Although psychologists are still trying to figure out what makes narcissistic children, they believe parental behavior is a major contributing factor. If during the developmental stage you overvalue your child and affirm that they are better than others who deserve special treatment, then you are encouraging them to grow up to be a narcissist.
How Does a Child Become a Narcissist?
What type of parenting leads children to grow up with a NPD?
By Dr. Elinor Greenberg
I am often asked, “What type of parenting leads children to grow up with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder?” Or “Are the children of Narcissistic parents at risk of becoming Narcissists themselves?” Today’s post may shed some light on this issue.
How Does Someone “Get” a Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Narcissistic Personality Disorders are a byproduct of certain childhood family environments. All children want their parents’ approval and attention. Children adapt to their homes, and often the most productive and reasonable adaptation to some home situations is to become a Narcissist.
Below are some common scenarios that can contribute to the creation of Narcissistic children
Scenario 1— Narcissistic Parental Values
In this situation, the child is raised in a family that is very competitive and only rewards high achievement. One or both of the parents are Exhibitionist Narcissists. The family motto is: If you can’t be the best, why bother?
Love is conditional: When you come in first in the race, win the science fair or star in the school show, you are showered with praise and attention. When you do not, you are a disappointment. Everyone in the family is supposed to be special and prove it over and over again. No matter how much you achieve, the pressure is never off. As one woman said: “When I came home with a report card with all A’s, my father asked me if anyone got an A+.”
Children in these families do not feel stably loved. It is hard for them to enjoy anything for its own sake if it does not confer status. Instead of being supported by their parents to explore what they like and want to do more of, they only receive support for high achievement.
Their parents are not interested in their children’s “real selves,” they are mainly interested in how their children can make the family look good. They want to be able to brag to their neighbors: “Look at what my kid did!”
The children who grow up in homes like this only feel secure and worthwhile when they are successful and recognized as the “best.” The conditional love of their childhood and the over-evaluation of high status and success in their home sets in motion a lifelong pattern of chasing success and confusing it with happiness.
Example: John and his Life on Paper
John, a brilliant and successful man with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, told me that he was coming to therapy because he knew that had lost his way. Nothing he did seemed to have any real meaning for him. He said, “I have a ‘resume’ life. Everything about me looks good on paper. Even my hobbies are cool. But somewhere along the way, I lost touch with who I really am. I no longer feel much genuine pleasure in my accomplishments. I started out enjoying what I do well, but now I do it only because it impresses other people. Inside I feel empty.”
Scenario 2: The Devaluing Narcissistic Parent
In this scenario, there is a very domineering and devaluing parent who is always putting down the child. The parent is generally irritable, easily angered, and has unrealistically high expectations.
If there are two or more children, the parent will praise one and devalue the others. The “good one” can quickly become the “bad one” and suddenly a different sibling is elevated. Nobody in the family feels secure and everyone spends their time trying to pacify the explosive Narcissistic parent.
The other parent is often treated exactly like the children and belittled as well. When he or she disagrees with the Narcissistic parent, they too are devalued.
Children who grow up in these households feel angry, humiliated, and inadequate. They are likely to react to their childhood situations in a few different ways.
The Defeated Child:
Some of these children simply give up and accept defeat. In their teenage years, after decades of being told that they are worthless, they may spiral down into a self-hating shame-based depression. Then to escape their inner shame, they may try to lose themselves in impulsive, addictive behaviors. Some become alcoholics and drug addicts, others spend their days on the internet. They never achieve their potential because they have been convinced that they have none.
The Rebellious Child:
These children overtly reject their parents’ message that they are “losers.” Instead, they spend their life trying to prove to themselves, the world, and the devaluing parent that they are special and their parents were wrong. They pursue achievement in every way that they can. Proving they are special becomes a lifelong mission, while underneath there is always a harsh inner voice criticizing their every mistake—no matter how minor.
The Angry Child:
These children grow up furious at the devaluing parent. Anyone who reminds them of their parents in any way becomes the target of their anger. They sometimes become Toxic or Malignant Narcissists themselves. It is not enough for them to achieve, they must destroy as well.
Example: “Pretty Woman”
In this movie, Richard Gere portrays a wealthy businessman who buys and breaks up companies. He enjoys destroying the life’s work of the former owners of these companies because all of them are symbolic substitutes for his hated father. The movie turns into a Cinderella story after he hires a prostitute (Julia Roberts) with whom he eventually falls in love. Even his choice of a love object is typically Narcissistic. I have met many wealthy Narcissistic men who can only show love to women that they “save” who are safely below them in status.