Narcissists harbor strong attitudes of entitlement. Some think they deserve things merely because they exist. Others believe they’re so “special” or “superior” that they warrant favored treatment. Narcissists tend to feel the world owes them. They rarely feel obliged in any way because having a sense of obligation is the exact opposite of harboring feelings of entitlement. And as I’ve learned through years of clinical case study and we’re now coming to realize through empirical research, you can’t develop a sense of obligation unless you first feel grateful. Gratitude is the psychological “nursery” as it were of developing a sense of social obligation. So in the course of character development, it’s crucial that a person come to some appreciation for all they’ve been given in life and all of the various other reasons they have to be grateful. The grateful character feels obliged, not entitled. And the grateful character pays his or her debts (for more on the psychology of gratitude see the article: Thanksgiving and the Psychology of Gratitude).
Developing proper gratitude and avoiding feeling of entitlement is at heart a relational issue. And life is full of realationships. We have a relationship with the world around us. We have relationships with one another. Most especially, we have a relationship with a “higher power,” however we might conceive of that power. How we conduct ourselves within our various relationships defines our character. It’s very hard for narcissists to even conceive of a power greater than themselves, because their self-esteem is so pathologically out of balance. It’s even harder for them to feel beholding in any way to any kind of higher power or authority. As a famous psychologist who pioneered the study of the twisted thinking patterns and attitudes of disturbed characters once remarked, they are truly “legends in their own minds.” Why should they feel indebted to anyone or anything if they can’t even imagine anyone or anything greater than themselves? And without a doubt the same conundrum presents itself in all their relationships, which is why relationships with a narcissist end up being so shallow, exploitatitive, and sometimes abusive.
In Character Disturbance, one of the “10 Commandments” I advocate for developing sound character in our young folks is instilling in them a proper sense of appreciation for all they’ve been given so that they cultivate a sense of obligation to give something back, and most especially, to give of themselves. The person who humbly appreciates that we’re not entitled to anything in this world – not even a single breath – feels obligated to show appreciation for the life they have and all the many other gifts they’ve been given. And they do so by making something of themselves and then giving of themselves for the betterment of all. Of course, teaching this cructial task is very difficult when a person either comes from a place of real depravity or has been overly indulged. Either unfortunate circumstance can make the task of acquiring proper gratitude an exceptional challenge. Still, it’s a challenge that must be both met and successfully mastered if one is to develop sound character.
Character Matters will again be a live broadcast this Sunday, February 28, at 7 pm Eastern time. And we’ll be discussing these and other matters in view of some of the principles I advance in my book The Judas Syndrome.
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A big announcment is coming next week about the imminent release of my new book with Dr. Kathy Armistead, “How Did We End Up Here?” So stay tuned.