Collective narcissism

Collective narcissism

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Collective narcissism is a type of narcissism
Narcissism is a term with a wide range of meanings, depending on whether it is used to describe a central concept of psychoanalytic theory, a mental illness, a social or cultural problem, or simply a personality trait...

 where an individual has an inflated self-love
Self-love is the strong sense of respect for and confidence in oneself. It is different from narcissism in that as one practices acceptance and detachment, the awareness of the individual shifts and the individual starts to see him or herself as an extension of all there is...

 of his or her own ingroup
In sociology and social psychology, ingroups and outgroups are social groups to which an individual feels as though he or she belongs as a member, or to which they feel contempt, opposition, or a desire to compete. People tend to hold positive attitudes towards members of their own groups, a...

, 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
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one's ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one's own. The ethnocentric individual will judge other groups relative to his or her own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with...

; 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
Wilhelm Reich
Wilhelm Reich was an Austrian-American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, known as one of the most radical figures in the history of psychiatry...

 and Isaiah Berlin
Isaiah Berlin
Sir Isaiah Berlin OM, FBA was a British social and political theorist, philosopher and historian of ideas of Russian-Jewish origin, regarded as one of the leading thinkers of the twentieth century and a dominant liberal scholar of his generation...

 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
Erich Fromm
Erich Seligmann Fromm was a Jewish German-American social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, humanistic philosopher, and democratic socialist. He was associated with what became known as the Frankfurt School of critical theory.-Life:Erich Fromm was born on March 23, 1900, at Frankfurt am...


Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher.Starting from the role of economic capital for social positioning, Bourdieu pioneered investigative frameworks and terminologies such as cultural, social, and symbolic capital, and the concepts of habitus, field or location,...

 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 researcher Agnieszka Golec de Zavala in 2009 in her 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
Henri Tajfel
Henri Tajfel was a British social psychologist, best known for his pioneering work on the cognitive aspects of prejudice and social identity theory, as well as being one of the founders of the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology.-Early life in Poland:Tajfel grew up in Poland...

 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, 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 states some parallels between individual and collective narcissism:
Individual/Collective Narcissism Equivalencies
Individual Collective
I wish people would recognize my authority
The word Authority is derived mainly from the Latin word auctoritas, meaning invention, advice, opinion, influence, or command. In English, the word 'authority' can be used to mean power given by the state or by academic knowledge of an area .-Authority in Philosophy:In...

I wish other people would recognize the authority of my group
I have natural talent for influencing
Social influence
Social influence occurs when an individual's thoughts, feelings or actions are affected by other people. Social influence takes many forms and can be seen in conformity, socialization, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, persuasion, sales, and marketing...

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
Respect denotes both a positive feeling of esteem for a person or other entity , and also specific actions and conduct representative of that esteem. Respect can be a specific feeling of regard for the actual qualities of the one respected...

 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
Recognition (sociology)
Recognition in sociology is public acknowledgement of person's status or merits .When some person is recognized, he or she is accorded some special status, such as a name, title, or classification...

 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
Idealization and devaluation
In psychoanalytic theory, when an individual is unable to integrate difficult feelings, specific defenses are mobilized to overcome what the individual perceives as an unbearable situation. The defense that helps in this process is called splitting. Splitting is the tendency to view events or...

 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
Patriotism is a devotion to one's country, excluding differences caused by the dependencies of the term's meaning upon context, geography and philosophy...

, 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
Narcissistic supply
Narcissistic supply is a concept in some psychoanalytic theories which describes a type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment ....

, 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
Mirroring (psychology)
Mirroring is the behaviour in which one person copies another person usually while in social interaction with them. It may include miming gestures, movements, body language, muscle tensions, expressions, tones, eye movements, breathing, tempo, accent, attitude, choice of words/metaphors and other...

-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
The term charisma has two senses: 1) compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others, 2) a divinely conferred power or talent. For some theological usages the term is rendered charism, with a meaning the same as sense 2...

 and confidence of his mirror-hungry leader. The relationship is somewhat symbiotic; for while the followers provide the continuous admiration needed by the mirror-hunger 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
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 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.

Intergroup aggression

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
A gang is a group of people who, through the organization, formation, and establishment of an assemblage, share a common identity. In current usage it typically denotes a criminal organization or else a criminal affiliation. In early usage, the word gang referred to a group of workmen...

-violence and inter-gang aggression highly collectively narcissistic. Gangs are typically ultra-sensitive to perceived outward negativism, and

It is common for narcissistic ingroups to have an unstable high group self-esteem
Self-esteem is a term in psychology to reflect a person's overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame: some would distinguish how 'the self-concept is what we think about the self; self-esteem, the...

. 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
Humiliation is the abasement of pride, which creates mortification or leads to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission. It can be brought about through bullying, intimidation, physical or mental mistreatment or trickery, or by embarrassment if a person is revealed to have...

, 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, Zavala argues 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 PhD 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
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 (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
Psychological projection
Psychological projection or projection bias is a psychological defense mechanism where a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people...

 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”.

See also

External links

  • Vaknin S
    Sam Vaknin
    Shmuel Ben David "Sam" Vaknin is an Israeli writer. He is the author and publisher of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited , editor-in-chief of the website Global Politician, and runs a website about narcissistic personality disorder .Race, Tim. , The New York Times, July 29, 2002, p...

    Collective Narcissism