It’s no secret that a big dose of narcissism can be a toxic trait—common side effects include arrogance, conceit, haughtiness, and adverse strain on relationships. But according to a new study, it’s bad for your health, too. The unfortunate personality trait puts a huge amount of strain on the heart, especially in men.
The study looked at both men and women who had ranked high for destructive or “unhealthy” levels of narcissistic personality traits and then examined their levels of cortisol, a primary stress hormone. It was discovered that the overly egotistical men tested possessed cortisol levels through the roof.
Cortisol is an important hormone, produced by the adrenal gland to help the body cope with periods of high stress. But too much too often can lead to pretty serious health problems. If your body never gets the chance to lay off the cortisol and relax, chronic stress can set in, causing high blood pressure, weight gain, high LDL cholesterol, cognitive impairment, and greater risk of heart attack and stroke.
It’s important to note that some characteristics of narcissism can be good thing: Confidence, leadership, and self-worth are all healthy traits if kept in check, and don’t have quite as strong of a link to unhealthy cortisol levels. But slip into “destructive” narcissism—dominance, aggression, and manipulation—and here’s where the gents get into trouble. Constantly activated cortisol levels can have harmful effects on a lot of the body’s essential functions.
Since narcissistic women seem to be at significantly less risk than their male counterparts, why men only? Further investigation is needed, but some researchers speculate that stereotyped social delineations may have something to do with it. Aren’t men supposed to be a little more tough, more aggressive, and less likely to ask for help? Admitting to stress might ruin their narcissistic shell altogether, and that just won’t do.
While the study doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship between narcissism and stress response, it does reiterate the medical link between the mind and body. If your mental state isn’t in check, your body can stuffer. Overall wellness requires both—and keeping your ego in line can be an important step toward long-term health.