More threads by Daniel E.

Daniel E.
by Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
  • Entitlement is the key trait that drives narcissistic behaviors.
  • When narcissists are thwarted, the antagonistic response is driven by the desire to get what they feel is theirs.
  • Both vulnerable and grandiose narcissists become activated and antagonistic, but they express it in different ways.
  • There are a few basic strategies that can help you better manage relationships with narcissists.
We all have a good idea of what narcissistic behavior looks like—we notice it from the micro level to the macro level, from social circles to politicians and international celebrities. In essence, and according to the DSM-5, the handbook of psychiatric diagnoses, narcissism is defined by its pattern of symptoms. These include a sense of grandiosity, a consistent need for admiration and positive attention, and a marked lack of empathy or awareness of the needs of others.

When researchers try to pin down exactly what it is in the system that gives rise to narcissistic behaviors, it is clear that entitlement is a significant part of the trait (Edershile & Writing, 2022). All of us may experience a little bit of entitlement at certain times in life—maybe on our birthdays, we want a little extra attention. Maybe when we’ve reached a significant milestone, we may feel entitled to a special reward for our achievement. The difference in narcissists is that they experience an omnipresent sense of entitlement regardless of whether or not they are seen as “worthy” of special or deferential treatment.

Narcissistic Entitlement​

Edershile and Wright (2022) noted that narcissists have trait-level entitlement, contrasting with others who have “state-level entitlement,” which reflects its appearance occasionally, not consistently. However, the trait-level entitlement may be activating expressions of antagonistic behaviors which can come as symptoms of grandiosity or vulnerability, the two primary forms of narcissistic behaviors.

What is fascinating about trait-level grandiosity and vulnerability is that they both can co-exist simultaneously in people like you and me. Some days, we feel super pumped about ourselves and ready to conquer the world. Other days, we may feel like we’ve been conquered by the world, as in after a break-up or a difficult day at work.

Threats to Entitlement​

However, when a narcissist’s entitlement is threatened, antagonistic behavior can be the immediate result. This can lead to grandiose behavior that they believe will win them back the approval and admiration of others. Their sense of entitlement rests on whatever evidence of recognition, esteem, and popularity they can scarf up from others. Grandiosity plays out in being the “life of the party,” love-bombing, over-the-top praise of others, generosity, and other “high visibility” acts of largesse that can feed the narcissist’s ego. The narcissist is trying to soothe their ego by using these behaviors to buy favor. When the grandiose narcissist is triggered, they seek out others and put on a happy face. This is diametrically opposed to how the vulnerable narcissist reacts.

On the other hand, vulnerability and its related narcissistic behaviors can also be triggered when their sense of entitlement is threatened. The antagonistic behaviors that pop up here are driven by a descent into a dark mood, diminished self-esteem, and a desire to “get back” what’s been taken, or “get back” at those who took it. Typically, what the narcissist feels has been “taken” is the adulation and respect they feel entitled to be given just by being them.

Strategies to Cope with an “Activated Narcissist”​

Some of us may fall into a relationship with a narcissist before we realize what’s happened. Grandiose narcissists can reel us in through love-bombing and flattery that charms us. Vulnerable narcissists can reel us in with their neediness and our desire to give them the support and attention that they crave. Some of us want to be adored and grandiose narcissists can make us feel that way...until our adoration of them fails to meet their supply needs. Others of us may love to champion the self-professed underdog and enjoy the feeling of being needed...until we are not “enough.” Here are some strategies for keeping the peace if you are set on staying in a relationship with a narcissist:
  1. Have a healthy support system beyond your romantic relationship.
  2. Don’t take things personally. The narcissist is all about what serves them, not what serves others.
  3. Set firm boundaries and maintain them. Once you’ve set a precedent of flexing for their needs, expectations shift immediately and irrevocably.
  4. Your partner’s braggadocio is a cover for insecurity. Remember that when you are preparing to give constructive feedback. Do it carefully in a way that can be heard.
  5. Engage in self-exploration to better understand how you came to be in the relationship, how it’s affecting your sense of self and your other relationships, and what keeps you in the relationship. By understanding yourself better, you can determine if remaining in the relationship is the healthiest choice.

Daniel E.
by Vinita Mehta Ph.D., Ed.M.

Dealing with narcissists is no easy task. They are arrogant, entitled, exploitative, self-absorbed, and forceful. But at the same time, they are also charming, persuasive, and attractive—making it difficult to navigate their treacherous webs.
How do narcissists get this way?

When trying to explain the development of the trait, current thinking tends to emphasize the roles that environment and experience play. These include indulgent or neglectful parenting, an individualistic culture, the exponential growth of social media, and media exposure to celebrities behaving badly. While these external factors have a strong influence on the development of narcissism, they overlook another crucial contributor—biology.

In a recent [2015] paper :acrobat:, psychologists Nicholas Holtzman and M. Brent Donnellan propose three novel explanations for the development of narcissism, which draw on both biology and the environment:

1. It's a physical thing.

While the search for a “narcissism gene" hasn't as yet been successful, the authors argue that it is a trait with a physical basis. They maintain that an individual may become narcissistic because of what they look like, or the actual physical attributes they possess. This concept is known as reactive inheritance,which holds that a person's physical appearance shapes their personality. For example, larger individuals may be more outwardly aggressive than those who are smaller because it's more effective for them. In the case of narcissism, Holzman and Donnellan point out that this trait is associated with certain physical features. Indeed, studies show that narcissism is linked to attractiveness, strength, and smooth movement, perhaps reflecting athletic prowess. The researchers note that, anecdotally, narcissism has been linked to sharper facial features in women, and in men, a larger head, thinner lips, a sturdy jaw, and thicker eyebrows.

2. It's a nature-nurture thing.

Narcissism may also result from the complex interactions between genes and the environment. The thinking goes that people vary in their genetic makeup, and have a greater or lesser potential to become narcissistic. However—and this is key—environmental factors can influence the expression of narcissistic tendencies. From this perspective, people who are genetically predisposed to narcissism will develop it if, for example, they are raised in an environment in which their caregivers lack sensitivity, like being inappropriately demanding or unresponsive. People who naturally lean toward confidence or exuberance will become narcissistic if their parents aren't attuned to their needs.

3. It's an evolutionary thing.

Narcissism may be the result of evolutionary selection because it offers survival and reproductive advantages. Holzman and Donnellan propose three explanations as to why:
  • Narcissism may advance short-term mating—and in so doing, evolutionary fitness (i.e., passing down genes to succeeding generations). The idea here is that throughout evolutionary history, the qualities associated with narcissism, including being attractive and sexually coercive, made it easier for such people to mate and achieve reproductive success.

  • Narcissism may advance survival through its relationship with dominance. According to this argument, dominance was selected because it is one way to achieve high social status, and at the same time the emotional systems that allow for the display of hubristic pride were also selected. The thinking is that the expression of hubristic pride makes narcissists appear dominant, which paves the way to high social status. In turn, high social status translates into the ability to attain resources like food, material goods, and shelter, which promotes survival. In other words, dominant narcissists got that way because it helped them survive over the course of evolutionary history.

  • Short-term mating and dominance were selected together over evolutionary time—and shaped narcissism. Here, the argument is that the narcissist's proficiency in short-term mating would have allowed him to pass on his genes to succeeding generations, and achieve evolutionary fitness. Also, the narcissist's dominance would have permitted the attainment of high social status, and advance the ability to acquire resources, increasing the probability of survival. Thus, this dual selection would give narcissists both survival and reproductive advantages.

  • What Is Narcissism?
  • Find a therapist who understands narcissism
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