“Narcissists’ stress-response systems are particularly sensitive to everyday negative emotions,” Cheng explains. “Among people who are not narcissists, you don’t see this really elevated output of these stress markers.” And, interestingly, narcissists had elevated levels of both cortisol and alpha-amylase, which typically aren’t strongly correlated. Whereas cortisol reflects immediate, acute stress, alpha-amylase is more associated with long-term, chronic stress. Cheng’s research indicates that narcissists may suffer more from both.
But why? What makes narcissists so stressed? For one, narcissists might be more stressed than non-narcissists because they’re actually more insecure. Cheng says her research is consistent with the longstanding theory that narcissists are, counterintuitively, less confident and less able to cope with setbacks. What Cheng and others call narcissists’ “fragile egos” might explain why they’re more agitated by daily hassles. “If they were truly confident and not vulnerable or fragile, they should show the opposite pattern, where they would have less stress entering the body during hardship,” Cheng notes. Instead, narcissists put up a self-satisfied front that shatters every time something goes wrong.