Just about everyone has crossed paths with a narcissistic, has a friend or family member that is a narcissist, or works for/with a narcissist. However, the question remains, what causes a person to become a narcissist?
Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder are often associated with certain childhood experiences or the environment in which we are raised. As children we look to our parents for guidance and approval. Most of us grow up wanting to be just like our parents, wanting them to be proud of us, approve of our choices and decisions. Unfortunately, some children grow up in homes that include attention and validation when they excel or do something terribly wrong. Recognition from parents that occurs only when a child excels often leads to children becoming overly competitive. Being the best for some children means having to come first, their parents will only recognize and praise them if they are able to outshine everyone else. This thought system is associated with the child’s belief that his/her parents love is conditional rather than unconditional. Pressure to be the best, never seems to end for the child. The child begins to associate their parents always love and attention with having to be the best.
For children, being loved by a parent can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of his or her life. However, for some parents having the opportunity to outshine another parent takes priority over their child’s happiness. Rather than supporting the child on things he or she loves to do the parent will provide support only on things they can brag about. Children in these families do not feel stably or unconditionally loved. It is hard for a child to enjoy childhood things if the efforts are not being rewarded or acknowledged by a parent. When personal achievements valued by the child goes unrecognized or discouraged by a parent the child learns his or her interests do not really matter, getting their parents attention is the only thing that matters.
Homes that include more than one child can be used by a narcissistic parent to turn siblings against each other. The narcissistic parent will devalue or put down one child to praise the other child. However, the devaluing and praise is never consistent, one week one child will be praised while the other is devalued and the next week the devalued child is praised while the praised becomes devalued. Children that grow up in inconsistent homes often struggle with conflicted emotions, e.g., the desire to please their parent, feeling humiliated when they do not live up to their parent’s expectations, feelings of anger at not meeting their parents expectations, or anger at themselves for “failing”, feeling humiliated or inadequate that they were unable to make their parents happy.
Children who are idealized by a parent can begin to believe that they are only lovable when they are perfect and worthy of idealization. However, no one is perfect so striving for this unrealistic goal can lead to ongoing feelings of shame and resentment.
Characteristics of Narcissistic Children Include:
• Attention seeking behavior
• Social Dysfunction
• Anti-social behavior
• Belief that he or she is superior to peers
• Inflated perception of self-worth
• Failure to recognize or respect the authority of others
• The need to be the center of attention
Narcissistic Parents Can Contribute to the Following Types Child Personality Types:
• The angry child – Children that exhibit anger or resent me at having to constantly live up to his or her parent expectations.
• The defeated child – The child gives up and accepts defeat. The child starts to believe nothing he or she does will ever please the parent.
• The rebellious child – The child rejects their parent’s message that he or she is “nothing” unless they are the best.
• The Pleasing child – The child engages in things and interests that only his or parent approves of. The child foregoes his or her own happiness to please the parent.
Childhood like most things in life include discovery, discovering what we like and dislike, who we are, the persons we would like to become, what we are good at, not so good at, etc. However, when we are not given the opportunity to figure these things out for ourselves to do not develop a sense of self. We begin to think our self-worth are based upon the approval and acceptance of others. A child’s worth should not be based upon what a parent can brag about, rather, the happiness and self-acceptance of the child. No one is without flaws, therefore, expecting children to be perfect can lead to maladaptive functioning.
Children like everyone else can become narcissists if they taught during early development that their worth is based upon what they can brag about, how they can outshine others, etc. Most narcissists did not become a narcissist overnight, he or she internalized that they were loveable when they were behaving “perfectly” or doing things “perfectly”. Children garner most of their learning through a process called modeling, therefore, it is important to convey through spoken and behavioral language that love is unconditional rather than conditional.