Hooked on a feeling

Apropos of nothing, I want to tell you about collective narcissism. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, so bear with me. Or don’t. It’s your time and they’re your eyes you’re reading with this with.


Collective narcissism is defined as an emotional investment in a belief in the unparalleled greatness of an in-group which is dependent on external validation. To quote an expert, “Collective narcissists aren’t personally grandiose – if anything they may feel individually powerless – but can be cult-like in their devotion to a national, religious or ideological identity with which they identify”.

According to the collective narcissism scale, collective narcissists are particularly sensitive to the smallest offence to their group’s image. Unlike individuals with narcissistic personalities, who hold inflated views of themselves, collective narcissists exaggerate offences to their group, and respond to them aggressively. Collective narcissists believe their group’s importance and worth are not sufficiently recognised by others. They feel that their group merits special treatment, and insist it gets the recognition and respect it deserves. In other words, collective narcissism amounts to a belief in the exaggerated greatness of one’s group and demands external validation.

Collective narcissists are not interested in just being members of a valuable group. They don’t invest their time and energy in the group’s betterment. Instead, their activism involves monitoring whether others, particularly out-group members, recognise and acknowledge the enormous value and special worth of their group. To achieve this, collective narcissists demand privileged treatment, not equal rights. The need for continuous external validation, of this inflated group image, is what distinguishes collective narcissists from those who simply hold positive feelings about the group they belong to.

If collective narcissists perceive their group to be offended, they respond with disproportionate punishments towards the offending party. This is true even if the perceived insult is not intended or perceived by others or is of a debatable nature. As their self-worth is invested in the group, collective narcissists cannot disassociate themselves from the group. Their motivation stems from advancing the group, rather than themselves.

Collective narcissism is associated with sensory processing difficulties. Highly sensitive people are more vulnerable to negative stimuli and to negative experiences undermining their psychological wellbeing. This tendency towards negative emotional responses may predispose the collective narcissist’s belief about the lack of recognition for the in-group’s importance. This also suggests collective narcissism may be underlined by a lack of emotional resilience and the inability to self-soothe when faced with adversity.

A recent study found evidence, in fMRI scan results, that narcissists’ experiences of social rejection can be extremely distressing, despite their contrary claims. Another study found people derive emotional pleasure from responding to rejection with aggression. It is likely, as collective narcissists often use aggression to reduce their distress, that they feel similarly distressed when they perceive their group to be rejected or somehow undermined. It has also been suggested that the “perceived threat to the assumed greatness of the in-group may be chronic because, at least partially, it may come from within, rather than outside. The unacknowledged doubts about the in-group’s greatness may motivate collective narcissists constantly to seek signs of criticism or disrespect of the in-group”.

This investment in retaliation to perceived and imaginary insults can make collective narcissists blind to actual threats to themselves and others. It has been proposed that collective narcissists “accept harming individuals for the sake of the group.”  It is this that can make collective narcissists particularly dangerous and worrying.

The answer to collective narcissism, unsurprisingly, is not to indulge it, but to deal with the individual issues that make it attractive to people. Working on self-esteem and encouraging people to work for the betterment of their group and to take pride and joy in belonging to the community has been suggested as a solution. It’s well known that increase in self-esteem leads to an increase in tolerance of others. To be clear, this is not about external validation but an increase in self-worth. It is not the responsibility of others to manage the feelings of individuals, although it is our responsibility, as a society, to ensure people are able to develop those skills.

Collective narcissism is not peculiar to one group. It has been found to exist in “national ethnic, religious, football fans and gender groups”. Anyone subscribing to a group identity, ideology or political theory should be wary of it. If your entire self-worth is invested in belonging to a group, and you always need your perception of the group to be externally validated, to the point that your time and energy is solely concentrated on proving it is not, you are probably not working for the betterment of others, or even yourself.

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  1. Thanks for this, Claire. It’s helped me understand some of what is at play in a few discussions at present – the GRA and Brexit in particular. Shared it to Twitter where I hope you will return soon.

    1. Some of the articles I link to talk specifically about Brexit, also Trump’s election in the US. There’s a theory that there is an increase in collective narcissism, although it’s not a new phenomenon. Obviously, the rise of the Nazi’s in Germany pre-WWII is a really clear example. I did read that it’s often more prevalent in societies that value the individual over the group, which may explain why we see so much of it today.

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  3. Very interesting! Thanks Claire.

    The extraordinary behaviour of some “trans allies” puzzles me. I don’t know if it can be explained by the “Group Narcissism” theory. There are two incidents that stand out in my mind.

    The first is the female trans activist (antifa? random Social Justice Warrior?) at a Trafalgar Square rally who seemed to exult in shouting “nigger” at a black lesbian. It was all the more shocking because she is obviously a racist but probably calls herself an Intersectional Feminist!

    The second is the men at Leeds Pride chanting, “I’d rather be a pervert than a TERF!”

    Maybe these incidents say nothing about “trans allies” as a group, just that some of them happen to be racists and perverts!

    I have bookmarked this article you linked to read later:
    “Collective Narcissism and In-Group Satisfaction Are Associated With Different Emotional Profiles and Psychological Wellbeing”

    1. I’m wondering if the collective narcissism in those cases comes more from belonging to the “woke” collective. There certainly seems to be a cross over of the two. If you haven’t looked into it already, the Evergreen story is a good example of this too.

  4. Hi Claire, I’ve been on Twitter during the GRA consultation and the worst times on Twitter (2018) in the context of TRA/GENDER CRITICAL/FEMINIST fights. This is my blog on the same topic of group mentality: https://cyberwanderlustblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/06/why-feminists-should-abandon-social-networks-ideology/

    “In short, a lot of virtue signalling was going on among gender-critical feminists. The same feminists that are expected to see that the online collectivism in their circles is toxic to their individual perception of reality, as online collectivism is toxic to trans activists in their own bubble. But if I go further from my own bias (that feminists should collectively be more aware by now that the social network activism is a trap), I find myself disillusioned really quickly. Yes, feminists are also under the inherent influence of social network’s essence: micro-reality production by micro-media management. It’s just a trap and we’re all in it.”

    1. That’s a really good piece and it articulates so many of my thoughts about online activism too. I’m so sorry for your experiences. The situation in Siberia is terrible. I remember you talking about some of this on TWIT with me and Miranda a while back. If there’s ever anything I can do to help, please let me know.

  5. This describes many men’s attitudes toward their group, too, doesn’t it? The same brittle fear of not being respected at all times, the same demand for visible flattery at all times especially from women, the resentment, anger, and revenge for being insufficiently catered to.


    So what’s the cure? Somehow I can’t see the strutting little peacocks settling down to a mere sense of self-worth with no cheering crowds.

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