How Does Narcissism Develop?
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The reasons behind how narcissism develops are complicated and involve many factors, but two of the most common are what is called narcissistic indulgence and the narcissistic wound. Most narcissism sufferers have one or both of these pathologies.
Narcissism becomes a problem when a person considers themselves to be superior to other people, special in some way and/or entitled. This belief occurs alongside the tendency to demean, marginalize and invalidate other people so they can feel good about themselves.
Everyone has some narcissistic tendencies, and these are part of a healthy self-esteem. If you didn’t have a little narcissism, you wouldn’t do what you need to do to achieve your goals in life. After all, you have to believe you can achieve your goals and that you deserve good things in your life if you’re going to be successful in this regard.
It’s when your self-esteem is dependent on others’ assessment of you that those narcissistic tendencies can become a problem. The need to find external validation requires control and manipulation of your life circumstances and the people around you. When you resort to tearing them down to make yourself feel better, you’ve developed a full-blown narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
What Causes NPD?
The exact causes of NPD are not fully understood. There does appear to be a genetic link, but the environment of the narcissist is also known to play a big role in the development of NPD. While there are many factors involved, the majority of narcissists suffer from one or both of the following pathologies.
This type of pathology results from environmental factors that involve family, the individuals’ social environment, the educational system or professional environmental conditions that cause the narcissist to believe they are superior to other people. This can cause them to feel as though they can do whatever they like without any consequences.
They may feel they are entitled to special treatment or they deserve higher privilege or that the rules simply do not apply to them. This belief can cause them to instigate problematic behavior and mistreat other people with impunity.
These so-called indulgent narcissists believe it is their natural or God-given right to be treated better than those around them. They truly feel the world revolves around them and that they should be placed on a pedestal.
Although this all seems to be the height of arrogance, the nature of this pathology is such that the narcissist’s self-esteem is completely dependent on external, often materialistic, trappings. That’s a very precarious situation for them. They are basically hollow on the inside and are only able to serve their self-interest.
Because they lack any meaningful purpose in their life, they constantly feel insecure and doubt themselves. They also engage in superficial comparisons with those around them, and if people don’t cater to their wishes, they are quick to anger.
Should they fail in life, and thereby lose the external validation of their superiority, their self-esteem crumbles. They are left a veritable shell of a person, and worst of all, they have no one to turn to in their time of need.
They lack the capacity or desire to form truly loving, equitable, and healthy relationships. They only know how to manipulate or exploit other people because they have always seen them as extensions of their own selfish needs and desires. They lack the ability to care what other people think or feel.
Though they seem arrogant and certain of themselves, their self-esteem is really nothing more than a house of cards they have carefully constructed which remains a fragile structure.
The other pathology that most chronic narcissists exhibit is the narcissistic wound. This frequently occurs as a result of life experiences that left the person feeling rejected, not good enough, or not acceptable as their genuine self.
Most of the time, the narcissistic wound occurs in childhood, and it usually involves family members or societal pressures that require them to conform to a certain mold. Since they feel as though they are not good enough, the narcissist creates a superficial persona that will be loved and accepted or at least respected.
It’s by stepping into this superficial persona that the narcissist believes they can avoid pain and humiliation, but this is only a facade. Internally, the narcissist is constantly struggling to suppress their own self-loathing and shame.
As the narcissist moves through life and experiences challenges like everyone does, they use this false image to compensate for their inner shame and pain. Because of this facade they employ, they are not able to respond to life’s challenges by building resiliency skills such as learning from their mistakes or growing their own inner strength.
Instead, they use their false image to project what they perceive to be their own flaws onto the people around them, distract from their injured, real self, and gain the attention and admiration they need to feel whole.
Although narcissists adopt these superficial, false personas in order to feel more acceptable to the people around them (and themselves), they cannot get rid of their pervasive sense of inadequacy. That causes them to lash out in toxic ways that damage their relationships.
It also prevents them from forming meaningful and long-lasting relationships, but can they change? The short answer to that is maybe, but only if they are able to both recognize they have a problem and embark on a difficult though courageous journey of self-discovery. If they choose to do that, they will most certainly need the help and support of those who love them.
That becomes a problem because they have often irreparably damaged their personal relationships by the time they make such a choice. There are ways to help a narcissist who has decided to make this brave journey of healing. If you are helping them, you have to understand how to protect yourself as you both confront the challenges that lie ahead.
To gain a better understanding about how narcissism develops, you might also want to learn about the traits that can help you identify one in this article: “7 Characteristics of a Narcissistic Person.”
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