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Mindful : February 2018
THE DEBATE HIGHLIGHTED AN IMPORTANT FACET OF EXTREME NARCISSISM: PEOPLE WHO HAVE THE DISORDER DO NOT RATE ITS CORE TRAITS AS PARTICULARLY UNDESIRABLE. The roots of extreme narcissism lie in what psychologists call “parental overvaluation.” In a 2015 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers in Europe concluded that “Children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them, for example, ‘I am superior to others’ and ‘I am entitled to [special] privileges.’” But lack of parental warmth, which children might overcompensate for by pumping up their self-regard, was exonerated, and so was the general self-esteem movement, unless parents really overdo it. Parents probably can’t create an extreme nar- cissist from scratch, said Miller. Instead, inflated praise feeds what are likely genetic seeds of narcissism. “Of all the personality disorders, narcissism has the strongest genetic compo- nent,” psychologist Sander Thomaes of the Netherlands’ Utrecht University told the 2017 Association for Psychological Science meeting. The predisposition is exacerbated by telling children what they did is “fantastic, perfect, or extremely well done.” Narcissism tends to take hold in a child’s personality around age seven or eight, he said. According to Miller, there is no empirically validated therapy for extreme narcissism, and less traditional approaches probably aren’t going to help. Scientists at the University of Amster- dam wondered if narcissists might benefit from mindfulness. As reported in the journal Self and Identity in 2017, they had volunteers (who rated very high on a scale of narcissism) engage in a five-minute exercise of focusing on the physical sensations of breathing, while observing any thoughts without judgment. Apparently, since narcissists’ thoughts tend toward their greatness and specialness, the absence of judgment let those thoughts run unchecked and unquestioned—so much so that their ability to identify emotions in people by reading their eyes actually worsened. Mind- fulness seemed to give the narcissists “license to focus even more on their self-aggrandizing thoughts,” the researchers wrote, with the result that they could barely perceive others’ mental states. When it comes to narcissists, perhaps the contents of their thoughts are better left unexamined. ● February 2018 mindful 37