What is Acquired Situational Narcissism?

Acquired situational narcissism or ASN is a form of narcissism that develops in adulthood (usually after age 30). It is characterized by the same traits as conventional NPD but without any evidence of a previously present narcissistic personality disorder.

What are the differences between ASN and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?

Some of the characteristics that distinguish ASN from NPD are:

  • ASN generally develops in the late teens or adulthood and can sometimes occur even earlier, while NPD begins developing as early as birth.
  • Someone with ASN has concrete and measurable power rather than just unrealistic fantasies about it. Someone with NPD may have only grandiosity and the ability to lie to themselves.
  • ASN develops over time, influenced by the environment—the behaviors of members of an individual’s support network and society as a whole. The same is true of NPD, but the big difference is that NPD is usually directly rooted in a person’s childhood and their parent’s or caregiver’s attachment style.
  • ASN’s catalyst is usually related to having experienced a major life change—a situation in which the person suddenly becomes very self-involved. NPD is more likely to develop due to childhood trauma.

What do ASN and NPD have in common?

  • Acquired situational narcissism is a variant of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
  • The behaviors and abusive tactics can be very similar in NPD and ASN.
  • Their closest relationships can be damaged and destroyed in similar ways.

What are the risk factors of ASN?

  • ASN can lead to emotional issues, such as anxiety and depression.
  • Relationships may suffer if they cannot adjust quickly enough when circumstances change.
  • This can result in poor decision-making, unstable relationships (including divorce), and dysfunctional family life.
  • The affected person may also struggle with the use of drugs and alcohol as a way to manage emotional distress.
  • Someone with ASN is likely to abuse authority, up to and including criminal or unethical behavior.

Research on Acquired Situational Narcissism

Research published in 1996 points to a condition referred to as transient, temporary, or short-term narcissism.

Even before 1996, psychologists often recognized something they called “reactive narcissistic regression,” which meant that when someone was dealing with a big life crisis, they might end up going through a temporary narcissistic phase where they’d behave like a toxic narcissist until the crisis was over.

And according to what I’ve found in this and other published research papers, these types of temporary narcissism can also be triggered by medical conditions and injuries.

For example, traumatic brain injury (TBI) has often been linked to narcissistic behaviors and antisocial traits in people who had not previously displayed them.

How to Identify Acquired Situational Narcissism

So what does acquired situational narcissism (ASN) look like in real life?

Well, do you know someone who is normally quite humble but who ended up getting a high-end job and making a lot of money, suddenly ranks high socially, or who ends up gaining celebrity status out of the blue?

In these situations, many people can keep their heads straight, but others will seem to sort of lose their humility.

In fact, according to Robert B. Millman, a professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical School, this is what acquired situational narcissism looks like. He points to known narcissists who are among the billionaires, people who become suddenly famous, or who manage to rise to aspirational levels in their careers who develop narcissism in adulthood.

Millman adds that celebrities and other suddenly wealthy people will often have lives outside of what we’d consider typical. Plus, they might be surrounded by “yes men,” who will ensure that they are given filtered feedback and excessive admiration and are never told “no” for any reason.

Plus, anytime someone is a celebrity or a CEO or otherwise wealthy, they might be sought after in ways that will cause them to feel more important or better than others. This is like a narcissistic supply on steroids if you think about it.

And, let’s not forget celebrities and other public figures might feel a certain amount of pressure from the public – fans and haters alike – to present a certain image and to live a certain lifestyle.

Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery 

Online help is readily available for survivors of narcissistic abuse. Below are some options to begin healing from narcissistic abuse right away.