Does bad parenting always cause toxic narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder?
Could a person raised by healthy, loving parents in a good, decent home possibly become a narcissist?
If you are related to or otherwise involved with a narcissist, you’ve probably asked yourself at one time or another how they got that way, right?
What made them a narcissist? How did they GET LIKE THIS?
And, if you’re like me, you need to know to heal.
So, you did your research and found that in most cases, it is related to their parents – and sadly, most often, to their mothers or primary caregivers and attachment styles. That’s why, when you think of any narcissist, the first thing that likely goes through your mind is how badly their parents messed them up.
Because most narcissists seem to stop developing emotionally when they are toddlers or middle schoolers at best, and because most research points to the fact that their parents did not give them the love and attention they needed to evolve, which led to their emotional immaturity, it’s easy to blame their mothers or parents in general.
But if you’re the parent or sibling of someone who might be a narcissist, and you know these issues don’t apply to them, you might doubt this theory and find yourself digging for an alternative possibility. And what about families with more than one child, and only one turned out to be a toxic narcissist? Or what about people who had good families and didn’t suffer any trauma in childhood?
You want to know if it’s ALWAYS the parents’ fault, right? Well, let’s talk about it.
Are parents always at fault when someone develops narcissistic traits?
Even though, more often than not, narcissism results from the fact that those who turned out that way were neglected or abused by their parents, that is not always the case.
Published research studies tell us that the area of the brain that controls emotional empathy and compassion is thinner in those who have NPD than in those who don’t.
One: Unintended Neglect of Childhood Emotional Needs Can Lead to Narcissistic Behaviors
In some cases, no one seems to understand how someone became a narcissist. But if you look closer, you might notice that they were dealing with unintended neglect of childhood emotional needs.
For example, situations where parents who did their absolute best to raise their children right, but due to their jobs or other responsibilities, might have inadvertently neglected their emotional needs, which leads to their child developing a narcissistic personality.
They may have always been clothed and fed well and taken care of when sick, and they may have had all the material things in the world – but the parents may not have given them the amount of love and attention they felt they needed.
In these cases, the parents were not in any way abusive. It may have been because they had other kids, or they had a sick parent to take care of, or they had a demanding job that was necessary to support the family.
Of course, there are also times when narcissists end up becoming that way because of being loved a little “too much,” in a way.
Two: Over-Praising Can Lead to Unrealistic Expectations and Narcissistic Behaviors
This is where narcissistic abuse survivors must sit up and take note, so they don’t accidentally over-praise their kids. (If you’re instinctually behaving like the opposite of your abusive parent, you might end up over-praising in an attempt to avoid what happened to you.)
But there’s more to it than that.
A 2015 study points out that some parents might have overly praised their kids when they might not deserve it or have always focused on how much “better” their kids were than other kids. And in some cases, they might have given too much attention and indulgence and not enough discipline.
“Loving your child is healthy and good,” as one of the study authors, Brad Bushman, a psychology professor at Ohio State University, points out, “but thinking your child is better than other children can lead to narcissism, and there is nothing healthy about narcissism.”
In these situations, kids will often develop an overblown sense of entitlement, which they carry into adulthood. In many cases, they were also not required to show empathy, nor were they asked to check their egos at the door.
This can happen in several situations; for example, it is often reported with only children. Please note that this isn’t always the case and that it is relatively rare.
Three: Being a ‘Miracle Child’ Can Lead to Narcissistic Behaviors
Do you know anyone who was called a “miracle child” for some reason? Maybe their parents had a hard time getting pregnant, or they were adopted, or something else caused concern regarding their birth.
So, when they finally showed up in their parents’ arms, they were loved so thoroughly that they had difficulty handling the “real world” when they had to do so.
What I’m saying is that in some cases, though not all, narcissism manifests when parents have struggled to get pregnant, when they’re adopted after a long struggle with infertility, or when they are born prematurely or with other issues that caused their parents to fear for their lives, among others.
When the ‘Miracle Child’ isn’t a newborn
And, of course, in both the case of the adopted child who is older than a newborn at the time of adoption and in the case of the premature or otherwise sick child who spends weeks or months in the hospital after birth, their attachment styles can be affected.
That’s because parents aren’t able to connect on the same level as they would normally, so they develop a less healthy attachment style, which goes back to the original theory of the attachment style predicting narcissism.
Sometimes, people become narcissistic, which has nothing to do with the parents at all. For example, if a child was ruthlessly bullied at school, or if someone else in their lives caused trauma in any way for them. In these cases, while their parents could have been loving and caring, the trauma they experienced at the hands of bullies or other outsiders could have also been a risk factor for them becoming narcissistic.
And then some end up with something we call acquired situational narcissism.
Four: Acquired Situational Narcissism
So, we know that it might be possible for someone raised in a relatively healthy home by decent parents but with other traumas and issues to become a narcissist. But what other situations could lead to toxic narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder?
This is one place where the parents can’t be blamed at all. Not really.
An Example of Acquired Situational Narcissism
One good example of acquired situational narcissism is the guy you grew up with who was considered a nerd and who was often picked on but who grew up and invented some big app, or he created a YouTube channel that somehow got a bazillion subscribers and brought him fame, or he became an actor or singer – or who otherwise found himself a celebrity.
In any case, this formerly geeky guy managed to attain success to the point he began to be recognized in public, or he suddenly became a member of the social elite for whatever reason.
As soon as he found himself outgrowing that geeky, quiet image, he suddenly felt like a whole new person.
Maybe he went a little overboard and focused too much on his self-image and his needs and wants.
This, along with the fact that his life is very different from the average person’s (as the lives of all public figures will be), might cause him to lose any sense of compassion and emotional empathy he once had.
That might lead to him being unconcerned with the “little people” to the point that he would inadvertently or directly abuse the people closest to him without remorse. So, while his transition wouldn’t happen as a child, he still would have developed his narcissism the same way any other narcissist did – just not in childhood.
But why does this happen to some people and not others? According to Millman, while it is possible to develop narcissism in adulthood for these reasons, acquired situational narcissism is most likely to happen when there were already some pre-existing factors that would have led to narcissism under the right circumstances.
All of this means that, at least in some cases, narcissism can be developed by people who had good, healthy upbringings – and that it isn’t, in fact, always the fault of the parents. See a video on acquired situational narcissism.
Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
Online help is readily available for survivors of narcissistic abuse. Below are some options to begin healing from narcissistic abuse right away.
- Sign up for this free email newsletter service that includes a free guided recovery experience via your inbox.
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- Join one of our free online narcissistic abuse recovery support groups!
- Join a private small coaching group! (NEW groups offer person-to-person talks 3x each week, plus DM support all week. AKA: regular. life-changing support)
- Get the narcissistic abuse recovery app!
- Get private, one-on-one narcissistic abuse recovery coaching or counseling.
- Get a therapist who will work with you online. Check out our guide to finding a therapist or psychologist who understands narcissism and abuse.