Talking about the weighty word “love” in conjunction with narcissism is always a tricky task. Can narcissists actually love in the sense that we do?
When looking at this in children, securing an answer becomes even harder. Typically, narcissism, like other personality disorders, isn’t formally diagnosed until an individual reaches adulthood. However, there is reason to believe that children display the disorder much earlier.
In addition, parents of narcissists are, of course, concerned with their child’s mental health and general well-being—even as they grow into adults. They want to instill a sense of love and compassion in their children, even if they reveal narcissistic tendencies.
Continue reading to learn how to identify narcissism in children, as well as how to try to maintain a loving relationship with them.
Identifying Narcissistic Traits in Children
You would be wise to be cautious in assigning narcissistic traits to children—the very essence of childhood is often a precocious narcissism. That is, children are inherently more self-centered and attention-seeking, as is their right to be so as they are figuring out how to grow up.
Still, there are some potentially bothersome behaviors that can manifest themselves as children go to school, interact with others, and begin to learn social standards. Here are some typical signs of narcissism in children.
Basically, If a child begins to exhibit egocentric and entitled patterns of behavior, then you might be justified in showing concern. An inability to share, play well with others, or to lose gracefully as children reach school age can indicate the beginnings of narcissism.
If a child starts lying or manipulating others to get what they want, especially if they show no remorse over the behavior, then you might also be witnessing narcissistic tendencies. Throwing tantrums over unreasonable requests, becoming difficult and demanding when not the center of attention, or manufacturing drama to cause chaos are also red flags. This can even cause problems with their siblings–check out this post for ways to manage a narcissistic brother.
Causes of and Considerations for Narcissistic Children
The reasons that children develop narcissistic tendencies isn’t fully understood, but it appears to be a combination of factors. First of all, genetics might play a role. Some researchers have identified a smaller anterior insular cortex—the region of the brain that is linked to empathy—in narcissists and others with personality disorders.
Second, nurture certainly has an impact on a child’s mental health in general. If children are raised in dysfunctional households, particularly if they are raised by narcissistic parents or alcoholics, their potential for developing narcissism is higher. This is also true if they are neglected or regularly abused.
Remember that, as parents, we play a fundamental part in providing not only for the physical well-being of the child but also for their psychological health. That is, parents are responsible for instilling basic social skills and ethical guidelines. We must impart the values of playing well with others, being kind and generous, and otherwise engaging in mutually positive relationships with others.
Narcissistic Children as Adults
Still, even if we try our best, sometimes children develop narcissism through no fault of our own. It may be that the genetic predisposition could not be overcome, or that an ex-partner brought confusion or abuse into the child’s life. Whatever the case, it can be painful to try to deal with an adult child who grapples with narcissism—especially if they have children themselves. Your instincts are to protect the grandchildren, even if there are impossible barriers to doing so.
If you are still interacting with a grown narcissistic child, then remember two very crucial things. One, you cannot fix them or make the narcissistic behavior go away. Leave that up to the professionals, if your child seeks help. Two, they rarely change. You must learn to navigate the relationship as it exists.
Finally, if at last you feel that you cannot handle the unpredictability of the child’s behavior or the unreasonable nature of their demands, then you may have to stay distant from their lives. This may be necessary in order for you to live a drama-free life, to heal from the hurt inflicted by their self-centered ways.
What is Their Capacity for Love?
It is difficult to know precisely how narcissistic children love, and their relationship with their parents is often the most complex. Loving parents who are also narcissists (or alcoholics or abusers) can actually accelerate their narcissistic development, as well as damage their sense of individuality and self-worth. This kind of love is more often a type of codependency.
So, what if the parents aren’t compromised by mental illness or actively abusive? Can a narcissistic child understand how to love them or understand that they love the child? Again, this is almost impossible to pin down, but we must remember that, no matter how awful that narcissism is, the child still has the capacity for a full range of emotion.
What their sense of love is probably looks different than what the rest of us experience. They may “love” the fact that their parents provide them with material and emotional comfort. They may appreciate the gestures of affection that parents display. Whether this is considered true love is, perhaps, in the eye of the beholder. You sometimes must take what you can get.
The issue of whether or not narcissists can love is a complicated one. Most people who have had dealings with narcissists, such as myself, question whether that love is genuine or profound. However, I also strongly feel that, deep down, narcissists want to be loved and it is their disorder and their lack of self-esteem that prove impossible to overcome.
With behavioral therapy and patience and acceptance, many mild narcissists can open up to the possibilities of love. Even though it might not always look like the ideal, we must maintain hope for their humanity. Abandoning that is to abandon them.
Whether the narcissist in your life is your child, your mother, another loved one or just a friend, this post can help you detach from them emotionally so you can do what’s best for you.
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