Are You or Someone You Know Raising a Narcissist?

Written by Dr. Eric Perry
Image Credit: Pixabay

There is a well-known statistic that states that up to 6 percent of the US population suffers from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). My math may be slightly incorrect but that is approximately 20 million people. One out of 16 people suffers from NPD. What is extremely interesting is that only 3 percent of those over 65 years of age report having any experience with NPD compared to 10 percent of people in there 20’s. It appears that we are experiencing a substantial increase in NPD in our current society and may see a further increase in the coming years. Currently, we are not able to diagnose someone younger than 18 years of age as having NPD, as some traits that indicate NPD are common in adolescents and may be outgrown. But these statistics and research suggest that parents may be cultivating behavior and raising a  generation of narcissists.

Narcissistic traits do not suddenly appear overnight once someone reaches the age of nineteen. These traits can be seen in individuals prior to reaching the age where one can be diagnosed and long before this personality disorder has had a major impact on their lives and the people around them. The essential feature of NPD is a widespread pattern of grandiosity, an excessive need for admiration and the lack of empathy. Unfortunately, these narcissistic traits appear to be the norm in our current celebrity-obsessed culture where constant self-promoting and oversharing sharing is the norm. Many young individuals are exposed daily to the lives of the entitled, self-absorbed individuals who populate the world of social media. This is a world where an out of proportion emphasis is on one’s physical beauty, material possessions and unhealthy narcissism is the norm. Many exposed to this virtual reality world will seek to emulate behavior that they are exposed to and this, in turn, will be reinforced in the “real” world.

Diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder typically is based on a complete psychological evaluation that may include answering questionnaires and meeting criteria established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. Further, a physical exam may be conducted to rule out that a physical problem or a persistent substance abuse is not causing the symptoms. It is important that one does not self-diagnose or diagnose others. Some of the features of NPD are similar to those of other personality disorders and it is possible to be diagnosed with more than one personality disorder at the same time. Also, While all of us exhibit narcissistic traits from time to time and may know someone who is extremely obnoxious, this alone is not enough to diagnose someone with NPD.

A person with NPD has an unsupported and universal view that he or she is superior to others. They feel they are unique and understood only by a few special people. They have zero empathy for others and yet they need the admiration of others. This pattern of behavior will present in a variety of contexts as indicated by the following criteria. These traits must be inflexible, persistent and cause significant functional impairment and distress.

According to DSM-5, to be diagnosed with NPD, one must exhibit 5 of these 9 traits throughout their lives and in different areas of their lives.

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance. Will exaggerate achievements and talents and expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements

2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.

3. Believes that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by or should associate with, other special or high-status people

4. Requires excessive admiration

5. Has a sense of entitlement

6. Is interpersonally exploitive

7. Lacks empathy

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of her

9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes

There are conflicting theories of how one becomes a narcissist. Some psychologists trace NPD to early childhood wounds, and others blame over-indulgent parents who do not set appropriate boundaries on childhood behavior. I believe NPD can develop in more than one way and here we will look at how our modern culture may be creating a tidal wave of narcissists. In a recent study, it was shown that narcissism is partly rooted in parental overvaluation in early childhood and not lack of parental warmth. Further, the study suggests that early intervention can help reduce narcissistic development.

Here are some ways that you may cultivate your child’s narcissism and how NPD may manifest itself:

1. Putting child on a pedestal
Children seem to acquire narcissism in part by absorbing the inflated views that parents possess. The child will hear over and over how special and unique they are. Any minor accomplishment will be exaggerated and celebrated. Instead of nurturing healthy self-esteem, studies show that this behavior by parents creates in the child feelings of superiority. The child will start believing they are better than other people. Children require healthy and constructive feedback to help them grow into happy self-sufficient adults. Parents should try simply saying “I love you” and ” You are special to me” in order to build healthy self-esteem instead of making distinctions between your child and others. Do not put your child on a pedestal, isolated from others who are unable to meet unrealistic standards learned in childhood.

2. Overexposure to social media
MySpace and Facebook were introduced to the world in 2004. Instagram arrived in 2010 followed by Snapchat in 2012. Social media is everywhere and millennials were the first generation that faced their teenage years with the help of social media. They have been raised believing that it is normal to post every experience whether worthy or not. They have been raised to believe in their own sense of importance and relevance to the world. Encouraged to create a faux self on social media that focuses and exaggerates how perfect their life is they tend to forget that the real world is not perfect. The mundane is made to look fabulous and alluring. People are sharing what they eat or what they are wearing in order to receive “likes” for validation. It is the perfect format to cultivate narcissism. It is a fantasy world that perpetuates the myth of unlimited success, power, and beauty. There is a whole generation of children between 8 yrs and 14 yrs who have never known what is like not to share every thought however banal. It’s a strange world we currently live in. A few generations ago we would never have fathomed that we would have millions of people addicted to their phones following usually a shallow celebrity who is peddling a lifestyle that is out of reach for most. Overexposure to social media perpetuates a need for excessive admiration.

3. Unlimited choices
I recently unintentionally overheard a pair of frustrated parents ask their child what she wanted to do next. They went down the list of activities they had already completed and wanted to know what was next. The child appeared no older than 6 years old and seemed to contemplate what else she wanted to do. A 6-year-old should not be in control of her parents to the extent that she dominates the dynamics if the family. A child should be given limited choices instead of full control. For example, instead of asking what they want to do on Saturday, offer them some choices. By handing over your power you are sending the message and cultivating the idea that they are the center of the universe. Later in adulthood, they will be expecting to be the center of attention for no other reason than that they believe they deserve it!

4. Allowing the child to pit one parent against another
It is important if one parent makes a decision on a matter that involves the child that the other parent stick to it. If there is a disagreement this should be discussed outside the presence of the child. If one parent undermines the other parent in the child’s presence the child can learn that the parental unit is not a united front. The child may soon learn that they can use manipulative behavior to triangulate one parent against another.

5. Lack of empathy
Empathy is an emotion that should be cultivated. It does not come easily to children as they are egocentric and believe the world revolves around them. The child should be exposed to the idea that there are less fortunate children in the world. By learning to understand and share the feelings of others, as adults, they will have an easier time forming mutually healthy friendships and relationships. Springtime cleaning is a great time to start. Have your child donate older or unused toys to those that are less fortunate. Explain to them why they are sharing and praise them for this behavior.

6. Expresses excessive amount of envy of others lives
A child must be taught to appreciate what their parents provide and not feel discontented and resentful because others may have more. Parents need to be mindful not to express their own envy at others they see around them or those they see in movies, television, social media or magazines. By teaching a child to be grateful for what they have you will curb the need to always want something newer and better. We live in an age of excess where things that are still useful are discarded when something better comes along.

This article is not meant for you to self-diagnose or diagnose others. If you believe you or someone you know meets the criteria for NPD please seek the help of a mental health professional. If you would like to share your thoughts and insights please share in the comments section below.

The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a professional relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a medical professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.

Dr. Perry

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87 responses to Are You or Someone You Know Raising a Narcissist?

  1. This is so on point! Once you have an older grown adult with NPD, they will almost never be able to change. Unless they are able to acknowledge their need for help, they will continue to leave a path of emotional destruction.

    Liked by 14 people

  2. boomergirl47 says:

    Interesting. I belong to the boomer generation and was raised in an atmosphere of “children should be seen not heard.” That led to self-esteem issues. Unfortunately, I think the parenting pendulum has been swinging too far in the other direction for a while now.

    Liked by 16 people

    • Ms. Jynx says:

      I’ve noticed that too. Seems like there is something in each generation that we overcompensate for and end up causing a problem down the line.

      Liked by 11 people

  3. Jules Nelson says:

    Reading about Narcissism is new for me.. but living with the effects of Narcissism is Not… I did not have a name for illness that I saw but I DID know that I did not want to LET it pass along to my daughter.

    This post would have been so helpful 20 years ago. Instead I had to read every book I could find on raising strong willed children .. and raising well balanced daughters. It was well worth it!

    Thank you for the wealth of information you pass along.

    Liked by 8 people

  4. Jemagold says:

    I agree w/ the psychologists who believe NPD comes from “over-indulgent parents”. After raising a special needs son, I tried to “make it up” to my daughter by “helping” her achieve anything she said she wanted to achieve. I used my influence to umbrella my daughter from anything negative she might have done (because I had no parent support growing up; I was going to give more to my kids!) Consequently, she is now a 26 y/o adult who displays all the traits of NPD! When I tried to make her responsible for HER actions, I was told “tough love” didn’t work for her. Her lack of empathy towards her family/me is unbelievable! We haven’t communicated (broke ties) for over 2 years now. This breaks my heart but her sense of entitlement and grandiose sense of self importance is not something I want in my life! HUGE conflict for me… I miss my sweet little girl! Of course “I” can’t diagnose her nor does she see herself as being a problem. That only adds to the conflict… there is nothing I can tell her about her behavior that doesn’t elicit rage towards me for saying anything negative! After all, she and her friends (who give her excessive admiration) all think she is great.

    I also believe NPD has a genetic component. If I look closely at close relatives, traits are there! But the mother is always blamed; I blame myself! It has taken years to be able to say anything negative about my children/admit this is a problem in our family! I guess that is the first step in healing… admitting there is a problem even if I can’t fix this for her (or me)… sigh!

    Liked by 10 people

  5. Ms. Jynx says:

    I think a contributor to this issue has been marketing to parents; since the 80’s companies have encouraged a sense of entitlement to parents as a way to get them to buy things. Having kids became a massive “look at me” achievement that social media helped to broadcast. And now we have self-important people who are either neglecting their kids or giving them too much. I’ve noticed an uptick in narcissistic behavior in people as I’ve aged. It seems like we keep trying to overcompensate for something and it ends up hurting a lot of people. Rampant entitlement (trying to get attention or fill a void) and toxic ideologies are how we get these domestic terrorists and abusers. Granted this is kind of a generalization, but folks need to work on healthy relationships and trust (we seem to lack that in the U.S.), and moderate social media use. I’ve been much happier since I cut down on my use of social media, and started focusing on doing my hobbies instead. No more anxiety and wondering why people didn’t like something I posted. I try to cultivate the relationship I have that I value most.

    Liked by 8 people

  6. Donna Emerald says:

    I enjoyed yours very much. Narcissism is actually a terribly debilitating thing. I remember being shocked at thetotal lack of empathy of narcissists, and used to think of them as hollow shells of people, before I realized that it is a kind of defense mechanism. Reading about narcissism in relation to attachment theory helped me be more compassionate towards the narcissists I interact with. Thanks for adding to my knowledge.

    Liked by 9 people

  7. Quirkeinstein says:

    I am surprised that it’s only 6% of the population that suffer from Narcissist Personality Disorder! I kinda thought it might be a lot higher! The last 2 guys I’ve dated most definitely had it! And my friends seem to meet a lot of Narcissistic men. To the point where we have all almost become experts in detecting such people! Feels like an epidemic in society. Maybe the world in general is getting more Narcissistic. Especially with the internet where people are more disposable. I can’t bear to meet another Narcissist!

    I don’t know that many Narcissistic children. But went for a walk with my beautiful little niece a while back. And when we got to the lake, she was standing there gazing at it saying “I am Narcissus”. “I am Water”. It was quite funny. My brother said he had been reading her the story of Narcissus from Greek Mythology, and she was quite entranced by it. I hope she does not grow up to encounter a Narcissistic man because they truly are the worst! And much as she is physically very beautiful she also has a very beautiful heart and none of the traits of Narcissism. Thank goodness!

    Liked by 9 people

  8. The Medical Mama says:

    First, I found your article very interesting and informative. Second, I think you are correct there is an increase in NPD issues. I think it boils back down to parenting unfortunately. There is a huge push for children to be able to do whatever they want and to question every little thing. For teens we have social media that is not being supervised by parents. Peers are allowed to hurt each other via social media. It’s so sad. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 10 people

  9. MacThule says:

    If you aren’t raising one yourself, chances are that social media can help get you there. Want to reinforce some of the narcissistic behaviors listed above? Give the kid a smart phone. Even adults’ most narcissistic tendencies seem to come out of the woodwork.

    Liked by 9 people

  10. I definitely think there is a genetic component as well. One person commented about having compassion for narcissists; that is truly bold. I just want them out of my life. They are extremely destructive individuals and they don’t care how their actions affect others. Great article!

    Liked by 11 people

  11. Your spot on as always. Today’s generation expect everything instantly and as a parent of four with two sick kids and young adults it’s like they play a guilt trip at times to get there own way as we feel obligation.
    My ex husband was a diagnosed narcissist. Was a hard life
    Keep writing awesome stuff, your inspiring xx from Mum at home

    Liked by 7 people

  12. floatinggold says:

    I just display a few out of the 9 characteristics, so I’m the clear.
    This has been a great read.
    Excellent points in regards to kids. It is something that I notice, too. And it’s not heading anywhere good, either.

    Liked by 7 people

  13. Would you mind if I re-blog this / share the link? This is exactly what my step-children go through; their Mother has Borderline Personality Disorder and is currently heavily influencing the eldest against their Father. We are at a loss.

    Thanks & Brilliant article! x

    Liked by 6 people

  14. Lisa says:

    Very interesting article. I often thought Twitter was a breeding ground for narcissism. The whole idea of ‘followers’ seemed weird.

    Liked by 7 people

  15. Zakea Ruff says:

    Great read, funny thing is this was just on my mind. Will be applying to my son because he is spoiled but not yet satisfied 😫

    Liked by 6 people

  16. TerraMica says:

    Well said. Good parenting is a very important part of raising a well-balanced, responsible child who places value on others. Great suggestions!

    Liked by 6 people

  17. Deb says:

    This post was very relevant for me Dr. Perry. Thank you for taking the time to share this insight. I will definitely be applying these points into my children’s lives. Thanks again!

    Liked by 6 people

  18. Amelia Stevens says:

    Great post as usual Dr. Perry. Every parent should read this. Sharing this on Facebook!

    Liked by 6 people

  19. Georgia Anne says:

    This was extremely informative for me. I am printing this and saving it for when I have children!! ❤

    Liked by 6 people

  20. boomergirl47 says:

    On the subject of narcissism, my therapist suggested a book called, “The Object of my Affection is my Reflection.” It describes narcissistic personality disorder in an easy to read format. It convinced me my recent ex has quite a few of the traits, if not the actual disorder, and helped me to keep moving forward instead of getting sucked back into the relationship.

    Liked by 5 people

  21. Nan Mykel says:

    One response to an otherwise enlightening post: I think the very best way to teach empathy to a child is to use it with the child. Reflecting back their feelings or expressed concerns, and wondering with the child about how others must have felt in situations would appear extremely helpful in foistering empathy. It’s a shame when individuals first experience empathy from their first therapist.

    Liked by 5 people

  22. I come from a family of narcissists. My mom was the scapegoat, so as a result I grew up watching extremely toxic family dynamics unravel before me. To be honest, I thank God she’s my mom and not my aunt, because she was able to see through their dysfunction and divorce them. I am very familiar with all of the characteristics you described above, and see them all the time in others, even strangers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rate of NPD is higher than what statistics show…

    Liked by 6 people

  23. Living Intentionally says:

    I am 62 and recognizing this as a major issue in our society as many young parents themselves have NPD. I am continually running into those at the receiving end of these persons in destructive and abusive relationships and this is stemming much of the violent behaviors we are seeing being acted out in our culture.

    It really is alarming and persons become entrapped within the charm of these very good liars who are living a façade and pretense of a good person, but underneath they are seething towards self destruction and anyone who gets involved with them either intimately, or by association.

    I see them as callous and potentially dangerous persons, especially ruining others sanity, wellbeing and health, taking them down a spiral staircase of ‘hell’ on earth. Definite need to broaden educational efforts in informing, but seems an overwhelming task.

    Liked by 6 people

  24. This is a brilliant article and I agree with everything you say. Have a look at my blog as it maybe of relevance as I discuss a narcissist as a partner and how he is turning my daughter into the same

    Liked by 4 people

  25. OMG this is so interesting and thought provoking! Unfortunately I do know people that display many of these traits. And more unfortunately, they are related to me. I had to cut ties with these particular individuals as they were so emotionally unsafe for me and caused so much havoc and pain in my life. Reading this article helps me understand them a little better. Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

  26. So far in life I cannot say that I’ve ever met a narcissist. There are famous people who one thinks might be narcissists, but among my personal acquaintances over the years I am not aware of ever having experienced this phenomena. If it is on the rise, I wonder if smaller families have a role to play. I’m struck by your observation that people over the age of 65 report fewer narcissistic encounters, and larger families used to be the norm. My mother came from a family of six children, my father from a family of five. They were born in 1922 and 1916 respectively. It was harder for a child to monopolize parental attention in a large family. Their generation living through the Great Depression also had so many hardships to overcome, and that experience may have been mitigating as well.

    I am an only child myself, but as far as I know I was once a little bit spoiled — not a narcissist though!

    Liked by 4 people

  27. Inspirejourneygal: Poems and Stories, Health and Beauty, Business says:

    Fantastic post! I know a few people like this.

    Liked by 4 people

  28. parikhitdutta says:

    Brilliant! I think not just the states, the entire world is heading towards narcissism, the sense of superiority, validation! I do hope we can check this soon.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. As a former substitute teacher I must say I have seen this behavior increase in three-folds in the past twenty years. I have seen parents bully or at least try to bully doctors into labeling the child as suffering from autism, attention disorder deficit, and just about anything other than they as parents need to take control of their household and family and stop letting the child run things.

    Liked by 3 people

  30. Glenda Herdman says:

    Thank you for this article. My partner and I were recently faced with a very painful situation where my stepdaughter, his daughter, age 17, decided to cut all ties with her Father. And we are still trying to understand what has happened and the reasons we have been given for this choice. We don’t have the money to chase this up through court and being over 16, she has a right to choose and the court will always rule in favour of the child’s wishes.
    She has blocked both of us on Social Media and also both of our phone numbers. Her mother has been the one who has relayed messages from her and apart from a couple of very brief text messages from the child we have heard nothing from her directly.
    One thing I have noticed in the last 2 years is manipulative behaviour and constant lying as well as keeping things from us. A lot of what you state here with narcissistic behaviours this girl is exhibiting and what surprised me the most was when her Grandmother died earlier this year, we never saw an emotional reaction from her. Having lost my own mother at age 18 I understand what grief feels like at that age. This child was cold and her grandmother had been very much a part of her life. Her lack of empathy for her father when he was having issues with his health was also a huge surprise. I have seen images of her on Social Media and this doesn’t seem like a child who is missing her father at all. He was promised a letter of explanation from her but it has been more than two months. A number of times her arrogance has gotten her bullied by school kids who were once close friends.
    Both Mother and Daughter display very strong Narcissistic tendencies.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      Thank you for sharing your insight on this topic. Family turmoil can be very painful. The hardest part is accepting that we only have control of ourselves. Take comfort in the fact that you both are doing your best. I wish you well✨

      Liked by 1 person

  31. Lisa says:

    I think all parents should read this post. We are raising a generation of narcissists with our being fully aware of the consequences. Thank you

    Liked by 4 people

  32. Elena says:

    Such an informative post. I wish I would have read this while my child was a toddler. I can’t seem to get through to her now. But I’m not giving up.

    Liked by 4 people

  33. Robin says:

    I was behind a mother in Key West recently at a roadside seafood restaurant. She held up the line by going through the entire menu asking her child what he wanted to eat. After getting a cup, she went over to the sofa machine and read off every single soda they had to offer asking what he wanted. I could see this child was tired and overwhelmed with this amount of information and options. Ugh. It was a bit much for him and everyone behind them.

    Liked by 3 people

  34. jonicaggiano says:

    Great article Doctor. I never really understood the difference between the two. Thanks for the details of those differences with your other blog as well. Very interesting. Always interesting and informative.

    Liked by 3 people

  35. As a certified Old Guy, I can’t help but wonder if, somehow, a life of work and service will tend to stifle these tendencies. I was expected to work the summers from about 12 years-old on and no field-boss in the farms where I worked let me get away with thinking I was special. And the sentiment was reiterated at home.

    Thanks for an informative post.

    Liked by 5 people

  36. Jemnotic says:

    Very interesting article, always happy to find another source of psych info (even if there’s always PsycInfo).

    I believe it was Leadership Psychology that I learned individuals high in narcissism also tend to be high in charisma, which can often become a major issue.

    Liked by 2 people

  37. Amorina Rose says:

    I have to say I enjoyed the comments as much as the post. I think we need to look carefully at parenting these days. I know that this issue is not a new one but I do think it is more common. One of the words I dread is “entitled” and I am pretty sure I don’t have to explain why. I just wish I understood why why feed this thought into our children.

    Liked by 2 people

  38. kinge says:

    I especially like the part where you explain the potential causes of NPD creating awareness around it. The definition and explanation are very clear to. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Nehal Jain says:

    I never knew that there was something called NPD existing in the world so it was a whole new concept to me. Thanks a gazillion for sharing it!!!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  40. Every parent in the U.S. should read this article. Well, that won’t happen. But if enough people like you keep putting the word out, I think as a society we’ll realize what we’re doing and begin to change.

    Liked by 1 person

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