Each of us has certain narcissistic tendencies. That is a good thing. After all, developing a healthy level of self-confidence and self-love in childhood is essential in order to grow into a happy person and to lead successful relationships.
“Self-love does not mean that you are only about yourself. But on the contrary. Most of our relationships fail because we don’t love ourselves enough, ”said psychiatrist Michael Lehofer in an interview with NewsABC.net.
However, if a child feels fundamentally superior to others and expects special treatment, it is quite possible that his narcissistic tendencies are more pronounced – and will eventually develop into a narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissistic children: what role do parents play?
To what extent parents’ behavior can influence the development of a narcissistic personality disorder in a child has recently been investigated by Charlotte van Schie, Heidi Jarman, Elizabeth Huxley and Brin Grenyer from the Australian University of Wollongong.
In their study, the researchers recorded the narcissistic tendencies of 328 participants aged 17 to 25 and asked them about their relationship with their parents. They proceeded as follows:
- Pathological Narcissism Inventory (PNI): Using this questionnaire, the researchers recorded the participants’ narcissistic tendencies. The method distinguishes between two types of narcissism: grandiose narcissism and vulnerable-fragile narcissism. While the former expresses itself in a grandiose feeling of its own importance and in exploitative tendencies, vulnerable-fragile narcissism is characterized by a high sensitivity to criticism and failures and a fragile self-confidence.
- Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI): With this research tool, the researchers found out how the test subjects perceive the parenting style. It is divided into the following subscales: care, overprotection and authoritarianism.
- care can express itself in “warm” and “cold” behaviors; in empathy, but also in a lack of understanding; in acceptance or rejection.
- In the Overprotection it is about how much the parents intervene in the life of their children and how far they go to protect them from risks that are actually part of normal life.
- In the subscale of the Authoritarianism participants had to assess how restrictive their parents are and how much freedom they gave them.
- Parental overvaluation: The participants had to assess how much their parents overestimated and disproportionately praised the success of their children.
- Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ): This questionnaire measures five dimensions of childhood abuse and neglect: emotional abuse, emotional neglect, physical abuse, physical neglect, and sexual abuse.
Overprotection can promote negative qualities
The evaluation confirms what previous research has already suggested: Overprotection seems to play a role in both grandiose and vulnerable-fragile narcissism.
Parents who take excessive care of their children probably know most of them by the term “helicopter parents”. Such parents mean it a little too well: they want to contain any headwind, keep conflicts away and cushion every fall. Unfortunately, these overprotected children do not learn how to properly deal with mistakes and disappointments. They also grow up with great expectations of success – regardless of how much time and energy they spend on it – and feel entitled to preferential treatment.
Excessive praise is also harmful
Overvaluation also appears to be harmful. It is not to be equated with warmth and warmth – it is rather about parents disproportionately praising their children’s successes and achievements.
The study showed that overvaluation by the mother was particularly linked to grandiose narcissism. However, fatherly overvaluation was only associated with grandiose narcissism if the father was also more compliant and less caring.
While a link between compliant fathers and grandiose narcissism was discovered in some cases, the researchers found a link between maternal compliance and vulnerable-fragile narcissism. The latter was also associated with abuse and neglect on the part of the mother. Abuse and neglect by the father, however, did not appear to play a major role in the development of narcissism in children.
Children need care, but also limits
The research results underline the importance of education for the positive development of children. “The environment in which a child grows up can be related to the development of unrealistic self-reflection, aspirations, and impaired autonomy, which is observed in narcissism,” conclude the researchers.
In order to build the resilience and self-confidence they need to go through life successfully, children apparently need a combination of parental care, sensible limits, sincere praise, and the ability to make mistakes and learn from them.