Brummelman and his colleagues concede that there is some evidence for a genetic component to both self-esteem and narcissism.
Self-esteem can involve a number of beliefs about oneself ranging from appraisal of our own appearance, beliefs, emotions and our behaviors.
Parents hear that they need to instill self-esteem in children if they want them to grow up to be mentally healthy and productive adults.
A positive self-esteem is very crucial motivator for moving forward in life with an assertive attitude and optimism. One’s low self-esteem will invariably discourage them from being successful.
Educators believe self-esteem is a key to academic success, so they twist criticism into praise lest they bruise little ones’ budding sense of self-worth.
Plenty of research shows that there is a relationship between self-esteem and subjective well-being, or a general sense of happiness in life. Hence we can fathom the importance of a healthy self-esteem in the upcoming competitive generation.
While conceding that the intentions are good, however, Dutch psychologists Eddie Brummelman, Sander Thomaes, and Constantine Sedikides argue that the techniques we often use to create a high self-esteem may be creating a generation of monsters.
Our personality is a dynamic characteristic set of cognitive, emotional and behavioural pattern persistent across situations. Some psychologists claim that personality traits are genetic and hence present at birth. We can call this the “solid” model—your personality may get nicks and dents as you go through life, but the overall shape is intact.
Other psychologists claim that our personality evolves and modifies itself through active interactions with our surroundings. We can call this the “fluid” model, since your personality molds itself to varying circumstances throughout the lifespan.
A third group of psychologists’ opinions hold the middle ground. They maintain that personality is fluid in childhood but sets by adolescence or early adulthood. We can call this the “Jell-O” model of personality.
The most important aspect that builds self-esteem lies in childhood interactions with one’s primary caregivers, parents, teachers, and other significant adults in one’s life.
Although self-esteem and narcissism have some common features, the researchers argue that they’re fundamentally different. Hence, while trying to instill self-esteem in our children, we may unknowingly be encouraging narcissistic tendencies instead.
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that parents who “overvalue” their kids between the ages of 7 and 11 raised children who scored higher on tests of narcissism. In other words, parents who described their offspring as “more special than other children” and as deserving “something extra in life” had kids who think they’re God’s gift to the world. (1)
“Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University. “That may not be good for them or for society.”
Parents should read the findings as a warning to labeling their kids as “extra special”. It may not be the self-esteem booster previously thought of.
“When I first started doing this research in the 1990s, I used to think my children should be treated like they were extra-special,” said Brummelman. “I’m careful not to do that now.” (1)
One of the main characteristics of narcissism is inflated self-esteem. Both self-esteem and narcissism are based on people’s perceptions of how other people are evaluating them.
However, narcissists and those with high self-esteem view their social world very differently, and this greatly colors the way they think about themselves and others. And mostly, this view is actually far from reality in the case of narcissism.
Narcissists have a vertical view; they view everyone else as either above or below them. There are no equals. Thus, the goal of the narcissist is to get ahead—by hook or by crook—and he or she will use everything under their control to rise the ladder of success.
Those with high self-esteem, however, view their social world as horizontal. Here, all members of the group are on an equal footing. They seek to get along, not get ahead.