Why Narcissists Seem to Believe That Pandemic Precautions Don’t Apply to Them and What We Can Do About It

It takes a narcissist to show a complete lack of empathy or care for others in the middle of a worldwide pandemic

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.
May 4, 2020 · 11 min read
Photo by Giorgio Paradisi from Pexels

Although I haven’t been out much this past month, it seems the times I have, I run into people who just have no regard for the rest of us. At this point, I don’t know how much clearer things can be. Stay at home as much as possible. “As possible” is defined as “unless you must leave to get groceries, healthcare items or prescriptions because they can’t be otherwise delivered to you.”

Yes, I know how tough this is. It’s tough for all of us. No matter how much of a home body you may be, being told you can’t go anywhere is still stressful and not something anyone wants. But it’s for the wellbeing of everyone, in the hopes this pandemic can be gotten under control with the least amount of suffering and loss of life possible.

Yet, there just seem to be those who either haven’t gotten the memo, or worse, just don’t care. Some seem to feel as if they are entitled to their “rights” which include being allowed to go where they want when they want.

I have trouble understanding this because exercising such a “right” (and read the Constitution — this isn’t in there) means you will also have the additional “right” to get the coronavirus and give it to everyone you are around. Given that these people think that their rights supersede those of everyone else’s, doesn’t seem compatible with putting their own health and potentially their life at risk.

I went to the grocery story today and ran into the most extreme example of this type of behavior that I have seen yet. The situation seemed exaggerated to the point of making me wonder if I was watching a movie being filmed or was an unwitting contestant on that old television show, “You’re on Candid Camera.” The problem with the first was that, obviously there was no camera crew around and as for the second, no one could argue that the situation was in any way funny.

As I turned into the produce section, I heard the man before I saw him. He was talking loudly on his phone, oblivious to anyone around him. He was evidently in the middle of a conversation.

“I know I’m supposed to stay home but it’s not like I have any symptoms so what’s the problem?”

Huh? He wasn’t suggesting . . . No, he probably just means there’s no reason to think that he’s got it.

“Oh, knock it off already. I don’t even have a fever. I’m not sitting at home when there’s nothing decent to eat.”

Are you kidding me?

I figure I have to be interpreting that wrong, although I see I’m not the only one thinking what I was thinking from the number of people who are all but fleeing from his path.

“No, I’m not wearing a mask and gloves,” he says, sounding annoyed. “I’m not going to run around looking like the rest of those bozos. I swear some of them seem to think it’s a fashion statement.”

Wow. Just wow.

“Yes I know,” the man continues as he picks up avocado after avocado, then moves on to do the same with the tomatoes with his ungloved hands. “But I’ll be darned if I’ll sit at home when I’m not sick. If other people get sick, well it’s not my problem. No one stays home with a cold and I never seeing anyone wearing a mask worrying about other people catching it. It’s not the end of the world.”

Oh my God. I’m pretty sure my eyes above the mask reflect the horror that I see in others. People are now leaving their baskets and making quickly for the door.

I debate, given that even though I’ve had it they aren’t 100 percent certain you can’t get it a second time and I have no intention of going through that again if I have anything to say about it. I have literally nothing left in the house and I eye the things in my basket. Should I make a dash for the self checkout registers?

There’s no one at any of them so I decide to risk it, swerving to move quickly in that direction. Just as I’m almost there, when from out of nowhere, the plague carrier appears and proceeds to cut me off without even noticing. Unable to stop in time I bang into his basket. That gets his attention.

He looks at me angrily and says, less than two feet from me, “Jeez, watch where you’re going, hop along,” a reference, I think, to the bandana mask I made to wear while my other one is waiting to be washed. As if in slow motion I see him put his ungloved hand on the edge of my basket to shove it backwards. That’s it for me.

I abandon the basket and literally run in the other direction. When I get outside, I take my homemade sanitizer out of my pocket and slather it all over my hands, up my arms despite the fact I’m wearing a coat, over my neck and reaching under my top my shoulders and back. I snap it shut, then think better of it and put some on my face — not the best skin care routine but the thought of even the slightest possibility of catching it again has me starting to spiral into a panic.

As I read the news, visit online forums and text with friends I am increasingly astonished by the way some people are still acting despite the constant information about the severity of the pandemic. Here in Chicago, people are still gathering on beaches, and some have started pulling down fences which bar access to public parks.

This past week, a homeowner was cited for throwing a crowded house party with over 1000 people in attendance. Police were called to disperse a large crowd of people attending an orthodox Jewish wedding the previous weekend without practicing social distancing. Last weekend the Mayor knew of at least five large parties scheduled which were advertised on social media.

There have been other examples of parties and gatherings of hundreds of people or more that have resulted in citations and fines. The most troubling aspect of this is that despite these incidences clearly breaking the stay at home order and prohibition against more than 10 people gathering together, these events were all put up on social media channels and widely shared. Not only weren’t they trying to hide what they were doing, they were proudly displaying it for all to see.

Not only don’t they care that they are putting themselves at risk, great risk as given the rates of the virus it’s quite likely that among that many people at least one if not more of them carry the virus, they don’t care about the countless other lives they’re risking as well. Considering their lack of concern, it’s likely they aren’t practicing social distancing or staying at home at other times either.

This means that anyone who might contract the virus would likely spread it to others, possibly many others. From there, it’s impossible to calculate how many potential people who would get sick or die that could be traced back to even one such party.

It’s no secret that everywhere people are being asked to stay home to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus. But a narcissist’s sense of entitlement makes them believe rules don’t apply to them. It’s one thing if they cut you off when driving. It’s another thing when it could mean the spread of a deadly virus.

The part that is difficult to understand is why they don’t seem to value their lives above other people’s lives. They aren’t delusional to the degree that they think they can’t get sick or catch the virus. It would be one thing (a very sad thing) if they were just endangering the lives of other. Yet they too are at risk.

Part of the answer lies in something that is true of the general population. Even when the population targeted isn’t predominantly narcissistic, we know from experience health related behavior change on a large scale is very difficult. We’ve seen it with smoking, obesity, alcohol consumption and drug use.

For the most part, people don’t make major behavioral health changes without feeling personally threatened and they believe taking precautions will benefit them, especially when the precautions are notably different from what is done normally, must be carried out in public, and are inconvenient. The big problem with the virus is that most people who get sick will get mild symptoms that aren’t life threatening.

Healthy people who are not in one of the high risk groups may figure their odds of contracting the illness are small and even if they do they will not get that sick and will recover quickly. Unfortunately, even if this is true, it may not be true of others then infect through their irresponsible behavior. This is especially true for those who are narcissistic and feel entitled to the point that it is an affront to expect them to inconvenience themselves for the good of society.

Narcissists also can be impulsive and not think through their decision to act in certain ways beyond getting what they want so they don’t consider the risk to their health to be as significant as fulfilling their desires. Their impulsivity, tendency towards risk taking and focus on self interests combined with their health beliefs including higher levels of perceived barriers against prevention and lower perceived self-efficacy make for a particularly dangerous situation for all concerned. They seem to process only the negative aspect of preventive behavior and none of the positive one.

I have seen some frightening stories from people, including some health professionals, on some of my social media feeds and in forums about COVID-19 that I regularly scan for updates. These stories talk about people who know they have the virus but who don’t have a lot of symptoms that are making them feel very ill. Since they already have contracted the illness, they see not benefit in staying home for their own wellbeing, so they go out without taking protective measures such as wearing masks and gloves.

One story was about someone’s sibling who was feeling unfairly inconvenienced by the stay at home orders and other restrictions. They decided there was no reason they shouldn’t still enjoy themselves and take care of their needs so they continued to run errands daily and attend parties held in protest of the orders.

They refused to wear a mask and gloves and made no efforts to socially distance themselves from others. The kicker was that the person was coughing, had a low grade fever and was experiencing some limited aches and pains. While it could have been something else, if it was the virus, there’s no telling how many he has passed the virus to and through them how many others contracted it, and on and on.

What Can Be Done to Decrease Narcissistic Problem Behavior That Puts Us All At Risk?

Using the statistical measure of R0 (pronounced R naught) which is a mathematical term that indicates how contagious an infectious disease is, it’s been estimated that one person with the virus can pass it to 5 to 6 other people. This will continue to occur in the population that has not had the virus and has not been vaccinated.

With an R0 of 5.7, health experts have estimated that 82 percent of the population needs to be immune to the virus through vaccination and herd immunity to stop its transmission (Sanche, Lin, Xu, Romero-Severson, Hengartner, & Ke, 2020). This means it’s imperative that there are measures that can be taken regarding those who feel that they don’t have to live by the new rules that are intended to ensure everyone’s health and wellbeing.

If the problem wasn’t so serious, most health professionals would likely recommend managing these types of behaviors by changing health beliefs. Perceived barriers to being able to use preventive measures are often targeted along with self efficacy. However, with narcissists the perceived barriers are a sense of inconvenience that is part of their personality disorder. They aren’t likely to change their perception of how restrictive they see the measures to be and being able to stay at home or capable of wearing a mask aren’t issues.

Perceived severity of the illness could be targeted to instill the more realistic belief that while there are groups at increased risk for severe symptoms or death, just because someone is healthy doesn’t mean they will get only mild symptoms or survive the virus. Yet given their tendency towards risk taking and sense of superiority, they aren’t likely to adopt this belief even if the information is explained by a health expert.

I think the only way to realistically get these folks to stop acting like idiots and putting us all at risk is to make it personally costly to them to do so. This would be part of a larger effort aimed at targeting anyone not practicing preventive measures like they have done in Chicago.

Where I live, police are constantly patroling the streets and sirens can be heard amost constantly. Now that masks whenever you are in a public place or outside your own home are required, anyone caught not wearing one can be fined . Even with a mask, police will stop to ask you where you are going and why it is necessary.

Police all over the city have been told to look out for “quarantine parties,” and anyone caught holding one will be fined $5000 and possibly arrested. The cars of anyone attending will be towed.

If you are ill and caught outside you can get fined up to $1000. The state’s “stay-at-home” order is a legal mandate, and Chicago police have the authority to issue citations and to arrest anyone not complying with the order.

For some people, the only way to impress upon them that they are not entitled to risk other people’s health and lives is to hit them where it hurts.

References

Sanche, S., Lin, Y. T., Xu, C., Romero-Severson, E., Hengartner, N., & Ke, R. (2020). High Contagiousness and Rapid Spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2. Emerging infectious diseases, 26(7).

Natalie Frank has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and often writes op-eds about health related current events. She is an editor for The Partnered Pen & One Table, One World and is Editor in Chief for Promposity & Mental Gecko, both of which she created. She is also the Managing Editor for Novellas and Serials at LVP Publications. Her collection of poetry, Disguised I Breathe, In Love I Hold, can be found here on Amazon.

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Mental Gecko

The various ways we cope with an increasingly complex and…

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Written by

I write about behavioral health & other topics. I’m Managing Editor (Serials, Novellas) for LVP Press. See my other articles: https://hubpages.com/@nataliefrank

Mental Gecko

The various ways we cope with an increasingly complex and chaotic world. Topics included are psychology, positive psychology and mental health, writing and writing advice, fiction, poetry, maintaining a positive mindset and humor.

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Written by

I write about behavioral health & other topics. I’m Managing Editor (Serials, Novellas) for LVP Press. See my other articles: https://hubpages.com/@nataliefrank

Mental Gecko

The various ways we cope with an increasingly complex and chaotic world. Topics included are psychology, positive psychology and mental health, writing and writing advice, fiction, poetry, maintaining a positive mindset and humor.

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