Does Upbringing Influence the Development of Narcissism?


Every loving parent wants what’s best for their child. Whether that’s sending them to prestigious schools or making sure that the neighborhood is safe and supportive, every parent just wants their child on the best path possible. However, there is a myriad of factors that go into raising a child and that is typically what makes parenthood appear so intimidating and daunting. For many parents, deciphering the amount of praise they should give their child can be challenging. They want their children to have a high self-esteem but don’t want them to become arrogant. They want their children to feel beautiful without boasting, be smart without being snarky and be kind without feeling entitled for something in return.

Therefore, balancing the accolades becomes quite difficult. In some cases, the more praise parents give the better, but this type of upbringing can sometimes have adverse effects on a child.

In instances where a parent overvalues their child, the child can establish narcissistic traits which could possibly develop into Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The Mayo Clinic defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder as “… a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” Narcissistic Personality Disorder is usually attributed to both genetic and environmental factors, with environmental factors heavily influencing the development of this disorder (Mayo Clinic, 2017). For example, environmental factors can include situations in which the child has a parent with NPD or some variation of the disorder.  

According to Dr. Elinor Greenberg, a renowned Gestalt therapy trainer with a specialization in NPD, there are 7 signs of a parent with NPD. These signs include: the need to be the center of attention, having low emotional empathy, devaluing others to get their way, maintaining selfish behavior, having an expectation for the child to be perfect, being moody and inappropriately intrusive (Greenberg, 2017)). The aforementioned list provides several scenarios that can foster an environment for a child to develop Narcissistic Personality Disorder. However, there are four common types of scenarios that enhance the likelihood of a child developing NPD. These situations typically arise in situations where the head of household has NPD.

The “Golden Child” scenario describes an environment where the parents, who have narcissistic traits, idolize their child excessively causing the child to only value themselves for being “perfect” (Greenberg, 2017). However, this scenario can cause the child to have stunted self-growth and an unhealthy fixation on their flaws (Greenberg, 2017). A study found that young adults with narcissism may be “predisposed to greater anxiety after failure, over-reliance on and false perceptions of social support, and experiences of guilt” which could result in lower self-esteem (Muratori et al., 2018). It is important to note the distinction between having a high self-esteem and narcissism. Self-esteem is the idea that you are worthy of who you are as a person while narcissism is the idea that other people are inferior to you and you are superior (Pogosyan, 2018).

The second scenario is the “Narcissistic Parental Values” scenario. This environment is described as very competitive and stressful because of external pressures. A common mentality would be the parent reprimanding the child mentioning that ”If you can’t be the best, why bother?” (Greenberg, 2017). This situation creates a highly competitive atmosphere that can cause stress and an obsession with being the absolute best (Greenberg, 2017). This type of environment doesn’t allow the child to feel adequately loved and can set in “motion a lifelong pattern of chasing success and confusing it with happiness” (Greenberg, 2017).

The “Devaluing Narcissistic Parent” is the third scenario. Quite self-explanatory, this scenario is characterized by a situation in which a parent devalues and belittles the child resulting in constant feelings of inadequacy, humiliation, and anger (Greenberg, 2017). To combat this, children may develop a “mask model”. The “mask model” is a defense mechanism whereby low self-esteem is masked by a grandiose and inflated sense of self to create an outer appearance of high, albeit fragile, self-esteem” (Derry et al., 2018). This scenario can also affect siblings where the parent may switch which sibling to praise and which to belittle, in a frequent and unpredictable manner (Greenberg, 2017).

The last scenario is the “Exhibitionists Nightmare”.  This scenario contains an exhibitionist parent that usually possesses the seven qualities discussed previously. This environment details where an exhibitionist, narcissistic parent teaches the child to serve and praise their parent while devaluing themselves (Greenberg, 2017). They are taught to not surpass their parent and as adults feel exposed and vulnerable (Greenberg, 2017). As said by Elinor Greenberg, “all their value in the family comes from acting as a support to the ego of the exhibitionist parent.”

It is important to remember that people living with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are in fact, people just living with a disorder. It’s important to not dehumanize individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. More often than not, they were caught in the cycle of these 4 types of environments, where their childhoods may have related one or more of the four scenarios. Therefore, it is important to get help so that the cycle can stop and people can achieve their full potential and personal growth.

References

Derry, K. L., Bayliss, D. M., & Ohan, J. L. (2018). Measuring Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissism in Children and Adolescents: The Narcissism Scale for Children. Assessment. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/1073191118773872

Greenberg, E. (2017). How Do Children Become Narcissists? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understanding-narcissism/201705/how-do-children-become-narcissists

Greenberg, E. (13 July 2017). Is Your Mother an Exhibitionist Narcissist? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understanding-narcissism/201707/is-your-mother-exhibitionist-narcissist

Mayo Clinic. Narcissistic personality disorder. (2017, November 18). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20366662

Muratori, P., Milone, A., Brovedani, P., Levantini, V., Melli, G., Pisano, S., . . . Masi, G. (2018). Narcissistic traits and self-esteem in children: Results from a community and a clinical sample of patients with oppositional defiant disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders,241, 275-281. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2018.08.043

Pogosyan, M. (2018). Self-Esteem and Narcissism in Children. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-cultures/201809/self-esteem-and-narcissism-in-children

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