Orange County Register

The Origins of Narcissism

Knowledge Byte | Seeking the Root of Narcissism in Children

Are parents’ views of their children as more special and entitled than other children leading to a growing number of narcissistic individuals? A recent study thinks it just might be so.

The study, “Origins of narcissism in children” and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, attempted to determine the origin of child narcissism in children ages 7 to 12.

Researchers studied two theories: social learning and psychoanalytic.

Social learning theory states that children are likely to grow up narcissistic when their parents overvalue them and see them as more special than other children.

Psychoanalytic theory states that children are likely to grow up to be narcissistic when their parents lack warmth and express little affection, appreciation and positive affect toward their child.

The study ultimately found that narcissism can be predicted by social learning theory.

“In the long run, the most healthy and helpful messages that parents can give their children is that the children are valued and important, but without a focus on comparing themselves with other children,” said Jason Baker, Cal State Fullerton assistant professor of child and adolescent studies.

Baker was not involved in the aforementioned study.

“Individuals with narcissism appear on the surface to have high self-esteem, but it is rather artificial and easily shattered,” he said.

We asked Baker about child narcissism and whether parents’ views can influence the matter.

Q: What is “child narcissism?”

A: It is important to differentiate between several concepts that sound somewhat similar. The only actual relevant psychological disorder is Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is characterized by a pervasive tendency towards grandiosity, or thinking that you are better than others, along with other characteristics like a lack of empathy. Personality disorders are rarely diagnosed in childhood and there is a certain degree of this type of thinking that may even be somewhat developmentally appropriate, so we need to be careful with the idea of child narcissism. That being said, the types of attitudes that the authors measured -- thinking that you are better than other children -- are not typically very healthy or helpful for making friends. Narcissism must also be differentiated from self-esteem, which is healthy.

Next Up: What Role Do Parents Play in Child Narcicissim? Continue reading.

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