Do narcissists remain narcissists forever?
Narcissists have been found to be happier, less stressed, and mentally tougher than others, but often is narcissism labeled as a bad thing like the BBC labeling narcissists as “horrible people” in a recent headline. Sure, narcissists gaslight and even manipulate others into tactics that better themselves, but there are also benefits to being a narcissist like healthy narcissism, which allows people to have confidence and self-investment in themselves on a path to success.
And while there’s a belief that narcissistic traits such as thinking you’re smarter, more attractive and successful as others wane with time, that’s not exactly the same for all narcissists.
Once a narcissist, always a narcissist?
A new study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that specific career and personal relationship choices influence the decline in narcissism from young adulthood to middle age. The study tracked participants from when they first entered college at the University of California Berkeley, where nearly 500 participants were tracked to when they were 41 years old. In total, 237 completed the new round of evaluations, according to the study.
The method for the study was designed around survey questions that focused on participants’ narcissistic traits. In the follow-up study, researchers quizzed participants on just about everything from their relationship and employment history to job satisfaction and health.
Researchers found that over the 23-year period narcissists become less narcissistic with time and the three main components of narcissism — vanity, leadership, and entitlement — also diminished.
Those who had higher levels of vanity at age 18 were found to have unstable relationships and marriages, and were more likely to be divorced by middle age, but also had better health. On the other side, those who were feeling more entitled in their youth had more negative life events with lower life satisfaction at middle age, according to the study.
Only 3% of participants showed an increase in narcissism over that span, while researchers were surprised to see a decrease in the leadership factor of narcissists.
In terms of careers, young adults with narcissistic tendencies ended up in supervisory roles by middle age.
“Narcissistic young adults were more likely to end up in supervisory jobs 23 years later, suggesting that selfish, arrogant individuals are rewarded with more powerful organizational roles,” said Emily Grijalva, professor of organizational behavior at Olin, in a press release. “Further, individuals who supervised others decreased less in narcissism from young adulthood to middle age — meaning that supervisory roles helped to maintain prior levels of narcissism.”
From a generational breakdown, researchers noticed a trend when older generations judge Millennials and Gen Xers.
“Interestingly, people often presume millennials are more entitled and narcissistic than previous generations, but there is a lot of research evidence showing that this simply is not the case,” Grijalva said. “It appears that older generations assume young people are more narcissistic because their own narcissism levels naturally declined over time — leaving them currently less narcissistic than young people — and they have forgotten how narcissistic they used to be when they were young.”
The study was headed by Eunike Wetzel of the University of Vienna.