How Do Children Become Narcissists?

Scenario 1—Narcissistic Parental Values

In this situation the child is raised in a family that is very competitive and only rewards high achievement.  One or both of the parents are Exhibitionist Narcissists. The family motto is: If you can’t be the best, why bother?

Love is conditional: When you come in first in the race, win the science fair, or star in the school show, you are showered with praise and attention. When you do not, you are a disappointment. Everyone in the family is supposed to be special and prove it over and over again. No matter how much you achieve, the pressure is never off.  As one woman said: “When I came home with a report card with all A’s, my father asked me if anyone got an A+.”

Children in these families do not feel stably loved. It is hard for them to enjoy anything for its own sake, if it does not confer status. Instead of being supported by their parents to explore what they like and want to do more of, they only receive support for high achievement.  Their parents are not interested in their children’s “real selves,” they are mainly interested in how their children can make the family look good.  They want to be able to brag to their neighbors: “Look at what my kid did!”

The children who grow up in homes like this only feel secure and worthwhile when they are successful and recognized as the “best.” The conditional love of their childhood and the over evaluation of  high status and success in their home sets in motion a lifelong pattern of chasing success and confusing it with happiness.

Example: John and his Resume Life

John, a brilliant and successful man with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, told me that he was coming to therapy because he knew that had lost his way.  Nothing he did seemed to have any real meaning for him.  He said, “I have a resume life.  Everything about me looks good on paper.  Even my hobbies are cool.  But somewhere along the way I lost touch with who I really am.  I no longer feel much genuine pleasure in my accomplishments.  I started out enjoying what I do well, but now I do it only because it impresses other people.  Inside I feel empty.”

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