When you spot a marked sense of entitlement or a drive for superior status in a potential relationship partner, it’s a good time to be cautious.
Narcissism is a dimension of personality that has been associated with a wide variety of problems in establishing and maintaining healthy social relationships. (See “Narcissism: Pathological Self-Love”.) Recently, a meta-analytic review conducted by a team of researchers led by Emily Grijalva, Ph.D. and published in the journal Psychological Bulletin suggested that men are more likely than women to exhibit certain key narcissistic tendencies. The researchers’ findings raise some interesting issues about the nature of narcissism, its underlying causes, and why the males of our species might be more predisposed than females to have problems with their egos.
Traditional psychology paradigms had long promoted the notion that narcissism is rooted in a type of “neurotic” compensation for underlying (unconscious) feelings of low self worth. These days it’s more commonly believed that while there may indeed be a form of narcissism (currently referred to by some, including the aforementioned study’s authors, as “vulnerable narcissism”) that can be characterized by low self esteem, inner emotional conflict, and introversion, a more prevalent and socially problematic form of narcissism is also present. This is marked by a sense of entitlement that predisposes a person to abuse and exploit others; a grandiose self image that predisposes a person to be vain, showy, and adulation seeking; and an ascendance seeking tendency that predisposes a person to crave positions of power, authority, and leadership. The study examined differences by gender for both types of narcissism and on the aforementioned dimensions of narcissism. The findings indicated that men and women do not differ significantly from one another with respect to the more “neurotic” or “vulnerable” type of narcissism. It seems that when it comes to being insecure and compensating for it by promoting an image of competence and superiority, men and women are equally predisposed. Men and women also did not differ significantly on the measure of how vain, self absorbed, and image conscious some individuals can be. Significant differences did emerge between men and women on two key dimensions of the non-neurotic type of narcissism, with men tending to be significantly more inclined than women to harbor feelings of entitlement and, therefore, to be predisposed to be exploitive in their interpersonal relationships, and to be more inclined than women to crave power and to assertively strive for social position and the leadership role.
Perhaps the most interesting finding coming from the study is that in examining data from the period of 1990 to 2013, the researchers found no evidence that either gender has become more narcissistic over time. At first glance, this finding would appear to contradict assertions I have long made in my books that because of a cultural climate of permissiveness and entitlement, character disturbance in general, including narcissism, has for some time been on the rise and has replaced “neurosis” as the most pressing psychological issue of our time:
- “Disturbances of Character: The Most Pressing Issue of Our Age?”
- Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?)
- In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?)
- The Judas Syndrome [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?)
But the study did not separate out differences over time with respect to the prevalence of the more “neurotic” or “vulnerable narcissism” as compared to the kind of narcissism most associated with character disturbance. Nor did the study include data from the period between 1960 and 1990, when cultural norms began to change so drastically from those of earlier decades. So it would be interesting indeed to see if any future studies in this area that take into account those considerations find differently with respect to an increase in narcissism of the “non-vulnerable” variety.
Based on the study’s findings, it would be improper to assume that males are somehow inherently predisposed to be more narcissistic than women or that such inherent tendencies, if they do exist, have purely biological roots. We know, for example, that certain gender stereotypes and cultural norms that persist over time and become ingrained in the public’s consciousness can influence both the development and expression of certain aspects of personality. We also know that learned experiences, a wide variety of biologically based predispositions, and prevailing environmental conditions all influence personality formation to a greater or lesser degree. So, exactly why men appear to be more inclined than women to harbor feelings of entitlement and to be predisposed to exploit as well as to be more power oriented and prone to more assertively seek positions of leadership cannot yet be determined with any reasonable degree of certainty. Nonetheless, it is certainly interesting that when it comes to two key aspects of the kind of narcissism that has long been known to significantly impact the formation of healthy relationships, men appear to be more at risk for bringing ego related problems into the equation. And because the kind of narcissism we’re talking about here is not the more vulnerable, neurotic kind, it would behoove any woman who spots a marked sense of entitlement and a determination for superior status in a man with whom they’re considering a relationship partner to proceed with all due caution.
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