What causes someone to develop a narcissistic personality? Is it their environment, their genes, or could it be the way they were parented?
There have been many studies that attempt to find out the origins of a narcissistic personality. Research suggests narcissism is created, not innate, and that certain factors will help turn a child into a narcissist.
One obvious factor has to be the way a child is brought up by its parents.
Parenting and the narcissistic personality
Overvaluing the child
Results from one study showed that parents who ‘overvalued’ their children were more likely to end up with higher scores in tests of narcissism later on in life. Children told they were ‘better than other children’ or that they ‘deserved something extra in life’ had higher narcissistic scores.
“Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others. That may not be good for them or for society.” Brad Bushman – co-author of the study.
It appears that one reason for a parent to overvalue their child’s accomplishments was to help boost the child’s self-esteem. However, this seems to have led to narcissistic traits, rather than a higher sense of confidence.
“Rather than raising self-esteem, overvaluing practices may inadvertently raise levels of narcissism.” Eddie Brummelman – lead author.
It’s worth noting that children whose self-esteem had been built over time and in the proper way appear to be happy with their identity. Children whose self-esteem has been raised artificially do think they are better than others. Research revealed that parents who demonstrated more emotional warmth ended up with children that that had high levels of self-esteem.
“Overvaluation predicted narcissism, not self-esteem, whereas warmth predicted self-esteem, not narcissism,” Bushman said.
Praised for intelligence, not their ability
There are various studies that show excessive praise for intelligence (and other innate abilities) can lead to a narcissistic personality. Research shows that praising your child for things they didn’t really have to work hard at increases narcissism.
Moreover, it decreases motivation and satisfaction. The more a parent praises their child when there is no reason, the more that child is likely to underachieve.
In comparison, praise for hard work and overcoming real challenges increased motivation and achievements.
The study concluded that children who were consistently told they were smart were more vulnerable to setbacks than those children praised for their efforts.
“Praising children’s intelligence, far from boosting their self-esteem, encourages them to embrace self-defeating behaviours such as worrying about failure and avoiding risks.” Dr. Dweck – lead author of the study.
A better way forward is for parents to teach their children the value of making an effort. This encourages them and boosts their motivation to do better. In contrast, children praised for their intelligence were more interested in finding out how they fared against their competitors.
“Children praised for intelligence preferred to find out about the performance of others on the tasks rather than learn about new strategies for solving the problems,” the researchers said.
Some children grow up in an environment where they are only given love if they have achieved something. Therefore, their identity is based on extremely fragile and fluctuating attention. This can lead to a very vulnerable sense of identity.
This low self-esteem would have an impact on their behaviour around peers. They may ‘big’ themselves up in the eyes of others. They might also feel as if they have to put down others in order to feel better about themselves.
Of course, all the while the child is doing well the parents will shower them with praise and some form of affection. If they fail, however, the child will be ignored, rebuked, neglected and shunned.
This leaves the child with an extremely unstable state of mind. There will be no pride in their achievements. They know that in order to receive any kind of attention, they have to keep achieving.
The problem is that the parents are not interested in their child or what makes them happy. All they are concerned with is looking good to family and friends. Subsequently, the child will only feel secure if they are the ‘best,’ which leads to narcissistic tendencies. Children believe they are only worth loving because they are special.
Inadequate validation from parents
You might think that all children who end up with a narcissistic personality were told they were special, mollycoddled, exceptional and the best at absolutely everything. There is another factor, however, and that is neglect and deprivation.
Children who are not given sufficient validation during their formative years can grow up to develop narcissistic tendencies. When we grow up, we all need validation from our parents. It helps us to form our own identities and personalities.
However, those who have not received adequate validation and support may form a barrier against this lack of support and love. These children find that it’s easier to repress their negative emotions caused by parental neglect than to deal with the truth.
They may also develop an unrealistic concept of themselves, one that is grandiose with an inflated sense of self as a coping mechanism. This view of themselves has nothing to do with their accomplishments or their actual achievements. Furthermore, once they become adults, they will need constant admiration and crave the attention they did not receive from their parents.
How to stop your child developing a narcissistic personality
There are signs that are indicative of narcissism in childhood:
- Persistent lying to benefit oneself
- Over-inflated view of oneself
- A sense of entitlement over others
- Pathological need to win
- Bullying others to make themselves look better
- Aggressive responses when challenged
- Always blaming others for failure
Once narcissism is established in adulthood, it is extremely difficult to treat. This is because the narcissist is unwilling (or unable) to recognise their narcissistic behaviours.
It is possible to stop your child developing a narcissistic personality if you notice the above signs by doing the following:
- Value honesty and empathy
- Stop entitled attitudes or actions
- Encourage putting others first
- Build healthy self-esteem by being warm and loving
- Adopt a zero tolerance for lying or bullying
By teaching our children the value of kindness, empathy, and honesty, it is possible to rid them of narcissistic tendencies before it’s too late.