And finally, some good news about narcissism

People suffering from a narcissistic family member or work colleague, take heart! Things are looking up! That’s the message from a recent study led by Eunike Wetzel. Eunike and her team analysed the data from a sample of American college students who, 23 years ago, measured highly on three scores of narcissism: Entitlement, vanity and self-perceived leadership qualities. They found a very strong effect of people decreasing in their narcissism from average age 18 through to average age 41. So just wait it out people and things will get better!

On face value, this research was surprising to me. Barely a week goes by without one of my clients telling me about a loved one or work colleague who is a certified narcissist. I must say that the number of narcissists (meaning people with narcissistic personality disorder – NPD) I actually see is very small. Contrary to the findings of this study, the narcissists that my clients tell me about are almost always older than them, and if not, around the same age. It is very rare that a client complains to me about a younger narcissist in their life. Where are all these young narcissists?

Actually, it’s an established finding that younger people score higher on measures of narcissism. Why don’t I hear about these people then? Well, who cares if a less powerful person in your life is a narcissist? A junior colleague can be as full of themselves as they want, and it will hardly change your workday. Less true if its your boss. An entitled child can be annoying, but an entitled parent can be damaging. The effects of narcissism are felt only when the narcissist person is in a position of power.

But why would a younger, less powerful person be more narcissistic? One answer from Schema Therapy might be overcompensation. Humans are born weak and useless, and youth have very few skills, resources and connections – these things are acquired over a lifetime. In order to cope with this lack, perhaps the young maintain an overcompensating persona – fake it till you make it!

Another theory might be that they are still experiencing their childish egocentrism. Little children receive attention and resources without having to contribute anything in return, and so they feel that they are the reason for all creation. Perhaps these young narcissists are yet to shake off their egocentric down. Life painfully proves to us that we are not the centre of the universe – we become mature.

Whatever the reason, this new research suggests that narcissism erodes away over time. Good! Except the authors also investigated different life circumstances which helped keep that childish narcissism alive at age 41. Chief amongst them? Working in supervisory roles. That’s right, being a boss stops you from maturing out of your youthful narcissism. Sometimes you just can’t win!

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