 31:1358–1368PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Campbell WK, Bosson JK, Goheen TW, Lakey CE, Kernis MH (2007) Do narcissists dislike themselves “deep down inside”? Psychol Sci 18:227–229PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Chang L, Arkin RM (2002) Materialism as an attempt to cope with uncertainty. Psychol Mark 19:389–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Christopher AN, Schlenker BR (2000) The impact of perceived material wealth and perceiver personality on first impressions. J Econ Psychol 21:1–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cisek SZ, Hart CM, Sedikides C (2008) Do narcissists use material possessions as a primary buffer against pain? Psychol Inq 19:205–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cohen P, Cohen J (1996) Life values and adolescent mental health. Erlbaum, MahwahGoogle Scholar
  23. Corr PJ, Matthews G (eds) (2009) Cambridge University Press handbook of personality. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  24. Cryder CE, Lerner JS, Cross JJ, Dahl RE (2008) Misery is not miserly: sad and self-focused individuals spend more. Psychol Sci 19:525–530PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Debats DL (1996) Meaning in life: clinical relevance and predictive power. Br J Clin Psychol 35:503–516PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Denissen JJA, Geenen R, Selfhout M, Van Arken MAG (2008) Single-item Big Five ratings in a social network design. Eur J Personal 22:37–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dutton KA, Brown JD (1997) Global self-esteem and specific self-views as determinants of people’s reactions to success and failure. J Pers Soc Psychol 73:139–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Emmons RA (1981) Relationship between narcissism and sensation seeking. Psychol Rep 48:247–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Farwell L, Wohlwend-Lloyd R (1998) Narcissistic processes: optimistic expectations, favorable self-evaluations, and self-enhancing attributions. J Pers 66:65–83PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Finkel EJ, Campbell WK, Kumashiro M, Rusbult CE (2009) The metamorphosis of narcissus: communal activation promotes relationship commitment among narcissists. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 35:1271–1284PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Foster JD, Misra TA, Reidy DE (2009) Narcissists are approach-oriented toward their money and their friends. J Res Personal 43:764–769CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Frankl VE (1959) Man’s search for meaning. Washington Square Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  33. Gabriel MT, Critelli JW, Ee JS (1994) Narcissistic illusions in self-evaluations of intelligence and attractiveness. J Pers 62:143–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gregg AP, Sedikides C (2010) Narcissistic fragility: rethinking its links to explicit and implicit self-esteem. Self Identity 9:142–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hart CM, Sedikides C, Wildschut T, Arndt J, Routledge C, Vingerhoets AJJM (2011) Nostalgic recollections of high and low narcissists. J Res Personal 45:238–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hepper EG, Gramzow RH, Sedikides C (2010) Individual differences in self-enhancement and self-protection strategies: an integrative analysis. J Pers 78:781–814PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Horvath S, Morf CC (2009) Narcissistic defensiveness: hyperviligance and avoidance of worthlessness. J Exp Soc Psychol 45:1252–1258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. John OP, Robins RW (1994) Accuracy and bias in self-perception: individual differences in self-­enhancement and the role of narcissism. J Pers Soc Psychol 66:206–219PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Jordan CH, Spencer SJ, Zanna MP, Hoshino-Browne E, Correll J (2003) Implicit self-esteem, explicit self-esteem and defensiveness. J Pers Soc Psychol 85:969–978PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kasser T (2002) The high price of materialism. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  41. Kasser T, Kasser VG (2001) The dreams of people high and low in materialism. J Econ Psychol 22:693–719CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kasser T, Ryan RM (1996) Further examining American dream: differential correlates of intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 22:280–287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kasser T, Sheldon KM (2000) Of wealth and death: materialism, mortality salience, and consumption behaviour. Psychol Sci 11:352–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kernberg O (1975) Borderline conditions and pathological narcissism. Jason Aronson, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  45. Kernis MH, Sun C-R (1994) Narcissism and reactions to interpersonal feedback. J Res Personal 28:4–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Konrath S, Bushman BJ, Campbell WK (2006) Attenuating the link between threatened egotism and aggression. Psychol Sci 17:995–1001PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kressman F, Sirgy JM, Herman A, Huber S, Lee DJ (2006) Direct and indirect effects of self-­image congruence on brand loyalty. J Bus Res 59:955–964CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Maio GR, Pakizeh A, Cheung W-Y, Rees KJ (2009) Changing, priming, and acting on values: effects via motivational relations in a circular model. J Pers Soc Psychol 97:699–715PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. McAdams DP, Hoffman BJ, Mansfield ED, Day R (1996) Themes of agency and communion in significant autobiographical scenes. J Pers 64:339–377CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Miller JD, Campbell WK, Young DL, Lakey CE, Reidy DE, Zeichner A, Goodie AS (2009) Examining the relations among narcissism, impulsivity, and self-defeating behaviors. J Pers 77:761–793PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Miller JD, Dir A, Gentile B, Wilson L, Pryor LR, Campbell WK (2010) Searching for a vulnerable dark triad: comparing factor 2 psychopathology, vulnerable narcissism, and borderline personality disorder. J Pers 78(5):1529–1564PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Morf CC, Rhodewalt F (2001) Unraveling the paradoxes of narcissism: a dynamic self-regulatory processing model. Psychol Inq 12:177–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Morf CC, Weir C, Davidov M (2000) Narcissism and intrinsic motivation: the role of goal congruence. J Exp Soc Psychol 36:424–438CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Morf CC, Davidov M, Ansara D (2010) Strategic regulation of desired identity images in response to opportunities and threats: effects of audience characteristics on narcissistic self-presentation (Unpublished manuscript, University of Bern, Switzerland)Google Scholar
  55. Morf CC, Horvath S, Torchetti L (2011) Narcissism and self-enhancement: tales of (successful?) self-portrayal. In: Alicke MD, Sedikides C (eds) Handbook of self-enhancement and self-­protection. Guilford, New York, pp 399–424Google Scholar
  56. O’Shaughnessy J, O’Shaughnessy NJ (2002) Marketing, the consumer society and hedonism. Eur J Mark 36:524–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Pennebaker JW, King LA (1999) Linguistic styles: language use as an individual difference. J Pers Soc Psychol 77:1296–1312PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Pyszczynski T, Greenberg J, Solomon S, Arndt J, Schimel J (2004) Why do people need self-­esteem?: a theoretical and empirical review. Psychol Bull 130:435–468PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Raskin RN, Novacek J (1991) Narcissism and the use of fantasy. J Clin Psychol 47:490–499PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Rhodewalt F, Eddings SK (2002) Narcissus reflects: memory distortion in response to ego-relevant feedback among high- and low-narcissistic men. J Res Personal 36:97–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rhodewalt F, Madrian JC, Cheney S (1998) Narcissism, self-knowledge organization, and ­emotional reactivity: the effect of daily experiences on self-esteem and affect. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 24:75–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rhodewalt F, Tragakis MW, Finnerty J (2006) Narcissism and self-handicapping: linking self-­aggrandizement to behavior. J Res Personal 40:573–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Richins ML (1994) Special possessions and the expression of material values. J Consum Res 21:522–533CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Roberts BW, Robins RW (2000) Broad dispositions, broad aspirations: the intersection of the Big Five dimensions and major life goals. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 26:1284–1296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Rose P (2007) Mediators of the association between narcissism and compulsive buying: the roles of materialism and impulse control. Psychol Addict Behav 21:576–581PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Rosenthal SA (2005) The fine line between confidence and arrogance: investigating the relationship of self-esteem to narcissism. Dissert Abstr Int 66(05):2868B (UMI No. 3174022)Google Scholar
  67. Routledge C, Arndt J, Wildschut T, Sedikides C, Hart CM, Juhl J, Vingerhoets AJJ, Schlotz W (2011) The past makes the present meaningful: Nostalgia as an existential resource. J Pers Soc Psychol 101(3):638–652PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Ryff CD (1989) Happiness is everything or is it? Explorations of the meaning of psychological well-being. J Pers Soc Psychol 57:1069–1081CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Schwartz SH, Rubel T (2005) Sex differences in value priorities: cross-cultural and multimethod studies. J Pers Soc Psychol 89:1010–1028PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sedikides C, Gregg AP, Cisek S, Hart CM (2007) The I that buys: narcissists as consumers. J Consum Psychol 17:254–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sedikides C, Cisek S, Hart CM (2011) Narcissism and brand name consumerism. In: Campbell WK, Miller J (eds) The handbook of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder: theoretical approaches, empirical findings, and treatment. Wiley, HobokenGoogle Scholar
  72. Sivanathan N, Pettit NC (2010) Protecting the self through consumption: status goods as affirmational commodities. J Exp Soc Psychol 46:564–570CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Solomon S, Greenberg J, Pyszczynski T (1991) Terror management theory of self-esteem. In: Snyder CR, Forsyth D (eds) Handbook of social and clinical psychology: the health perspective. Pergamon Press, New York, pp 21–40Google Scholar
  74. Steger MF, Frazier P (2005) Meaning in life: one link in the chain from religion to well-being. J Couns Psychol 4:574–582CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Stucke TS, Sporer SL (2002) When a grandiose self-image is threatened: narcissism and self-­concept clarity as predictors of negative emotions and aggression toward ego threat. J Pers 70:509–532PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Thomaes S, Bushman BJ, de Castro BO, Cohen GL, Denissen JJA (2009) Reducing narcissistic aggression by buttressing self-esteem. Psychol Sci 20:1536–1542PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Tuan Y-F (1980) The significance of the artifact. Geogr Rev 70:462–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Updegraff JA, Cohen Silver R, Holman EA (2008) Searching for and finding meaning in collective trauma: results from a national longitudinal study of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. J Pers Soc Psychol 95:709–722PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Vazire S, Funder DC (2006) Impulsivity and the self-defeating behavior of narcissists. Pers Soc Psychol Rev 10:154–165PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Vigneron F, Johnson LW (1999) A review and a conceptual framework of prestige-seeking consumer behavior. Acad Mark Sci Rev 1:1–23Google Scholar
  81. Vohs KD, Mead NL, Goode MR (2006) The psychological consequences of money. Science 314:1154–1161PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wallace HM, Baumeister RF (2002) The performance of narcissists rises and falls with perceived opportunity for glory. J Pers Soc Psychol 82:819–834PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Wallace HM, Ready CB, Weitenhagen E (2009) Narcissism and task persistence. Self Identity 8:78–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Zeigler-Hill V (2006) Discrepancies between implicit and explicit self-esteem: implications for narcissism and self-esteem instability. J Res Personal 74:119–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Zeigler-Hill V, Myers EM, Clark CB (2010) Narcissism and self-esteem reactivity: the role of negative achievement events. J Res Personal 44:285–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Zika S, Chamberlain K (1992) On the relation between meaning in life and psychological well-­being. Br J Psychol 83:133–145PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Constantine Sedikides
    • 1
  • Claire M. Hart
    • 1
  • Sylwia Z. Cisek
    • 1
  • Clay Routledge
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Research on Self and Identity, School of PsychologyUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonEngland, UK
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyNorth Dakota State UniversityFargoUSA

Personalised recommendations