Can a narcissist change their behavior? Indeed narcissism evolves over time, and it looks relatively similar in baby boomers, Generation Xers, and millennials, according to a study from Michigan State University, published in Psychology and Aging.
The study followed 750 people to see how narcissism changes from age 13 to 70, and it’s really a shifting of qualities. There are many different types of narcissists, and maladaptive narcissism has different traits that are categorized as like, really, really bad. People exhibit these traits—being full of oneself, hypersensitive to criticism, and imposing one’s opinions on others—more often when we’re younger.
These traits generally decrease with age as narcissists realize that the universe doesn’t owe then anything just because they’re adorable. Why? Typically narcissistic personality traits tend to decline in the throws of negative firsts. In fact, the study showed that maladaptive narcissistic traits tend to decline when someone gets their first job.
“One thing about narcissists is that they’re not open to criticism,” says lead author and associate professor of psychology at MSU William Chopik. “When life happens and you’re forced to accept feedback, break up with someone or have tragedy strike, you might need to adjust to understanding that you’re not as awesome as you once thought.”
That checks out. When reality pushes you off your pedestal, the mature thing to do is to reevaluate your good qualities—and to think about how to sharpen the bad ones. Likewise getting older means reconsidering that the world doesn’t involve just you—and your life impacts your teammates, your growing family, your roommate and the paper thin walls that divide you. Compromises and sacrifices are made. (Ideally.)
The study indicates that all the millennials are not by any means more bloated with narcissistic qualities than people from previous generations. Interestingly enough, people born earlier in the century had higher levels of hypersensitivity and willfulness (that is, imposing your opinions on others) when they were younger.
Its age and an awareness of empathy that allows us to be less narcissistic. Forming healthy relationships over time helps bolster self-esteem, which also allows for genuine confidence versus immature arrogance. So can a narcissist change? In short, yes, the potential exists to shed many narcissistic qualities, so if you feel up against a self-absorbed youngling, well… give it time.
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