It’s normal for children to exhibit some narcissistic characteristics, but as they get older, those narcissistic tendencies usually begin to fade as they are replaced with reciprocal behaviors and gratitude. In children affected by narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), however, they don’t learn how to express or even feel gratitude. For them, the signs and symptoms of narcissism often increase as they become more active in the world around them.
These 7 signs are highly indicative that a teenager is suffering from NPD:
- A lack of empathy
- A chronic sense of boredom and feelings of emptiness
- Problems with attachment and dependency
- Identity disturbance
- Superficial, exploitative relationships
- An excessive need to be admired
Life as a teenager is already frustrating and confusing enough without narcissism in the mix, and it’s important that you understand these signs so that you can help your teenager to reduce their narcissistic tendencies before they are on their own in the cold, hard world. The more you understand this condition, the more you can help your teenager to heal and thrive.
There are two main ways that narcissism develops in children. It can be the result of neglect or outright abuse, and it can also result from excessive over-pampering. In both cases, the parent or parents are not seeing the child as an independent being; rather, they view them as an extension of themselves.
As a result of that, the child is unable to develop a healthy sense of self or ego. Instead, they bury their true self and construct a false self that interacts with the world around them. As part of their false self-image, they develop an exaggerated sense of self-importance and feel as though they deserve special treatment given that they are superior to other people.
They also begin to fantasize about their brilliance and power or perhaps their beauty or love. This feeds their fantasies of unlimited success in their life. These grandiose ideas and fantasies prevent them from having empathy for other people and forming lasting relationships.
2. A Lack of Empathy
As mentioned above, a narcissistic teenager’s grandiose false image prevents them from feeling empathy for other people or really even considering their feelings. The teenage years are already full of awkward feelings as a young person learns to navigate in an increasingly adult world.
When you add on to that the fact that narcissistic teenagers are unable to consider the feelings of other people in their lives, that awkwardness becomes even worse. What’s more, the lack of empathy prevents them from forming strong attachments to other people and that enhances their sense of isolation and feeds into their grandiose notions of how special they are.
3. A Chronic Sense of Boredom and Feelings of Emptiness
As the narcissistic teenager becomes increasingly isolated and is unable to make strong connections with friends and family members, their self-induced isolation results in chronic boredom and feelings of emptiness. Their life feels increasingly as though it lacks meaning.
This can lead to depression and anxiety as they seek to find something that matters to them. Unfortunately, because they have only learned to interact with others through the filter of their false self, this becomes more and more difficult.
4. Problems with Attachment and Dependency
Part of the problem with someone who has an undeveloped sense of self is that they must rely on other people to shore up their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. They are externally validated, and as such, they avoid real intimacy because it could reveal them for what they fear they really are — someone who is undeserving of love.
This stems from a profound sense of self-loathing that narcissists truly feel. Since they fear someone finding out the truth about them, they keep their interactions with others on a superficial level. They seek to manipulate and control others so they can get the positive feedback they need to prop up their self-esteem. They fail to form solid attachments and they learn to depend on others for their sense of self-worth.
5. Identity Disturbance
Narcissistic teens often experience disturbances related to their identity. They withdraw from anything or anyone that would challenge their grandiose fantasies since those ideas they have are very easily threatened.
Because their sense of self is externally validated, it is also very superficial and rigid, but at the same time, it is extremely fragile. Anything can threaten it because the narcissistic teen’s sense of self-stability is dependent upon the belief that they are exceptional.
6. Superficial, Exploitative Relationships
Since the teenage narcissist can’t form solid attachments or go deep with their friends, they keep those relationships very superficial. They also see their friends as sources of their narcissistic supply, and therefore, they seek to manipulate and control them to keep the love coming.
They are unable to recognize the good or admirable qualities of their friends because they are solely focused on manipulating their friends into admiring and adoring them. They find their friends to be useful only insofar as they are beneficial to the narcissist.
7. An Excessive Need to be Admired
This relates to their need for external validation. They can’t focus on the qualities of others; instead, they need their friends and family to continuously praise them and show that they adore them. They are extremely sensitive to any criticism which can make for a very difficult time in school.
How Do These Signs Manifest Behaviorally?
Parents of narcissistic teenagers will notice that they have difficulty making friends and often spend a lot of time alone. They are very sensitive to criticism from friends and family, and they may erupt in the characteristic narcissistic rage common to all narcissists.
They might also strive to force people to pay attention to them, and they have little or no consideration for other people. They also won’t take any responsibility for their actions or mistakes, and they resent any attempt to tell them what to do. They will also refuse to acknowledge the authority of parents or teachers and may blame them for problems.
For example, a narcissistic teenager might use triangulation to play their parents against one another in order to deflect attention from their behavior. As Dr. Todd Grande notes, might say something like, “You’re making mom unhappy.”
Finally, they are also extremely sensitive to life transitions. They will have difficulty with determining and maintaining goals for their personal or professional lives that are based in reality. They are unwilling to make the compromises that are often required by schools, employers, and in relationships. This can easily result in a ‘failure to launch’ that can result in them continuing to live at home well into adulthood.
The teenage years are a difficult time even for the most well-adjusted teen, but for the narcissistic teen, they can become a veritable nightmare. These teenagers are struggling to find a way to get the attention and admiration they have come to believe they deserve.
Unfortunately, they don’t improve their behavior to do this; instead, they seek to manipulate and control the people in their life to get their narcissistic supply. They are unable to form strong, lasting friendships, and they often are unable to move out and live a successful life on their own.
It’s important to know these signs that your teenager might have narcissistic personality disorder, but you’ll want to learn about some of the causes of narcissism in this article about whether or not narcissism runs in families. The more you know about this condition, the more you can help your teenager.
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