The hallmark of a narcissist is the development of a superiority complex as a response to feeling inferior. This involves exaggerating his own achievements and putting down anyone that he perceives as a threat. Sufficient unto himself, he becomes more and more self-absorbed – either hyper-vulnerable to the upbringing of children slight, or brutally bullying his way to the ‘top’ whose twin peaks are his own self-aggrandisement and the denigration of others. Narcissistic traits are quite common in adolescence but this does not necessarily mean that the child will go on to become a narcissist.
Research has found the diagnosis of narcissism to be significantly more common among men. 2 Faulty or inadequate parenting, for example a lack of limit setting, is believed to be a major cause, and both permissive and authoritarian styles of parenting have been found to promote narcissistic symptoms. Permissive parents who give excessive praise to the child, thus fostering an unrealistic view of themselves3 Overindulgence and spoiling by parents4 Failing to impose adequate discipline5 Idealization of the child6 A child who is spoiled or idealized will grow into an adult who expects this pattern to continue. Narcissists are concerned with their image rather than their selves. They often act to promote their image at the expense of their self. 9 The self is a bipolar structure with the two extremes of an immature grandiosity at one end and a dependent over-idealization of other people at the opposite end.
Healthy self-esteem is not formed if a child is not valued for his or her own self worth. The natural narcissistic tendencies in children during adolescence can cause parents to behave either in an authoritarian way or in a permissive way towards their child. This narcissistic vulnerability in adolescence is prone to embarrassment and shame, self-consciousness and shyness, and questions of self-esteem and self-worth. Many people, including many psychologists, believe that narcissism is a product of our times and our system of values. 13 In the western world in particular, we are constantly bombarded by images of the ideal through the media, this may contribute to the rapid growth of narcissism in society. In extreme cases, narcissism may be linked to invocation whereby an individual’s normal personality is replaced by another.