EVERYTHING you need to know.
Narcissistic people tend to be very difficult to deal with. Typically they are extremely self-absorbed and primarily focused on themselves — often times coming across as hyper-arrogant, demanding, and entitled. Commonly, it's nearly impossible to convince them to take responsibility for their action.
None of us dream to raise children who will then look through us or exploit us when they become adults. Unfortunately, this scenario happens with far too many.
In Jesse Singal's article, How Do Children Become Narcissists — which is based on a new study — he tends to accept parental overvaluation as the cause of childhood narcissism, rather than the lack of parental warmth. If we contrast the social learning theory with the generalized psychoanalytic view of “warm” mother; that just might be the case, although it's doubtful.
Instead, I propose to narrow down the psychoanalytic concept of “empathetic mother” to a mother who fulfills the child's primary narcissistic needs. In this case the attitude is not either–or — but both.
Here are the four main causes of childhood narcissistic personality:
Narcissism is shown to have a strong genetic background. This is what we CAN'T influence (other than not choosing a partner who shows the signs of narcissism).
2. Intrauterine influences.
During embryonic development, certain types of neurons are forming. What is happening is an incredibly sophisticated and orchestrated process shaped by millions of years of evolution.
We don’t exactly know all of its components, nor can we influence it, so he best we can do to make sure a child's development isn't altered or disturbed is to provide the LEAST stressful and most HEALTHY environment for the embryo/fetus possible.
3. Lack of parental empathy during the primer narcissism stage.
Psychoanalysts claim that there is a state in child development at around age 2-4 in which they call the primer narcissism. In this stage, the child has already developed a kind of independence from their mother , and they begin to form their own ego by absorbing clues around them.
It's easy to recognize this phase — it is full of, “Watch me! Look at me! I'm smarter than you! My father can beat up your father,” kind of mentality.
Kohut and Kernberg suppose that the parental empathy in general is necessary to raise mentally strong and healthy children — I suggest more specification in the case of childhood narcissism. It's important to realize that your child is in the normal, natural phase of healthy primer narcissism, and so s/he is in need of positive feed-back — both emotionally and cognitively.
Parents NEED to fulfill their kids' natural need for being seen, appreciated and valued. The children NEED to feel that they are the center of their parent's universe. They NEED to feel loved so they — in turn — know they are loveable.
They NEED to be seen so they feel acknowledged, and they NEED to feel appreciated so they know they are valuable.
Cognitively, parents need to provide the appropriate positive feed-back, which serves as the center of their self-esteem. It has to be genuine and true — reinforcing the real positive accomplishments of their kids.
Personally, I am a huge believer of the positive discipline, so I'd rather reward — mostly verbally — ten good moves of a child than criticize one.
Whenever there is an unfulfilled need, there is an injury in the child's development. If parents don’t fulfill the needs of the primer narcissism, that personality development gets stuck. The child might continue to look for that need fulfillment throughout their life if they don't get the acknowledgement and appreciation they were looking for in their early developmental stages.
4. OVER-exaggeration of praise during childhood development.
Need fulfillment does not have to go against reality. All children make an enormous amount of positive actions if you observe them with an open mind. It’s the parent’s JOB to find the positive traits of their child and reinforce it as often as they can.
While we might hunt for positive behavior or achievements, we shouldn't over-praise ordinary actions or exaggerate them.
If your child brings a painting to you to see, it is more constructive to pay attention — ask about the details, the choice of the color, the meaning and why did s/he choose to paint exactly what s/he did — than evaluate him as “little Van Gogh”. Moreover, growing out of babyhood, we have to set up expectations and slowly, patiently but consequently make them fulfilled.
Many of those expectations are social expectations — not making advances at the expense of others, not bragging, never demanding more attention than the others or interrupting. Establishing rules and expectations are also parental assignments that go parallel with need fulfillment.
Obviously, from the four components that support narcissistic character traits, we can't directly influence the genetic and intrauterine effects. But I am a firm believer that even with the WORST genetic make-up and the most troublesome pregnancy, we as parents have the opportunity to counteract with the emergence of narcissism fulfilling the child's healthy narcissistic need in their stage of primer narcissism and guiding, teaching and training them tactfully in the golden rules of social interactions.
Zita Fekete is more than happy to help people and families who are struggling from personality disorders on a more personal level. She's located in the Pacific Northwest, or confidential HIPPAA compliant video service is also available. Visit Sound Soul Counseling or contact her directly.