Narcissistic characteristics seem to suggest a person with a very high opinion of themselves but is that the whole story and were they always like that? It appears that a narcissistic personality is not caused by neural damage but is more of a character disorder, (halcyon.com) so how did they get these characteristics?
As babies we look to our main caretakers for love and nurturing. However, part of growing up is learning and accepting that our caretakers have other commitments as well; work, the other parent, the siblings, friends, grandparents. But sometimes a child feels a higher level of rejection. For example, one sibling might have health problems and therefore seem to take more than their share of the caretakers’ time and love. A parent might re-marry and the child not feel accepted by the new step parent. Someone that I know felt understandably abandoned when their mother emigrated to Australia during their childhood, leaving them behind. Or the parents might have been cold and neglectful.
In the melting pot of genetics and circumstance, there forms a festering feeling of unjustified rejection and of victimisation. This is a rejection that they could not control. They were surely just a normal child, so why were they not loved enough? Why were their feelings not considered? The narcissistic seeds are sown as the emerging adult sets out to prove to all they meet, that their feelings should be and will be considered.
They begin to engage in activities that validate their self-worth. They might seek to gain wealth or power in their work. They take advantage of others to achieve this, so urgent it is to prove that they are a successful person. Or they become obsessed with their looks. They will also no doubt want to prove their intellectual ability and will look for opportunities to show off their knowledge. They are patronising and contemptuous of others. Putting others down helps them to feel better about themselves.
But the cracks in their fragile self-esteem show when they over react to criticism. They are defensive and react with anger to others’ points of view. This anger masks their hurt that many years ago, as a young child, they did not get the love that they feel they deserved.
Their outrage at this lack of love and attention makes them feel a victim and gives them the justification to be entitled to have their needs put first. They lack empathy for others people’s feelings because they think their feelings are more important. They perceive that others have already had a better deal; more luck, more money, a better start in life. They will make up for the lack of love given to them as a child, by loving themselves excessively.
Because their childhood was not as they would have liked, they develop a preoccupation with an idealised family life or relationship where they have the love that they didn’t experience as a child and give love in return. But their love is flawed because they must be in control and because it is about their feelings above everyone else’s, even those of their own children. My narcissistic ex used to arrange family days out doing what he thought were enjoyable activities. If the children didn’t share his enthusiasm he would get angry. He was never interested in asking them what they liked doing. In fact what he wanted was admiration and gratitude for his fatherly duties rather than them doing something that they enjoyed.
Narcissists are often exploitative and coercive yet believe that they are loved and respected. If the family unit breaks down, it will not be their fault. Before long they may be looking for extra relationships to prove their attractiveness. They can be charming and seductive whilst they lie to cover their tracks. They need this attention to compensate themselves for their perceived lack of affection in their childhood.
Sadly, in many cases, the narcissist will never achieve the adulation that they crave. As they grow older they will not have managed to secure trusting and meaningful relationships. Those people they did have some kind of relationship with will have grown tired of their selfishness and self centeredness. Their lack of empathy means they will never have been truly close to another person in spirit and their physical appeal will no longer be enough to attract the attention that they crave. If only they had realised that as an adult, you can’t demand love and respect for your feelings, you also have to give it.