As part of the commitment toward psychological healthiness, we each need times of reflection to ponder the things in life that are good. It’s therapeutic to focus on relationships that go well, our privileges, our comforts, our moments of decency. And we can become mindful of the ways personal growth is directly related to the ongoing experience of gratitude.

This begs the question: What about narcissists? Do they have the capacity to experience gratitude? The short answer is no, at least not in the way healthy people are grateful. When narcissists get what they want, when others comply with their requirements, they can feel happy or delighted for a time. But that is not the same as gratitude.

Accompanying narcissism is an entrenched attitude of entitlement. Narcissists truly believe they deserve benefits and advantages not readily available to all individuals. Being in constant compensation mode for their hidden (often subconscious) feelings of insecurity, they seek the position of honor, and they feel “grateful” only in direct proportion to the satisfaction of their immediate self-serving expectations.

Healthy individuals understand that gratitude is much more than the happiness tied to superficial rewards. In fact, their gratitude is a byproduct of many other attitudes and beliefs.

Let’s examine some of them:

  • Grateful people don’t presume the world owes them a lot. They like having positive experiences, but not just as a result of people doing their bidding. Narcissists, on the other hand, maintain an Agenda regarding the ways people are obliged to them, and they experience pleasant feelings only in direct proportion to others fitting that Agenda.
  • Humility is a leading trait. Grateful people realize they are not the center of the universe and are okay with that fact. Narcissists are far too egotistical to maintain such a mindset.
  • Grateful people are not scorekeepers. Narcissists naturally think competitively, which is the beginning of envy and judgmentalism, whereas their healthier counterparts feel little need to play mind games of one-upmanship.
  • Grateful people have a natural propensity toward encouragement, while narcissists are critics by nature. Finding faults inhibits their capacity to be appreciative.
  • Grateful people accept (which is not the same as condoning) crud, disappointments, and setbacks. In other words, they are realistic about what to expect from people and circumstances. This stands in direct contrast to a narcissist’s inclination toward bitterness and contempt in the aftermath of disappointments.
  • While narcissists want to take credit for what is good, offering scorn for what disappoints, grateful people like to give credit toward those who are helpful.
  • Likewise, grateful people understand the broad interconnectedness that permeates our life experiences. Narcissists, however, are prone toward an attitude of rugged individualism. They like to see themselves as the master planner who must succeed despite others getting in the way.
  • Grateful people draw inspiration from beauty, art, music, and nature.
  • They have a general inclination and disposition toward joy and peace, unlike narcissists who repeatedly stir up tensions and division.

So, do narcissists experience gratitude?

As you learn to identify the core ingredients of narcissism, you will find that virtually all the prime ingredients of that pattern work counter to the attitude of gratitude. By definition, narcissists are self-impressed people who want control, power, and superiority. They are pathologically defensive, creating an us versus them mindset. Not calm or steady, they struggle with easy anger and agitation. So, when narcissists imply they are happy, it is almost always at the cost of someone else’s subjugation, conformity, or blind allegiance.

Understanding the distinct differences between narcissism and gratitude, take time to reflect on the matters of life you appreciate. Speak goodness into the people in front of you. Choose steadiness and fairness over aggression. Choose love. Choose kindness and patience. Choose self-restraint. Choose encouragement and significance building. Choose peace.

Someone in this world needs to stand for the healthy alternatives to narcissism, and you can be one of those someone’s. You can be a difference maker when you determine…I like to focus on what perpetuates dignity, respect, and civility.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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