How does a person develop into a narcissistic personality? Good question since no definitive answer exists. Most of us have some narcissistic qualities, but only about 2% of the population struggle with pathological narcissism. The possible causes are complex and complicated. Is it nature, nurture, or a mix of both? Studies have found that parenting with excessive pampering or excessive criticism can play a part. Others argue that genetics or psychobiology determine the development of a narcissistic personality. There are two different types of narcissism: the grandiose type and the vulnerable type. The grandiose type appears incredibly confident and superior to others while the vulnerable type presents as more sensitive and seeks out validation that they are special. While vulnerable narcissists may develop from cold, controlling, or inconsistent parenting, the grandiose type results from excessive adoration and valuation.
Some narcissists grew up in families that valued status and success over relationships. They overcompensate for a lack of love and attention they received from their parents by appearing to have it all together. Children who grow up with unmet emotional needs may have a difficult time with attachment while yearning for attention and admiration. Another factor that has been correlated with narcissism is permissive or overattentive parenting. Being told by others that you are special (over and over again) and can accomplish anything (regardless of the child’s true abilities) can create an inflated sense of one’s self. Failure to impose any discipline leads to children who don’t think the rules apply to them. The explosion of social media and our self-absorbed culture also contributes to the development of this personality type.
So what can you do if you’re married to or in a relationship with a person who has some narcissistic traits? Or have a child who is a budding narcissist? Regardless of the label, the first step is accepting that the thoughts and actions of this person may negatively impact your relationship with them. With children there is a greater opportunity to change their behavior since it may be a recent phenomenon. Children need love and support, but overvaluing their worth can be harmful and misleading. They also need discipline and consequences when their behaviors are inappropriate. Avoid justifying their actions and minimizing their behaviors, instead be consistent, firm, direct, and fair in your parenting, focusing on their behaviors not character.
Narcissistic adults are more difficult since they are entrenched in their thought and behavioral patterns. People can change, but how much is determined by their motivation and desire to be different and learn new ways of interacting. Resources such as a book, podcast, and internet information can be helpful, but sometimes seeking professional counseling is the best option. An objective, honest, and direct professional can identify specific behaviors that create problems and offer positive solutions. Ultimately, the narcissistic type needs to learn humility, compassion, and empathy. Talking less, listening more and valuing relationships over accolades or status can shift the focus from self to others. Moving from being self-serving to serving others will benefit everyone.