Am I a Narcissist? – The Entitlement Schema

Karl*, a charming, extroverted 48-year-old finance manager was in big trouble. His wife had “suddenly” left with the kids, moving in with her sister. She had had enough of his lies and inconsistencies, mainly related to his cocaine use and “meetings” with other women. Simultaneously, Karl had become under investigation from work for using his company card for personal expenses. Coming to therapy was a role of the dice to see if he could get his life back on track.

Narcissist: A person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves

There has been increasing interest in narcissism over the last 5 years. An explosion of online advise has emerged on how to spot a narcissist and what to do if you have one in your life. Many of my clients tell me that one or more person in their life is a narcissist. It seems that there is a modern epidemic of narcissism. Narcissism is probably a personality spectrum, at one extreme exists Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Schema therapy explains one aspect of narcissism, the sense of entitlement, as deriving from a lack of limits set from childhood. In Karl’s case, his father was in the diplomatic corps. Karl had grown up spoiled, unsupervised and rich. Karl was smart, and as long as his grades were good, his parents let him do what he wanted.

Mario* made it known who was boss as soon as he walked into the room. From his over-firm handshake to his list of the things he wouldn’t do in therapy, his whole demeanour roared domination. Mario had been forced by work to seek treatment after several staff had accused him of bullying. Mario was enraged about this – “how can one person be a bully!” He thundered- “they’re the bullies for ganging together to report me!”

Some people with the Entitlement Schema were not spoiled as children. Mario grew up in terror of his tyrannical father. He grew up feeling small and weak, feeling worthless. His life changed in high school when he started going to the local gym. He started training and found that he was a talented amateur kick-boxer. He never saw himself as the bully but would say “I never, ever let anyone push me around”.

An Entitlement Schema can be primary – like Karl, who was spoiled. It can also be secondary – like Mario, who sought to overcome his childhood loneliness and fear by dominating or charming others. In either case, this schema leads to selfish, superior behaviour. Both Karl and Mario had a great deal of difficulty empathising with others. They both had difficulties accepting limits on their behaviour.

Unlike most other schemas, the people who suffer most from the Entitlement Schema are not the people with the schema themselves. Friends, family members and work colleagues suffer most. Many people who present with this schema arrive at therapy because they have been forced. To be successfully treated, the client must accept that this schema is a problem. For many people, their entitlement leads to risky behaviours, alienation from others and ultimately to emotional needs not being met. But, for many it feels good to be entitled, especially if they have felt small and weak in the past. For these people, therapy is often the last place they wish to be. For them, only the natural consequences of their actions (like job and relationship loss) will lead the to the path of change.

* names and key details changed to protect anonymity

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