Most experts agree that narcissists are made, but if Dr. Ramani Durvasula had to hazard a guess, she said that maybe 10–20% of the basis for a narcissistic personality may be attributed to genetics.
Knowing that narcissism is developed provides a better understanding of how to prevent the growth of such personalities among families and friends. People with narcissistic personality disorder are particularly resistant to change.
Experts say that once someone turns 25, their personality is pretty much set in stone. For this reason, parents need to be knowledgeable about narcissistic personality disorder to prevent their children from becoming narcissists.
Mental health experts agree that narcissism starts in childhood, and even the most well-meaning parents may unknowingly raise a narcissist.
Chelsey Cole, a psychotherapist and specialist in narcissistic abuse, explained how narcissists are made. She said, “Narcissism tends to develop in environments where there’s a mix of both overindulgence and under-indulgence.”
Cole added that overindulgence typically focuses on status, money, appearance, and other external achievements.
Such an environment combined with an under-indulgence in teaching children about compassion, empathy, and developing a sense of self and self-esteem can lead to narcissism in children.
Can anything be done to stop narcissism? Here are 4 ways narcissists are made, and what you can do to prevent it from happening:
1] Parents display narcissistic values. Narcissists are made following their own parental or authority models. When parents are competitive and place a premium on achievements, then children will tend to accept this as normal and acceptable behavior.
2] Children are overindulged for their superficial attributes. Dr. Durvasula cautions against the belief that narcissists are made simply by spoiling them. Overindulgence is more complicated, since it focuses on the child because of talent, looks, and other shallow characteristics. This teaches children that these external qualities are the only ones that give them value.
In this kind of environment, love and support are conditional on the achievements of the child. Praise is showered when the child comes first in a competition or gets the highest grades. Conversely, the parents show extreme disappointment in the child’s perceived “failures.” There is constant pressure to be the best and follow the parents’ definition of success.
Parents also overindulge children when they are allowed to throw temper tantrums without consequences, never taught to regulate emotional outbursts, and taught that they are more special than others.
Dr. Durvasula stressed, “Of course, every parent thinks their kid is special, but everyone is special.” Narcissists are made, however, when children are taught that they are better than everyone else.
She added that is similar to a parent telling the child, “’You’re the chosen one.’ That’s almost like the parent’s grandiosity being projected onto the child. That’s yet another path to narcissism.”
3] They are under-indulged in their emotions. On the other hand, narcissists are made because they are insecure. Domineering and narcissistic parents tend to put down and constantly devalue their children, particularly when they do not meet their unrealistically high expectations. In a family with multiple children, there is a tendency to praise the “good” child and degrade the others.
Under-indulgence can erode self-esteem and self-worth, and a deep-seated insecurity can be the core of a narcissistic personality. Mental health experts agree that valuing achievements, but downplaying feelings and self-worth, can lead to narcissism in children.
Emotionally distant or neglectful parents can also contribute to narcissism. Mental health counselor Catherine Del Toro said, “Parents who are maybe not involved, who don’t take the time to talk to their kids, who are not present in their day-to-day, the child is more likely to develop this narcissism because they’re craving that constant need for attention.”
Because parents instilled that need for superiority, it is also important for them to be involved and as present as possible with the children.
4] Children undergo trauma or abuse. One of the reasons why narcissists are made is because of incidences of abuse, which may lead to the development of various mental health issues, including narcissism.
There can be different sources of emotional abuse, including home and school environments, and this can result in narcissistic tendencies.
These four scenarios do not guarantee that narcissists are made, since many children that do go through these challenges can grow up to become emphatic adults.
But Dr. Durvasula, who specializes in narcissism and narcissistic abuse, states that every narcissist is likely to have experienced any one of these as a child.
Any of these experiences, combined with a difficult temperament, increases the chance of developing narcissism.
Dr. Durvasula stated, “I have worked with many, many clients with narcissistic personalities over the years, and, when I’ve looked back, what I’ve seen is that they invariably had one of these origins.”
How do you ensure that children do not become narcissists? Here is some guidance for concerned parents and guardians:
1] Model and reward empathy. If parents act like narcissists, that inevitably increases chances of narcissism in children. Dr. Durvasula says, “Empathy has to be infused in everything, every encounter your child sees you have, even how you cope with your own emotional difficulties.”
Acts of empathy must be rewarded as well. Parents can applaud their children’s achievements but also show appreciation for they play a game with or express concern for a younger sibling. Parents should praise such behavior.
2] Teach them to think of other people’s feelings. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a structured talk with the child, but can be discussed in everyday activities, such as when watching a television show or movie, or when the child is interacting with others.
A parent can ask the child about perspectives on another person’s feelings and behavior, and what the child would do in a similar situation. They need to understand that their behavior can impact other people’s thoughts and feelings.
3] Encourage the child’s authentic interests. Children should be allowed to cultivate their own interests and skills. These interests may be different from what the parents want, but these should be celebrated rather than discouraged.
4] Express your feelings. Narcissists struggle with regulating pain and disappointment, so parents should be careful to model this behavior for impressionable children. They should be able to see you cry, and appropriately manage emotional challenges.
5] Spend quality time. Parents need to make time for their children, no matter how busy they are. Even if it is just an hour or so, quality time spent with kids can make a huge difference in preventing the development of narcissistic personalities.
When you know what to look out for, it becomes easier to see how some environments support narcissistic behavior in children. Dr. Durvasula stresses that narcissists are made when empathy is largely absent in childhood.
Teaching children to grow into empathic adults, developing self-awareness, and having the ability to self-reflect on one’s impact on other people – these are the most essential skills and lifelong lessons that parents can bestow on their children.
Disclaimer: This article is provided solely for informational purposes and should not be considered a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or opinion. It is strongly recommended to consult with qualified professionals for any mental health concerns or issues.