Narcissistic people can be very difficult to deal with:
they are self-absorbed, they focus on themselves, they might be hyper-arrogant, demanding, entitled and there is no way you could convince them to take responsibility for their action.
None of us dream to raise children who will then look through us or exploit us when they grow up.
Unfortunately this happens with many.
In his article: How Children Become Narcissist? Jesse Singal based on a new study tends to accept that parental overvaluation is rather the case than the lack of parental warmth.
If we contrast the social learning theory with the generalized psychoanalytic view of “warm” mother; it might be. Although still I doubt it.
I propose to narrow down the psychoanalytic concept of “empathetic mother” to a mother who fulfills the primary narcissistic needs. What exactly is that I go into the details below.
In this case for me the attitude is not either–or, but both.
What components are adding up developing a Narcissistic Personality?
Narcissism is shown to have strong genetic background. This is what we cannot influence other than not choosing partner who shows the signs of Narcissism, and better to watch the family members as well. A Hungarian saying advises: “Look the mother, marry the daughter!”
2/ Intrauterine influences.
During embryonic development certain type of neurons are shaping in certain time bathing in a special mixture of hormones and neurotransmitters that basically regulate their later functioning. What happening is an incredibly sophisticated and orchestrated process shaped by millions of years of evolution. We don’t exactly know all of its components, nor can we influence it. The best bet we can get is to provide the least stressful and most healthy environment for the embryo/fetus to develop.
3/ Early Childhood: Primer Narcissism and Healthy Need Fulfillment
Psychoanalysts state that there is a state in child development at around age 2-4 what they call the primer narcissism. In this stage the child already developed a kind of independence from the mother or care giver, and begins to form his or her own ego. How she does it? Absorbing the significant other’s clues about him or her!
You recognize this phase: it is full of: “Watch me!” “Look at me!” Look how strong I am!” “I am smarter than you! “ “My father can beat up your father.” And so on.
Kohut and Kernberg suppose that the parental empathy in general is necessary to raise mentally strong and healthy children.
I suggest more specification. Parental empathy is important to realize that the child is in the normal, natural phase of healthy primer narcissism, and so s/he is in need of positive feed-back in double level:
Emotionally: parents need to fulfill the natural need for being seen, appreciated and valued.
The child needs to feel that s/he is the center of the caregiver’s universe.
S/he needs to feel loved – then s/he knows s/he’s loveable.
S/he needs to be seen – then s/he feels acknowledged.
S/he needs to feel appreciated – so s/he feels valuable.
Cognitively: parents need to provide the appropriate positive feed-back that can be “incorporated” (built in) by the child which serves as the nuclei of the self-esteem. It has to be genuine and true: reinforcing the real positive accomplishments of the child let it be anything from packing away the toys, being cooperative or making new friends.
Personally I am huge believer of the positive discipline, so I rather reward – mostly verbally – 10 good move of a child than criticize or correct 1.
Wherever the unfulfilled need: there is the injury. If the parents don’t fulfill the needs of the primer narcissism, the personality development gets stuck. They might chase in all of their life what they did not get in the appropriate stage: being in the middle of attention, getting the acknowledgement and appreciation.
4/ Later Childhood: Expectations and Social Learning
Need fulfilling does not have to go against reality.
All children makes enormous amount of positive actions if you observe them with open mind.
Whoever is not the best in counting is caring about their toys. Who is not careful with toys might be an excellent tree climber. Some may not be any of them, but can be easy-going and well mannered… It’s the parent’s job to find the positive traits of their child and reinforce it as often as they can.
While we might hunt for positive behavior or achievements, we do not have to over-praise ordinary actions or exaggerate them.
If your child brings a painting for you, it is more constructive to pay attention, ask about the details, the choice of the color, the meaning and why did s/he choose to paint exactly what s/he did, than evaluate him “little Van Gogh”.
(Does it require more time, attention from the parent’s part? Of course! You did not choose to have a child for convenience reasons, did you?)
Moreover growing out of babyhood we have to set up expectations and slowly, patiently but consequently make them fulfilled.
Many of those expectations are social expectations: not making advances in the expense of others. Not bragging. Not demanding more attention than the others. Not interrupting others. Not putting ourselves before or above others, and the like.
Establishing rules and expectations are also parental assignments that go parallel with need fulfillment.
From the 4 components that support Narcissistic character traits, we cannot directly influence two: the genetic and the intrauterine effects.
But I am a firm believer that even with the worst genetic make-up and the most troublesome pregnancy, we as parents have the opportunity to counteract with the emergence of Narcissism with
A/ fulfilling the children healthy narcissistic need in their stage of primer narcissism
B/ guiding them, teaching them, training them tactfully the golden rules of social interactions.
More about Personality Disorders
First published in: YourTango.com