The Root Cause Of Narcissism: 7 Important Influence Factors (2024)

A narcissist:

  • Is an individual with a high sense of self-importance, thinking they’re better than everyone else
  • This false self-perception makes them expect others to look up to them and treat them as special
Root Cause Of Narcissism
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Narcissist traits include the above and much more. But what makes them behave that way?

Stay with me and learn the root cause of narcissism, common traits, how to deal with them, and more!

Let’s dive in.

What Factors Make A Narcissist? 7 Influences

There’s no single root cause for narcissism according to clinical health psychology practice. However, several factors lead to the development of narcissistic behavior which we’ll discuss below.

1. Excessive Praise Of Abilities Instead Of Effort In Childhood

When one is born smart, athletic, good-looking, creative, or has something else obvious going well for them without putting much effort, adults around them tend to show so much admiration for them. 

But admiration without recommending effort does more harm than good. So sooner or later, the child not only embraces a fixed mindset but also develops a narcissistic attitude of:

  • Entitlement to opportunities without putting in the work to deserve them
  • Overvaluing natural abilities and undervaluing hard work
  • Looking down on others who aren’t as talented as they are
  • A deep need for continual unhealthy admiration of their abilities as the adults did
  • Perfectionism in an effort to achieve even more admiration

For instance, I know a certain girl who was quite more intelligent than the rest of her siblings. She also was beautiful, creative, and charming and she knew it because many people praised her for it. 

But unfortunately, since her parents were content with her good enough grades, she never really worked hard to her full potential. Even worse, she loved that people called her genius because she never studied much and still managed good grades. The more people admired her abilities, the more she craved for more and therefore became more entitled, and detached from reality.

By the time high school was over, she had developed narcissistic tendencies that she barely could shake off until she started realizing how they had damaged her life around four years later.

In a nutshell, if you overpraise a child’s abilities, they’re likely to develop narcissism.

Related: Are Narcissists Born Or Made? 13 Science Insights

2. Unrealistic Parental Expectations

When a kid is raised by perfectionist parents, they’re highly likely to become perfectionists themselves. So since the parents showed them affection when they achieved the excellent results they expected, the child continues the vicious cycle believing that they can only expect and even demand admiration when they achieve perfection.

But this proves problematic over time since:

  • They start thinking that because they strive for perfection, they need to be rewarded with praise and superiority for it
  • They begin believing they’re better than others because of the effort they put in to gain excellent results.
  • They also become fearful of criticism and pretend as if they never make mistakes
  • To ensure they aren’t surrounded by “mediocrity,” they only seek to be surrounded by other  people they deem as successful

As you can see, these are all projections of narcissistic personality disorder. 

And when you dig deep enough, you’d realize they stem from the unrealistic expectations of the person’s caregivers.

Related: What Makes A Narcissist Panic?

3. Contradictory Discipline Reinforcement From Parents

In this case, you’ll find one disciplinarian parent dealing with a kid strictly while the other is super easygoing and prompts the child to just take it easy way too much. Most kids under such parents take the easy-going parent’s side and think the disciplinarian is a monster.

But this takes root in the form of narcissism in the child as they become a spoiled brat of sorts under the “protection” of their easy-going parent. 

4. Childhood Emotional Neglect

Many parents think as long as a child is well cared for in terms of physical needs, they’re set for a good life. So they might try their best to give them the best education, a good house, and other necessities for physical and mental development. 

Childhood Emotional Neglect
Photo by Саша Лазарев

But at the end of all of it, a child feels emotionally uncared for and becomes vulnerable to narcissistic personality disorder.

Childhood Emotional Neglect, otherwise referred to as CEN happens when a caregiver ignores, minimizes, or dismisses the emotional life of a child. Some even scold or belittle a child for being emotional. This leaves a child lacking the proper affection, validation, attention, and education regarding their emotions which leaves them emotionally immature or distorted.

So since they don’t have the necessary knowledge to deal with their unkempt emotions healthily, a child might develop defenses like:

  • Denial of criticism
  • Overcompensation of their insecurities with an inflated ego
  • A lack of empathy since they didn’t learn it in the first place
  • Manipulation tactics to get their emotional needs met
  • Attention seeking behavior

See the narcissistic personality showing up again?

Related: Super Empath Vs Narcissist & What We Can Learn From Both

5. Comparison Motivation In Childhood

“Why can’t you be like your friend Brian?” “Why aren’t you behaving like other normal kids?” “You should be getting great grades as Claire!”

If parents compare children to others in an attempt to motivate them, they mostly don’t know that they’re damaging the kid’s self-esteem. But this is usually the case. And it invites mental disorders like narcissism along with depression, and anxiety among others . That’s why it’s considered a comorbid psychological distress and life-limiting illness.

So in an attempt to adapt to the comparisons, the child tries to be perfect, become better than others, and also develops chronic envy as they measure their success in terms of other kids’ success – as the parents’ comparison had taught them.

6. Victim Mentality

In the above influences, we’ve seen the effects of the child’s environment in causing the narcissistic mental health disorder.  But in this factor, the pathological narcissist is partly the cause of their own misery since no matter what circumstance you experience, you’re the one to choose how to react: whether negatively or positively.

If one embraces the victim mentality, narcissistic personality disorder will definitely develop from teenage years to late adulthood.

And this isn’t to be insensitive to the innocent child’s plight but a reminder to every narcissist that it’s high time they accept that they don’t need to be a victim forever or use their childhood experiences as an excuse to continue in this negative behavior.

Whatever point you are in the realization of narcissism, there’s hope for change.

Related: Do Narcissists Feel Guilt? Key Insights

7. Genetics

Pathological narcissism is a nature-nurture problem just like other personality disorders. While one can grow up in an environment that fosters narcissism, some narcissists inherit the traits from their parents.

A recent behavioral genetic study plus other research on twins confirms that narcissistic traits of grandiosity and entitlement are slightly heritable. But none prove that it’s an entirely genetic disorder.

Simply put, one may be genetically vulnerable to developing narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) but risk factors such as untended emotional distress at a young age have to be present for the disorder to fully develop.

Related: Can A Narcissist Be Faithful? Key Insights

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Further Questions

Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

A narcissistic personality disorder is one of the most common personality disorders – a mental health problem in which one overestimates their self-importance, desires constant admiration, lacks empathy for others, and belittles others to make themselves feel better than everyone else.

Is Narcissist Born Or Learned?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, narcissists are both natured and nurtured since both genetics and environmental factors play a role. Some people are more predisposed to developing a narcissistic personality disorder since they inherit such traits but risk factors such as bad parenting, childhood trauma, and victim mentality enforce the narcissistic personality traits.

Narcissistic personality disorder/NPD is typically diagnosed at 18 and above but according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the sources of this problem can be traced throughout childhood.

What Type Of Upbringing Causes Narcissism?

Narcissistic personality disorder develops in a child as a result of neglective upbringing, or excessive praise of the child’s abilities and achievements. Most narcissism sufferers had parents who either pampered them too much hence enabling an inflated sense of self (false high self esteem) or neglected their emotional needs thus leading the child to seek validation their entire life.

An upbringing that fosters narcissistic personality disorder may include:

  • Excessive praise of the child
  • The disciplinarian and easy-going parenting imbalances
  • Emotional neglect
  • Idealization and perfectionism
  • Comparison Criticism

12 Traits Of A Narcissist

People with a narcissistic personality disorder feature the following traits:

  1. They have an overestimated sense of self-importance
  2. They strive to enforce superiority 
  3. They like to associate with high social status people alone
  4. They constantly fantasize about grandeur ideas of their own beauty, power, and success
  5. They have an insatiable desire for admiration
  6. They belittle others and dominate conversations
  7. Are entitled to special treatment
  8. They overestimate talents and achievements
  9. They expect an unrealistic special treatment that meets their self-important expectations
  10. They lack empathy and are willing to step over others to get the best things they think they deserve
  11. Covert narcissists tend to envy and resent others but believe others do that to them
  12. They have a weak sense of self

How To Deal With A Narcissist

Here are steps to take if you want to handle narcissists better:

  • Accept them for what they are: Breakthrough in dealing with narcissists starts when you accept their nature for what it is instead of striving to change them or to make them act like rational human beings
  • Learn assertive communication: Ensure that you learn about assertive communication – expressing your needs clearly and respectfully so that the narcissist doesn’t entangle you in your own words
  • Choose calmness: No matter how aggressive the narcissist gets, keep calm so that you don’t feed their negativity to escalate the situation
  • Set boundaries: Create clear boundaries for the narcissist and ensure these ways of enforcing them so that you don’t compromise even if the narc doesn’t like it
  • Ensure support: Narcissists especially covert narcissists will try to derail your self-esteem and gaslight you to confusion so having a support system can help you access reality checks and regulation of your own emotions
  • Work with a counselor: Whether it’s through therapy or a coach, talk therapy among other treatments can help you deal with narcissistic abuse and help people with the personality disorder around you
  • Use questions to help them understand and embrace your point of view: Convincing a narcissist to take your perspective is hard but you can use questions that help them think it’s their idea

Discover more EXPERT Tips – How To Talk To A Narcissist

Example Of Narcissistic Behavior

Here are examples of narcissistic traits at work in our daily lives:

  • The covert narcissist dad who makes everything about themselves even when you need them to help out with your needs
  • Co-workers who only participate in work that puts them in the limelight
  • The self-absorbed family member who can do anything to make people do what they want
  • The self-centered colleague who always degrades other people’s ideas while forcing through their own
  • The vulnerable narcissist in your friends’ circle who can’t help but react poorly to criticism hence never accepting their mistakes
  • That kid that always demands to have the best car in school and keeps demanding special favors from everyone since they’re “popular” and therefore better than everyone else

See more examples of narcissistic traits in the American Journal of Psychiatry paper, Narcissistic Personality Disorder – Diagnostic and Clinical Challenges

Closing Thoughts

The root cause of narcissism is based on internal and external factors the sufferer faces from childhood to early adulthood. Genetics, neglective, or overindulgent parenting are the main influences that cause narcissistic personality disorder.

But while narcissists tend to be difficult to deal with, one can work better with them using the above strategies and also by gaining a better understanding of the condition.

And if you realize you’re narcissistic as well, you can deal with this low self-esteem issue by checking out our resources on the same topic. 

Also, would you kindly share this piece with others to help change lives? Thank you for stopping by!

About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.