Development of narcissism tends to start early in life and is often mistaken for confidence. In addition, today’s society often incubates narcissism and narcissists as a virtue, rather than pathology. But that doesn’t mean that the pain a narcissist will go through will be any less once they break. And there is also the pain of their partners in the relationships they form—even though they are not capable of sustaining a true intimate and healthy relationship. So, what causes someone to be a narcissist?
Development of narcissism starts in early childhood
Development of narcissism is complex and upbringing of a narcissist can take many stages of childhood. Throughout this process it can be influenced by various parenting behaviours that stimulate narcissistic tendencies in a child and the development of the false self. This process can start as early as the first few months of infant’s life.
A mother that is overwhelmed with the child’s upbringing and needs to attend to other aspects of her life at the cost of child’s development is often the first developmental stage in creating narcissistic personality. What causes someone to be a narcissist needs to be evaluated from the parens’ own mental wellbeing. A child that is not attended to emotionally and does not have the mother to soothe his or her emotional needs will learn to cope without the mother and develop coping mechanisms that will substitute the parental role that the mother should be supplying. A child that takes care of himself or herself doesn’t need the mother to fill in that role and, hence, develops the perception that he or she is enough to tackle the role of development.
Mothers that are preoccupied with their own needs—that do not devote their focus to the child but, as today is often the case, to their jobs and their careers—may create environment for a narcissistic child. This does not imply that the focus necessarily needs to be in the amount of time a mother will spend with her child, but rather emotional focus the child gets—so, the psychological availability of the mother. If the child has the sense and security that the mother will be there when he needs her for emotional soothing and refuelling, the child will not need to build up their own soothing and coping mechanisms. A child needs a psychological more than a physical pillar to lean on.
Development of narcissism as the child grows
As the child grows, other parental behaviour may result in the child’s development of narcissism. What seems to be an issue not only on individual level, but also societally is the tendency of parents to treat their children as unique, special, better than others—children that are lured into believing they can make things happen just by wishing them, dreaming about them. This conveys a message to the child that they are not only a special human being from the aspect of validity as a person, but that they are in fact better than others and that others are there to serve them. Society plays an important role in what causes someone to be a narcissist as described in the related article: Narcissism in Narcissistic Society.
Such omnipotent parental upbringing is not the result of their unconditional love, but quite the contrary—the result of conditional love they have for their children. This conditional love is only shown when the child meets the criteria of this grandiosity and omnipotence, which in turn creates a narcissistic child that lacks empathy not only for anything other but also themselves. They will not be able to love themselves, but rather like themselves—and even that will only be the case when they meet the criteria for liking themselves, which they introjected from their parents.
A child that is not allowed the space for autonomy, exploration and true childhood—such that is not constrained and only acknowledged when they exhibit grandiosity, specialness, excessiveness—this is a child that will learn that only false and overblown is to be acknowledged and will learn to mistake this falseness for reality. Treating others as means to satisfy their own needs and perceiving as though their every wish is others’ command is the perception a narcissist will have of reality.
Because the child had their real self denied and unacknowledged by their parents, they learn to deny it themselves also. It ceases to exist for them—they become ashamed of it. This is often pushed into the unconscious and the only aspect of themselves that remains in their awareness is their false grandiose and omnipotent self—the defence covering up the pain of the unacknowledged real self. Viewing others as less worthy is actually an unconscious defence guarding them against the feelings of their own sense of worthlessness. Everything they do is in the effort to justify their criteria of self-validation.
Having a child to realise yourself brings up a narcissist
Parents that are not emotionally stable and have their own issues with their sense of self, self-esteem, self-worth and self-validation, will often end up using their own child as an object of their recognition. They will want their child to be special and unique in order for them to be perceived special and unique themselves—as parents and as individuals. Narcissism is essentially a fault in identification.
The grandiosity that parents have themselves translates into having their child symbolise the icon of parents’ own omnipotence. They will be inducing, stimulating, nurturing, rewarding such false uniqueness in their child in order for the spotlight to fall on them as parents. But thinking a child is unique is not the same as loving them dearly.
It is not hard to see how the best way to prevent upbringing of a narcissistic child is actually for the parents to engage in their own psychotherapy and resolve their own deep seeded issues (related article: Mindful Parenting as Essence of Child’s Mental Health).