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Narcissism Can Be Deadly

Unhealthy narcissism—including selfies—can lead to elevated stress hormone in men and women.

Her selfie-mania may seem cute now, but it could be a drag long-term.

A joint study at the University of California - Los Angeles and the University of Georgia gave 146 newlywed couples the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, then tracked them for four years and found that when wives were more narcissistic, both partners ended up unhappy. The same didn’t apply to narcissistic husbands. (Guess wives know we’re self-absorbed assholes and just deal with it.)

Of course, narcissists exist throughout society. They're self-absorbed. Entitled. Lacking empathy. And while narcissism can help men succeed in mild forms, unhealthy degrees of narcissism can even lead to aggression. Around one percent of the human population suffers from narcissism severe enough to be classified as a personality disorder.

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But it's less clear how they damage themselves. A 2012 study of 106 undergraduate students in the U.S. showed that unhealthy narcissism in men is strongly related to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This connection was two and a half times greater than what was seen in women with the same type of personality.

Cortisol—part of the fight-or-flight response—primes the body to respond to potential threats. When threats are real—such as during a fire or physical attack—cortisol is extremely useful. Chronically elevated levels, however, can increase the risk of many conditions, such as heart disease or depression. Researchers think that gender may play a role in the different responses seen in narcissistic men and women.

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“We think there’s some sort of especially toxic relationship between both being male and having a sense of masculinity or threat to a masculine identity,” co-author Sara Konrath of the University of Michigan told CNN. So the next time you spend over an hour preening in front of the mirror before a night out, remember you're stressing out more than just your friends who are wondering what's taking you so damn long.


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