You may wonder, why are some people narcissists? As the parent of a narcissistic child or partner to a narcissist, can you be at fault? Here is what we know about how narcissism is developed in an individual.
Narcissistic traits come from a mixture of nature and nurture. Many narcissists begin developing such traits as adolescents, and narcissism is strongly linked with upbringing. However, such traits as attractiveness, promiscuity, and extroversion, as well social effects, support the development of narcissism as well.
The causes of narcissism are not entirely understood, but nowadays we know a great deal about potential causes of narcissistic personality disorder. Whether you are worried about your effect on a narcissist, or wonder if you might be one, the following sections will help you sort it out, in plain English.
Parents Influence the Development of Narcissism
One well-known and well studied component of narcissism is the impact of parenting on its development. Research in to how different parenting styles affected narcissism found evidence that —
- Authoritative parenting is less likely to lead to narcissism
- Overly Authoritarian parents are cause their children to be less likely to develop a healthily positive view of others (idealization), contributing to narcissism
- Overly Permissive parents can contribute to a child’s immature grandiosity, again contributing to narcissism
What this means is that children without a healthy amount of discipline, neither too much nor too little, in their lives are more likely to develop narcissism as adults. Key to this is proper encouragement of development of individuality, which, according to Baumrinds parenting styles —
[In] authoritative parenting children’s individuality [is] recognized, but directed in accordance to rational standards
Additionally, the parenting style of the mother has a much greater impact on narcissism, than that of the father. Although parents tend to share the same parenting style anyway. For more info on dealing with a narcissistic mother, check out my article:
Female children also tend to me more strongly impacted by the actions of their parents, when it comes to devolving narcissism.
Society Impacts the Development of Narcissism
Social roles have shown to impact the development of narcissism in individuals. When potential narcissists take on roles that require maturity and responsibly for others well-being they are more likely to “grow out” of narcissism.
When society allows for overly individualistic lifestyles, and the extension of adolescence in to adulthood, there is more likelihood that pathological narcissism will result.
Commitment and personal investment in work, family, religious, and volunteer roles has been shown to increase traits agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability. So, seeing one’s self as an adult, and positively identifying with that image, help reduced or eliminate narcissistic traits.
On the other hand social systems that promote lack of commitment, refusal to accept responsibly, or inability to integrate positively with society are likely to cause an increase in narcissism.
Comparisons with American and Korean advertising suggests that, in this way, individuals who are part of Western cultures are more likely to develop narcissism than those in Eastern cultures.
Your Generation Impacts the Development of Narcissism
Rates of narcissism seem to be changing generation by generation, with a noticeable increase over time.
While younger people are naturally more likely to have narcissistic traits, studies of current college students shows a higher level of narcissism than you would expect to see, compared to older adults, even accounting for natural decay due to age. Each generation seems to be more narcissistic than the last.
It is not clear if the cause of this increase in narcissism is due to —
- Changing parenting styles
- Technology and social media
- Restricting of society and family structures
- Young adults spending more time higher education and waiting to have children
But, no matter the cause, younger people are at greater risk of developing narcissistic personality disorder.
Physical Traits Like Beauty Can Lead to the Development of Narcissism
While not the primary cause, being good-looking or handsome works to promote narcissism in individuals.
Physically attractive young people experience far above average levels of praise which is likely allow them to develop a dependence on external validation to maintain their self-worth. As such praise naturally diminishes with aging, narcissistic personality traits can start to manifest.
Promiscuity Supports the Development of Narcissism
The Handbook of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder suggests that narcissism may be the result of evolutionary forces that promote reproductive activity. And, particularly, in short-term-mating behavior.
Narcissism may be partially linked with genetics, as it is linked with many traits that make the narcissist more attractive to sexual partners such as —
- Use of sexualized language
- Social posturing
- Obsession with new partners and love interests
- Tendency to vulcanize and leave committed partners
For more information about how narcissism manifests in relationship, see my article:
What It Really Means to Be a Narcissist | A Bystander’s Perspective
Extroversion Promotes the Development of Narcissism
While there is such a thing as an introverted narcissist (see Tell-Tale Signs of a Covert Narcissist | A Fool Proof Test), being an extrovert make someone much more likely to have a narcissistic personality.
Addictive Behavior Feeds the Development of Narcissism
There is a clear link between narcissism and addictive personality traits such as alcohol addiction, drug addition, sex addiction, food addiction, and internet/game addition. While not all narcissists are addicts, and not all addicts are narcissists, having one of those traits means you are more likely to have the other.
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