What Causes Children to Become Narcissists

Psychologists explain.

Image – Learning Mind

Many people believe narcissists aren’t born that way. Psychologists aren’t sure the exact cause but think children become this way due to their environment. We have a more in-depth look into what causes children to become narcissists.

WHAT IS NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER?

Let’s look at the clinical definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). This is a diagnosed mental health condition, not just a term to toss around lightly.

Mental health professionals look for signs like the following: arrogance, chronic attention-seeking, manipulation, entitlement, fascination for wealth and power, and hate for criticism.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is hard to diagnose in children or teenagers. At younger ages, humans are always growing and changing. The personality traits of a narcissist usually worsen with age.

So just because a person feels the need always to be right or is selfish, those actions do not mean that they have a mental illness, necessarily.

THE STUDY OF NARCISSISM IN CHILDREN

There was a study in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences done by the University of Amsterdam on narcissism in children. This study helped figure out the levels of children’s self-esteem due to parental involvement. The researchers concluded that narcissism was predicted more by parental overvaluation than by the lack of parental warmth.

PSYCHOLOGISTS’ VIEW OF WHAT TRIGGERS NARCISSISM IN CHILDREN

Psychologists do agree parental behavior is a contribution to developing a narcissistic child. This doesn’t mean all narcissists are created by their parents. We’ll also examine some people are just born with that personality. Some psychologists believe children are more likely to show these traits when parents throw praise on them. Others think they show these traits because they don’t shower them with love and affection. We’ll dive into both of these views.

NEED FOR APPROVAL

There are a few things that can cause children to become narcissistic. It’s normal for children to want their parents’ approval and their attention. Sometimes when a child cannot get that attention because the family is very competitive and only values high achievement, the child gets left behind. Sometimes the child only feels loved when they win. If they don’t get recognition for second place, they feel like a disappointment.

If a child grows up in a narcissistic family, they only see these values. They set up a lifelong pattern of chasing happiness. Other times the child feels defeated as they’re told over and over again that they aren’t good enough. They decide to love themselves and make the world like them since their parents don’t show them enough love.

Sometimes they go as far as to do outlandish things because they crave attention. When they don’t get approval, they push the bar further and further until someone has to “see” them and approve them. It becomes a vicious cycle.

2 – STRIVING TO BE PERFECT

When children believe they are only loved and praised when they “win,” they start to feel insecure. They think they’re only valued when they are unique. The child begins to try to be “perfect” to be seen. They strive for perfection to prove they don’t have flaws. The parent continues to put them down when they don’t get all A’s or score goals in a game.

If the child isn’t good enough in their eyes, they are set in a hypothetical corner of the room. The problem with this is the child loses touch with themselves. They don’t even know who they are at the root. They spend their time trying to perfect every activity instead of concentrating on their development as a person. A child should be able to be imperfect at times.

They cannot always score the winning goal. If a parent doesn’t tell them it’s okay to miss a goal, they’ll feel defeated at all times.

PARENTS WHO MAKE KIDS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

Many parents make their children the center of their universe. This doesn’t mean the child will suddenly become a narcissist. Toddlers go through a stage that many call “The Terrible Twos.” If a toddler is neglected through this stage, they sometimes leave the stage without completing it. This scenario may sound like a dream to a parent, but it’s a negative thing.

They will mature into adults with this same perception of the world. During this stage, they should realize there are other people in their world. They understand they need other people, but they want to be independent. This is just a normal stage. Young children need boundaries.

If they aren’t allowed to fail and know their limits, they grow up without any expectations. They learn these limits by throwing tantrums, screaming, manipulating, and making up emotions. If they don’t learn any of these things, they might become narcissists. They expect the world does revolve around them, and they should get what they want.

The scary part is that this toddler then becomes an adult having a tantrum. They think they deserve attention.

PARENTS HEAP ON TOO MUCH PRAISE

Many parents overly praise their children. It’s the world of participation trophies we live in. You can work with your child to ensure they don’t go down this path.

As a parent, you have to help them realize they are going to fail. It’s okay to fail. Teach them empathy and kindness to others. Show them with your actions. Set boundaries for them daily. There are a million different “rules” on parenting in the world. Some say you praise too much. Some say you don’t praise enough.

The most important thing is to work with your child, so they understand you love them, but you have to set boundaries for them as well.

PARENTAL MIRROR IMAGE

Many times narcissists as children learn from their parents. When the parents treat the child as if they are perfect, the child starts to believe it. Praise is lovely to a child, but praising their every move can be detrimental to their development. When the parent shows narcissistic tendencies, the child might start to act the same way.

NATURE VS. NURTURE

Some children are born with a tendency to fell less emotional empathy than others. By nature, they are simply not as empathetic as other people. They don’t feel much emotion. This doesn’t mean they are a narcissist. It just means they don’t have this emotion as much as others.

They see the parent showing off, living like the rules don’t matter, and treating people with disrespect. Children often mirror what they see in their parents. They start to do these same things without realizing it.

Nurture is a learned habit. If narcissists have a mental illness of this sort, they usually are taught relationships aren’t as meaningful. They see people as objects at times because it is learned. They were born with the ability to love, yet don’t feel it because they aren’t shown enough love. Note that this does not mean that every child who isn’t nurtured with love will become a narcissist.

NOTICING NARCISSISTIC TRAITS IN CHILDREN

It’s important to watch out for ways the child shows narcissistic tendencies.

  • When they start to act entitled, it’s time to step in and show them who’s boss.
  • They also may become aggressive.
  • When they don’t get their way, watch out. Many times the worst parts of a narcissist will show when they are threatened. Their ego is their protection.
  • Once you push it, they sometimes crumble under stress.
  • They do not like it when their self-esteem is damaged. When they feel failure, they often lash out.
THE TOUGH TRUTH

It can be tough to see these traits in children. Narcissists don’t seem contrary to the exterior. They act how you think they should. A person might seem to have all of the right intentions but always has an angle.

They often deflect blame onto anyone around them. Furthermore, they charm you with their angelic actions, only to later show their true selves. Children and teenagers often show all sorts of these traits just because of their age. They might not have a mental health issue but are just everyday kids. It’s important to watch them closely over time to see if their personality changes in a positive way.

HELP FOR A NARCISSISTIC CHILD

The problem with narcissistic people is that there is no cure for their behavior. If it’s changed and worked within childhood, they can hopefully let the other positive parts of their personality shine. They have to want to change. Adults must work with children that have these tendencies to protect their future social relationships. Many claim it’s almost impossible for them to have intimate relationships because they see affection as a means to an end.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON WHY CHILDREN GROW UP TO BECOME NARCISSISTS

Overall, a narcissistic child can change if they get intervention at a young age. Changing an adult’s perspective is much harder. Children grow and learn by those that guide them through life. It’s great to praise their strange artwork, but only if you do it to an extent. There’s a balance between neglecting your children and overpraising them.

Narcissists create an unfavorable environment for anyone in their path. Therefore, it’s essential to work with children to ensure their future is positive and healthy.

Power of Positivity

Coping With The Rejection of a Child

One of the hardest things to experience is the betrayal wound that occurs when your own child grows up to hate you.  I have seen this numerous times in my life, to the point that I am compelled to write about it.

Parents who have been rejected by one or more of their children experience a type of pain that is not matched by any other – even the betrayal of a spouse or parent.

If you are a parent who has been rejected by your child or children then hopefully this paper will be beneficial to you.  Of course, if you were and still are an abusive parent, then perhaps your child did what was necessary in order to protect him or herself from further abuse; but, if you are a typical, “good enough” parent, then your child’s rejection is unnatural and unhealthy – for all involved.

What types of children reject their parent(s) in this respect? (Note: these options are not mutually exclusive.)

  • Children with Narcissistic Parental Alienation Syndrome
  • Children with attachment trauma
  • Children with personality disorders

If you are experiencing the heart ache of a child who rejected you, then you probably feel devastated, hurt, confused, angry, furious, misunderstood, shocked, invalidated, and empty.  Was I a bad parent?  Why did my children turn against me?  What could I have done differently? Maybe I said “no” too many times. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hard on him/her. Where did I go wrong?

Many questions enter your mind.

Usually, children, no matter what, are loyal to their parents – even very neglectful and abusive ones. When a child rejects a parent it usually has something to do with something else other than abuse or neglect. In fact, when a person cuts ties with an abusive or neglectful parent it is usually a difficult process and requires the child to set difficult boundaries, and is nearly impossible to do.

What about the parent whose child rejects them easily or with no sense of conscience or remorse, acting as if their parent were Attila the Hun, using criticism and judgment as tools of attack against the parent; using every weakness of the parent as justification for the ostracizing him/her? This type of parental rejection is not natural and is usually the result of one of the above three mentioned possibilities.

I will discuss each option here.

Children with Narcissistic Parental Alienation Syndrome:

This is the dynamic that occurs when a child is manipulated by the narcissistic parent to reject the other, healthy and empathic parent.  It happens because the narcissistic parent uses a type of invisible coercion to convince the child that the other parent is no good. In essence, the narcissistic parent teaches his/her child to hate his/her other parent, and uses the child as a weapon to hurt the other, non-narcissistic parent.

Often this is done by implication and non-verbal communication, such as when a child returns home from being with the targeted parent and the narcissist acts overly concerned or alarmed by anything that may have gone on at the targeted parent’s house; by acting as if there is cause for distress, and that the child is very fortunate to be away from that “unhealthy environment…”

For further information on the topic of Narcissistic Parental Alienation, please click here.

Children with attachment trauma:

While attachment occurs all through the human lifespan, the most crucial time in a human being’s life for attachment is between the times of birth to two years. If the child experiences a breach in time, away from the mother, for any reason – be it abuse, neglect, or something else prevents the mother from being present and attuned to her child, then attachment trauma results.

Once a child has not connected properly with his/her mother, then the child did not develop the appropriate skills for having a healthy interpersonal attachment. A mother needs to provide the necessary attunement and resonance needed to learn how to love and trust another person. When a child is not given that type of relational input, he/she adjusts or copes by shutting down his/her needs. This results in later relationship problems, particularly involving the relationship with the mother, or anyone else offering intimacy and nurturing.

Children with personality disorders:

There appears to be a genetic component to personality disorders. If a child has a parent or other person in his biological family with a personality disorder, or even other mental illness, then perhaps he/she has inherited a biological propensity to have a personality disorder him/herself.

According to Google dictionary, a personality disorder is defined as:  “a deeply ingrained and maladaptive pattern of behavior of a specified kind, typically manifest by the time one reaches adolescence and causing long-term difficulties in personal relationships or in functioning in society.”

As you can see by this definition that people with personality disorders are not easy to have close relationships with; this would include parent-child relationships.

What to do?

The best advice I can offer is as follows:

  1. Ask your child what he or she needs from you in order to repair the relationship. If your child tells you something specific, just listen and determine if you can honor your child’s request. If it is reasonable and sincere, than do your best to repair what has been broken.
  2. Don’t act on your feelings of defensiveness. If you feel defensive, learn to talk within your own head and keep your mouth shut. You should not defend yourself to your child. You can say something neutral, such as, “I have a different perspective on the story, but I’m not going to defend myself because it won’t be productive.”
  3. Expect Respect. Realize that no matter what, everyone deserves to be treated with respect – including you.
  4. Don’t idealize your children or your relationship with them. Yes, our children are the most important people in our lives, but they should not be idealized or enshrined. They are mere mortals just like you and I.If your child is rejecting you, it’s one thing to feel disappointed and sad, but it becomes unhealthy if you can’t focus on anything else other than that. You are best served to remind yourself that you have other relationships that are important as well, and learn to focus on the ones that work.
  5. Grieve. Allow yourself to feel the sadness of being rejected by your child. Grieve over the loss of the innocence that the relationship once was. Grieve over your lost child – even though he or she is still alive. In your world, he/she is no longer part of your life. That sense of “what can I do?” keeps you yearning and longing for reconciliation; but sometimes reconciliation is not forthcoming.
  6. Live one day at a time. Even if you have no contact with your child today, you have no way of knowing what tomorrow may bring. None of us does. The best thing we can do is to live the best way we know how today. When you can focus on one day only, you feel less hopeless and desperate. Remind yourself, “I cannot predict the future.”
  7. Don’t beg. No matter how hurt or desperate you feel to have a relationship with your rejecting child, never stoop to the level of begging for attention or even forgiveness. You will not be respected by your child if you beg and it will demean your position as a parent.
  8. Be empowered. Don’t let your rejecting child steal your personal power. Just because you are having difficulties in this area of your life, don’t get to the place where you feel personally defeated. Do what it takes to be good to yourself – seek therapy, join a support group, travel, go to the gym, do whatever you can to own your own power and stop giving it away to anyone else.

One thing that is certain about life is that it is about all about letting go. As parents our job is to raise our children to the best of our ability and teach them how to be independent, productive adults. If, during the process, they choose a path we don’t agree with, we must remind ourselves that we can’t live their lives for them. Learning to let go is the best way to manage any part of life that doesn’t go the way we expect, including when our children choose to reject us.

Psych Central

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Dealing with Narcissistic Children

I deal with many clients who have this problem and when it occurs within your family, this article provides good advice on how to deal with it.

There are a few signs of narcissistic behavior that parents should watch out for:

Inflated ego: The narcissist has a huge ego.  Narcissistic adult children demand that you do what they want, try to control you, and push every boundary. Every time you give them what they want, they demand something else.  They say your job is to make them happy.

Need for validation: A narcissist needs constant admiration. Often, they need praise for simple tasks, like making an appearance at your birthday party. You may find yourself giving your narcissistic adult child an inordinate amount of praise over something that’s a normal and expected part of family life.

A sense of entitlement: The narcissist feels entitled to things they should have to work for. For example, they may demand ridiculous things like financial support well into adulthood. Or, tasks they should be doing themselves, but you find yourself performing…such as doing their laundry and folding their clothes, filling out their job applications, calling into work sick for them, or fixing their breakfast or lunch to take to work.

Exploitation: A narcissist acts without conscience, thinking only of themselves. They lie, trick and steal to get what they want. This exploitation can be glaringly obvious or very subtle, so be on the lookout if you feel used. This may manifest as their throwing temper tantrums, blackmailing you by withholding their love or your grandchildren, trying to entice you with sweetness and affection when they want something, and blaming their behavior on you.

Distorted thinking: A narcissist occupies a fantastical world where he or she is the greatest and most important person in the universe. In order to maintain the fantasy, narcissists lie. They often deny things that are obvious. They may make up fantastical tales to support the fantasy.

Unpleasant personality: Contempt and belittlement are the narcissists’ tools of choice. When they feel threatened by success, they get mean. Watch out for those who are constantly putting down other peoples’ accomplishments. You may find your narcissistic adult child talking badly about their friends behind their backs, but pretending to care for them when these same friends come around

Read more here:

How to Handle Adult Narcissistic Children