New study investigates the role compassion may play in reducing certain narcissistic traits

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Jan 15, 2023, 1:37:01 PMJan 15
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New study investigates the role compassion may play in reducing certain narcissistic traits

New research seeks to understand what interventions may improve some of the destructive symptoms of narcissism. Researchers from the University of Maastricht investigated the consequences of exercises to induce two different types of compassion, self-compassion and compassion for others. Their findings indicate targeted interventions inducing feelings of compassion may work for some with grandiose or vulnerable narcissistic traits.

Grandiose and vulnerable narcissism are a pair of traits that result in behaviors that are damaging to the individual and those around them. Grandiose narcissism refers to a set of behaviors that can be characterized by arrogance, superiority and exploitation of others. Vulnerable narcissism is evident when individuals are extremely sensitive to judgment, lack self-esteem and are neurotic.

Those with the grandiose trait are likely to be unnecessarily competitive, denigrating, and manipulative in relationships with others. Those in relationship with people who experience vulnerable narcissism may deal with a person who plays the victim, is manipulative and lashes out emotionally or physically. Both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism are at greater risk for self-harming behavior.

The 230 study participants were mostly Western European, with 65% identifying as female. Over half of the participants were students. Participants completed measures of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism, and compassion. Then they were induced to think compassionately by participating in two different conditions.

The first is the self-compassionate mindset induction. In this condition participants were asked to think about a situation that is currently difficult or painful for the. They were asked to write about this even focusing on being mindful, kind and recognizing examples of common humanity.

The other condition was created by the research team to be similar to the self-compassionate mindset induction, but illicit feelings of compassion for others. Both of these assessments were writing prompts and asked participants to write at least 200 words.

The researchers established four hypotheses for their study. The first guessed that self-compassion scores would go up among those who had high scores in grandiose narcissism and were exposed to the exercise inducing self-compassion. Surprisingly, this was found not to be the case, as there was no change in their self compassion.

Their second hypothesis guessed that those with grandiose narcissism would experience challenges developing compassion for others especially after exposure to self-compassion. This was only partially true for those who scored high in the exploitative-entitled sub-component to grandiose narcissism. In this case, when the compassion inducement had them think of someone close to them, they demonstrated more compassion.

The last two hypotheses were connected to vulnerable narcissism. The first posited that self-compassion would improve after exposure to self-compassion inducement. There was a moderate relationship, specifically there was a reduction in sensitivity to judgment.

The final hypothesis guessed that when those with vulnerable narcissism were exposed to both self-compassion and compassion for others inducements, they would not show significant changes in compassion for others. This was proven true for those with high levels of vulnerable narcissism, but was less so with individuals with low levels.

The research team acknowledges limitations to the study. The cross sectional design does not allow for any conclusions about long term effects of these interventions. Additionally the goal of the research may have been guessed by the participants and this could have skewed responses to questions about their compassion.

These limitations do not deter from the studies important findings. The research team sums it up this way, “Overall, the findings suggest that the magnitude of the increases in compassion depends on individual differences. Grandiose and vulnerable narcissistic traits are both thought of as devastating to intra- and inter-personal wellbeing in the long run and thus could present excellent targets for therapeutic compassion exercises.”

The study, “Narcissistic traits and compassion: Embracing oneself while devoting others”, was authored by Vanessa Freund, Frenk Peeters, Cor Meesters, Nicole Geschwind, Lotte Lemmens, David Bernstein, and Jill Lobbestael.

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