Time to Show Some Respect for Humility

June 3, 2020

Do you ever become tired of hearing about narcissism and narcissists? Do you find it depressing to follow the exploits of people, either those you know or those in the media, who constantly brag about their greatness? Despite how annoying it is to see how selfish and self-centered they seem, somehow you can’t stop yourself from tracking their path of self-aggrandizing updates on social media. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a palate cleanser of someone who seems truly deserving of your time and attention?

Psychology seems to be drawing a similar conclusion, as indicated by new research on humility by Duke University’s Chloe Banker and Mark Leary (2020). Turning the tables on narcissistic entitlement, this research could provide exactly that reset needed for psychology to focus once again on the laudatory qualities in human nature.

As background, think about why the quality of humility fails to garner the same level of magnetic attraction as the entitlement shown by someone high in narcissism. People who are truly humble will avoid having attention drawn to them. Their accomplishments may be far greater than that of the entitled narcissist (in fact, they probably are) but because they prefer not to stand out, you most likely will not even know about those accomplishments.

The quality of narcissistic entitlement is not limited to prominent figures in the media but is one that you undoubtedly encounter in your own everyday life. An in-law who appears at every family gathering (virtual or otherwise) full of personal news embellished with long and detailed stories emphasizing how well-liked she is, successful at work, or just plain great.

You know for a fact that another one of your relatives has a far better track record and, on top of all that, is generously giving her time to the community. She volunteers at a soup kitchen, donates clothing and other essentials to a local charity, and has received several service awards. No one but you, and maybe a couple of other people, are aware of all this activity, and only then because one of you read something on a community Facebook page.

The Banker and Leary study provides insight into what drives those very different relatives of yours. Examining what the authors refer to with the elaborate term “hypo-egoic nonentitlement,” you can think of humility as the opposite of “egoic entitlement,” or a belief held by some “that other people should treat them differently as a person because of their accomplishments or positive characteristics” (p. 739).

Narcissistic or “egoic” entitlement, in other words, can occur when people who receive special treatment for their own accomplishments in a given field expect special treatment outside of that field. People who excel in their sport, for example, may expect that their victories on the field should translate into getting a wide range of perks off the field. In part, these expectations derive from the praise of their followers but especially their managers, agents, coaches, and others who offer them protection from the need to take care of their everyday necessities.

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