You’ve met them, even if you didn’t know what you were looking at or listening to. People who are full of entitlement and expectation, but lack a certain depth of empathy (Emojiis on Facebook after someone posted the loss of their pet doesn’t count). Folk who are very conscious of where they stand in the social ladder, and where everyone else is too. People who think the nicest houses and the most fashionable cars are more important than deep emotional connections and giving back to society. Partners that tell you that if you only made more money, looked better, or had a better backhand then they wouldn’t “have” to cheat.
How do narcissists start out? Is it genetic? Are they victims of trauma? Is it something in the (sparkling) water? No; you have to start with the right temperament. Children who are naturally compassionate are less likely to end up as narcissists. Having a strong temperament with lots of drama supports the development of narcissism. And you don’t have to be a narcissist to raise one. Not at all. With a nod to the famous “South Pacific” song, you have to raise a narcissist very carefully. Here’s your roadmap:
- Be overindulgent, regardless of your financial abilities. For wealthy families, overindulgence is easy. Sometimes too easy. For kids from limited incomes, it looks a little different. They won’t have everything they ask for, but they might still get scarce resources spent on them, even when the shower leaks and the tires on Mommy’s car are bald as billiard balls. Being allowed to control where and when things are done for themselves and the whole family, rather than negotiate and accept limits; that’s overindulgence as well. It could be extending bedtimes, doing homework for a child “so they don’t get too upset”, or even not paying the household bills so that a child gets what they insist they want. Overindulgence is more of a sense of things being out of proportion and demanded, rather than bestowed with balance, forethought and awareness.
- Fail to provide consistent emotional attention/education, and teach children to seek external validation. Again, this doesn’t mean that the parents of narcissists were cruel, or even mean. They could have been very depressed and unable to reflect and respond to a child’s feelings. They could be away a great deal with work or social commitments, leaving childcare, especially emotional childcare to paid employees. Working parents: do not think I am attacking you. Leaving the house and leaving your child’s heart are two different things. Working makes juggling home life harder, but it isn’t impossible to make the time you have at home high quality. But if you are at home and your head is at work, or if you are at home and your head is on Facebook, then you aren’t giving your child what they long for; your interaction and your teaching about emotional and relationship hygiene. Childcare, especially the care and feeding of emotions and self-image, is actually not that much fun for parents. Helping your child manage their feelings and listening to them as they learn to do so is work. Lots and lots of work. And it requires time and attention from you that won’t always be much of a thrill. Ask any child psychologist. If you didn’t really want to raise kids, but you have them (for whatever reason), you may not be very motivated to spend the type of time with them that isn’t at an event, on the stage, at the podium, etc. the type and amount of emotional investment needed to parent children may seem too much. People do sometimes end up parents when they knew that they weren’t really cut out for the job.
- Model a strong sense of entitlement. You need to enter a restaurant expecting that you shouldn’t have to wait for a table at the price you are paying. Complain if the babysitter has the flu and ruins your plans for the night. She should take better care of herself if she expects to have this job! Value your child’s grades more than their effort, and make sure they know that making their projects look great is much more important to you than their passion for the theme or what they learned. Try not to share the spotlight if you can help it, so that you emphasize to your child that being the center of attention is very, very important.
How can you prevent raising a narcissist? Make sure that you take care of your own mental health needs. If you are depressed or addicted, get help. Now. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, decide if exposing your child to this person is healthy. The chance that you will save or cure a narcissistic partner is very low. But they can support this trait in their children. That may be a high price to pay. If you don’t know how to build emotional skills in your child, learn. Seek parenting guidance and don’t be embarrassed; no one is born knowing how to do this parenting thing. Having a sincere desire to support the emotional health of your child is your superpower.