Today, you’re going to learn how to Not raise a narcissist using these 7 proven ways to prevent narcissism in a child.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder marked by a sense of grandiosity, the need for constant attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy.
Narcissism in children is usually characterized by inflated self-worth, emotional fragility, and a lack of empathy.
While personality disorders are typically diagnosed at 18 years or older, some children may show traits of narcissism.
This doesn’t mean they’ll go on to develop narcissistic personality disorder and may simply be typical for their developmental stage.
- Defining Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
- Is It Too Much Praise?
- Understanding Narcissism: Origins Of The Narcissistic Wound
- What Is Healthy Parenting?
- How to NOT Raise a Narcissist? Avoid Raising Entitled And Overindulged Child
- It’s Not Completely Your Responsibility
- How to Cultivate Intimacy With Your Child?
Defining Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
The DSM-V describes the person with NPD as having the following:
1. A grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
2. A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
3. A Belief that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
4. Excessive need for admiration.
5. A sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
6. A tendency to exploit other people (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
7. Lack of empathy (is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others).
8. An envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her.
9. Arrogance, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
While these behaviors are well known, the part of the pattern that most people don’t know about is the self-loathing, fear of rejection, and inner anxiety of the narcissist.
Narcissists have two different self-esteems – a false sense of self (usually appears extremely positive and charming) and a hidden real self that is fearful and anxious.
Is It Too Much Praise?
Many people believe that the self-esteem movement is responsible for the alleged narcissism epidemic.
That children who were praised and told they are special for doing nothing in particular, grow up to be self-involved, empty human beings.
But narcissism isn’t about feeling special or having high self-esteem.
Narcissism is a coping mechanism.
Behind their grandiosity lies a deep sense of shame over ordinary human frailties and failings.
Narcissism can develop when praise is the only thing the child is given.
Truth is, with lack of understanding, empathy, and emotional safety among others, the child may have no choice but hide behind a false Self.
Understanding Narcissism: Origins Of The Narcissistic Wound
A narcissistic wound, also referred to as “emptiness wound,” is how manifests a parent’s unclear or broken boundaries and failure to give their child a sense of love, respect, worth, and trust.
In this sense, narcissism is a natural result of the response to the trauma of emotional deprivation and neglect. (Not having their basic needs met)
As they grow up, these children become hypersensitive to neglect or criticism.
Whenever they feel threatened and in danger of losing their sense of omnipotence or superiority, they become “reduced to size” and open to intolerable emotions of shame and despair.
Losing special treatment from others cases an emotional injury.
The narcissist will try to escape this pain by:
- Desperately seeking alternative sources of admiration and attention
- Manipulating and even hurting other people
- Becoming enraged or depressed
- Numbing their pain using alcohol or drugs
What Is Healthy Parenting?
There is a difference between healthy parenting and overindulgence.
Healthy parenting involves:
1. Nurture which is unconditional love
2. Structure and healthy limits
Overindulgence, on the other hand, involves misguided nurturing and inadequate structuring.
Healthy parenting helps fulfill the child’s basic emotional needs and helps him learn responsibility and the tools he’ll need to cope with the real world.
While for the most part parents are doing the best they can with the tools and knowledge they have, living in a society that rewards narcissism and self-absorption, parents are challenged beyond their capabilities.
How to NOT Raise a Narcissist? Avoid Raising Entitled And Overindulged Child
#1. Don’t Invest More In An Outcome Than Your Child Does
While there is nothing wrong with encouraging your child to do their best, the problem is when we push and send the message that the child has to win at all costs or that his only worthy when he accomplishes things.
When it comes to school grades or sporting events, don’t pressure your child to get more than what he is aiming for.
Parental pressure can increase your child’s risk of stress and affect their performance and well-being in general.
It can also convey the message that grades and achievements are more important than things like empathy, kindness, and other social skills.
What to Do Instead?
The rest of the world is already emphasizing how important achievements are, so it’s more important than ever for the parent to focus on good values and providing support for their child by focusing on solutions.
#2. Allow Little Free Play Time
Every child needs free play time to learn social skills, self-regulation, and different cognitive skills, such as imagination and introspection.
In fact, studies show that children who are overscheduled often feel overwhelmed and pressured, which can cause a number of behavioral issues and emotional challenges. (1)
So allow little free time when scheduling your child’s time.
#3. Be Reasonable About What Is Dangerous And What Is Not
When trying to protect your child, be mindful of your fears – some of them may be yours and not realistic.
This will allow the child to practice reasonable risk-taking skills and become more confident and independent.
So what makes a risk reasonable?
- When the benefits outweigh the risk of the experience
- When the consequences of any potential risks are minor or insignificant
- When the parent realize the risks involved and knows that the child has taken appropriate action to minimize any potential consequences
#4. Allow Your Child To Tolerate Discomfort
Discomfort is a normal, appropriate response to a situation.
Resist the urge to overreact to every negative encounter your child has.
Allowing the child to tolerate a reasonable amount of discomfort will help him learn self-regulation skills that are essential for his well-being.
How to Help Your Child Tolerate Discomfort?
While emotions usually serve a purpose, sometimes we experience anxiety or fear unnecessarily.
Help your child learn that just because she’s feeling nervous about something, doesn’t mean that it’s a bad idea.
Show her the benefit she’ll gain from that experience and encourage her to do it anyway – when it’s safe to do so.
How to Help Your Child Self-Regulate?
Teach your child that his moods don’t have to depend fully on external circumstances. Rather, he can have some control and take steps to improve his mood.
That isn’t to say that he should suppress any negative emotions, but it means that he can take steps to move on from that mood, rather than pouting, complaining for hours, or isolating himself.
Help your child identify steps he can take and activities he can do to calm or cheer himself.
#5. Adjust Your About Child Raising In Light Of Your Child’s Temperament
Every child has his own temperament – his way of approaching the world.
There are five characteristics that define an individual’s temperament:
- Activity level
- Emotional intensity
- Frustration tolerance
- Reaction to new people
- Reaction to change
This is not something your child chooses or something that you created.
Recognizing patterns in your child’s temperament will help you anticipate your child’s responses to certain situations and adjust your expectation accordingly.
If you know that your child finds it difficult to feel comfortable meeting new people, you can help him by spending a few minutes with their teacher until he feels more comfortable.
#6. Help Your Child Learn That There Are Many Paths To Success
Impose our dreams on our children and trying to make them fit into a particular mode, is a setup for failure.
#7. Remember That The Goal Is To Raise Independent Adults
Encourage your child to think for themselves, respectfully disagree with authority, and tolerate the critical gaze of his peers. (Furstenberg 2006)
It’s Not Completely Your Responsibility
We don’t arrive on earth as blank slates.
We’re born with a temperament, that is, a mix of biological tendencies that push us toward certain traits: imaginative or practical, careful or impulsive, introverted or extroverted, etc.
Narcissism is bound to be influenced by this inborn tendency.
Narcissism is naturally stronger in some people than others. Studies show that signs of narcissistic traits emerge as early as age three.
Although nature may set us up to lean toward one side of the spectrum, with enough love and support, we all have the chance to live in the center of the spectrum and become healthy adults.
How to Cultivate Intimacy With Your Child?
Intimacy is an honest emotional connection between two people.
While intimacy between a parent a child will be different from that between adult friends or lovers, at least five elements are necessary for intimacy to occur:
Before sharing ourselves with someone else, we need to know who we are.
2. Shared feelings
Sharing opinions and activities with the other person is important to deepen the connection. But intimacy must include sharing feelings, too.
3. Clear, healthy boundaries
Boundaries define where we end and the other person begins. They give us a sense of safety.
These boundaries include not holding other people responsible for your own feelings or accept responsibility for other people’s feelings, not placing excessive demands, and not tolerating abuse and disrespect.
This involves a willingness to give to and receive from each other.
5. Risk of rejection
We need to be able to face the possibility that we might get rejected. Intimacy involves both, the good feelings and the bad feelings. No relationship is without conflict.
The goal isn’t to avoid conflict, but to learn healthier ways to manage the anxiety that comes from separation or rejection.
How Narcissistic Personality is Formed?
While the exact cause of narcissistic personality disorder is unknown, there are different childhood developmental, parenting behaviors, and neurobiological factors that may contribute to the development of the disorder:
- Overindulgence by parents.
- Continuous praise by parents for perceived looks or talents.
- Excessive admiration coupled with lack of realistic feedback.
- Unpredictable or unreliable caregiving.
- Severe emotional abuse.
- Manipulative behaviors learned from parents
- Deficits in the development of right brain activity.
Can Narcissism Be Healthy?
Healthy narcissism is about having a healthy sense of entitlement and self-regard – the right to want to have your basic needs met.
These needs may include; getting support, receiving respect, feeling special and unique, being celebrated and acknowledged, etc.
Healthy narcissism is the core element of healthy self-esteem and healthy relationships.
In pathological narcissism, however, entitlement is associated with boastful grandiosity that modulates underlying feelings of inferiority, shame, and rage.
What Are The Basic Psychological Needs For a Healthy Inner Child?
Klaus Grawe (2004, 2007) defined key psychological ‘basic needs’ as the core of his consistency theory:
- the need for connection;
- the need for autonomy and control;
- the need for pleasure/avoidance of pain; and
- the need for self-enhancement and acknowledgement.
Every psychological problem can be traced back to an injury inflicted upon at least one of these basic psychological needs.
1. The Need For Connection
The need for connection, belonging, and community accompanies us from birth to our dying day.
As adults, this need can be fulfilled when we meet up with friends, write a letter, take a coffee break with our coworkers, or gather at the dinner table with family.
This need is hindered when the child is being neglected, rejected, and/or abused.
Neglect can occupy a broad spectrum. The child may feel neglected when their loving parents are stressed and overwhelmed. Time spent away from home may also be perceived by the child as neglect.
When a child’s need for connection is unfulfilled, as an adult, they will either avoid relationships or develop clingy behavior towards their romantic partners and other people.
2. The Need For Autonomy and Control
The child doesn’t just need to be fed and cuddled. They also need to explore and discover their surroundings as soon as their faculties permit.
Accomplishing things on their own leaves the child feeling very proud.
When parents are overly protective and controlling, they can hinder the fulfillment of this need.
Later in life, the person may impose limits upon themselves because they doubt their own abilities, or they may become overly obsessed with remaining independent and free.
3. The Need For Pleasure and Avoidance of Pain
Pleasure can pain constitute a significant part of our motivational system. In other words, we constantly seek to experience pleasure and avoid pain.
However, the child needs to learn how to regulate their perception of pleasure and pain and how to tolerate the frustration of delayed gratification and having their urges denied.
When parents are overly rigid in limiting their children’s feelings of pleasure, later in life the person may develop compulsive behaviors or may grow up to become undisciplined and indulgent in the pursuit of pleasure.
On the other hand, if a child is spoiled, later in life the person may struggle to rein in their desires.
4. The Need For Self-Enhancement and Acknowledgement
The need for acknowledgment is closely interwoven with the need for connection.
The pursuit of acknowledgment is also a sign that our parents love and welcome us. When a mother smiles at her child, that shows the child his mother is happy he’s there.
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book The object of my affection is in my reflection, © 2008 by Rokelle Lerner. All rights reserved.
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder in Children (verywellhealth.com)
- How to Know If Your Kid Is a Narcissist—And What To Do About It (parents.com)
- What Are the Signs of a Narcissistic Child? (emedicinehealth.com)
- Origins of narcissism in children – PMC (nih.gov)
- Raising Children With High Self‐Esteem (But Not Narcissism) – Brummelman – 2020 – Child Development Perspectives – Wiley Online Library