Where Does Narcissism Come From? Part I

Good question. I’ve thought about this a lot. If you look up narcissism, there is a tremendous amount of stuff about its roots.

Is it genetic? Is it caused by environmental factors? Is it caused by a combination of those? Is it triggered or does it develop slowly?

One thing that I’ve found irritating about everything I’ve read about narcissism is the tendency to blame mothers for it. This just seems too simple to me. To say nothing of the scapegoating that seems to be at work …

Women seem to be taking a disproportionate share of the responsibility for creating narcissists. And perhaps that topic is for another post. Part III?

Logically, it seems to me that narcissism doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all cause. Different people function in different ways and what may be a trigger for one person may not be a trigger for another. Additionally, I believe that there likely isn’t a single trigger at work at all. As well, the trigger(s) may only get pulled when various environmental conditions are right.

And what about the narcissist who develops very slowly over time?

So much goes into what makes a person behave in particular ways that I can’t believe that academic circles are still having this argument.

We’re all narcissistic. Humanity wouldn’t have survived without it. It’s the degree that matters, and I believe that narcissism can be placed on a spectrum with “normal” narcissism at one end and sociopathy/psychopathy at the other. Where one crosses over from being “rather” narcissistic to having Narcissistic Personality Disorder is again, a matter of degree. And, I would also say that it is perhaps also a matter of age and experience.

Much of what I’ve read on the subject tends to say that narcissism declines or levels out with age. I don’t necessarily believe that. Perhaps this is true of some narcissists. However, all I have to do is think of the narcissist to whom I was married. Harry is much older than me and was 62 when we met. I last conversed with him when he was 66. At that time, his narcissism showed no signs of abating and, in fact, was probably more sophisticated than it ever had been since his experience with me allowed him to improve it further.

Two months ago I received an email from him – I did not respond to it – where he bragged about his “new” life, “new” girlfriend with whom he is living, and the “new” city to which he recently moved.

He wanted to re-establish contact with me, again. Now, this email demonstrated his narcissism in several (possible) ways:

– everything was “new” – he was clearly idealizing the city, the girlfriend, the life. At some point, this will wear off and he will enter the “devaluation” phase of this relationship.

– he has had so many people run to get away from him that establishing contact with me proves that that’s not really true. Twisted logic, I know. But that’s how narcissists think.

– has he already entered the devaluation phase of his present relationship? Is that why he was trying to re-establish contact with me? They are always trolling for someone to build them up (and I really don’t know why he would think I would do that, but any port in a storm, I guess).

– it still stings when he thinks of how I dumped him. If there’s one thing that narcissists can’t stand, it’s being dumped by someone else. They, of course, can walk away from a relationship any time they please. He may have been trying to reel me in so that he could give me the boot.

– he ended the email by saying that he often thinks fondly of me and still doesn’t understand why we couldn’t have worked things out. He is completely clueless as to the damage he caused me, both financially and emotionally. To him, we can just pick up where we left off!

That comment, more than anything else, shows the degree of narcissism that lives inside him. Did he ask how I am? No. Ask after my family, my job, my dog? No. No. No. Because those things don’t matter. It’s always, always about him.

I think that Harry has a very polished act. Very polished. It’s taken him years to shine it up. He will never give it up, no matter what it costs him. And there is nothing and no one who will ever be of more value to him than his act.

So, how did Harry get there? Stay tuned for my take on the development of narcissism.

Where do you think narcissism (or any other human trait) comes from?  Is it nature, nurture or both?

32 thoughts on “Where Does Narcissism Come From? Part I

  1. I think the seeds are born within all of us to some degree and environment plays a very large part in the development of narcs. My ex narc had a narcissistic father and a doormat mother. He developed into a narc, his sister (and her whole family) into doormats who can’t function outside the home. I’ll even speculate a bit further and say that his grandmother was likely the cause of his father’s narc behavior. His father softened with age, but the ex has only polished his act and I doubt very much he will ever change. Why should he? He’s perfect, after all…

  2. such a timely posting! I do not witness narcissism leveling off with age. Often, I see such individuals becoming more delusional. As for blaming mothers, I totally understand your concern. However, I witness on a daily basis how a narcissistic mom raises narcissistic children (or has the potential to do so). My stepson has constant problems in school, however his mother “values” his perceptions equally to the teachers, blames the teachers, and although he is below grade level, she is “happy” about his report card. My stepson meanwhile is being raised by her to ignore any input into his life that does not jive with his self-created illusions.

    • Yes, you totally see the “mother narcissist” at work. And of course, she would blame everyone else. Those poor kids. I really feel for them. What a way to have to grow up, and this is so tough on you and their dad. They do have you, though.

      There does seem to an awful lot of the blame dropped on mothers, however. I’m sure mothers are no more likely to produce narcissists than fathers. This situation reminds me a little of how years ago, women were blamed when they gave birth to girls rather than boys, as if we could some how control it!

  3. I haven’t been affected by narcissism so am only offering an opinion… I don’t believe that we are born narcissistic but probably it does develop from a normal healthy level to an extreme one because of a few factors… how a parent and others close to those to them do treat them… ‘like they can do no wrong’… ‘like they are so perfect in looks and behaviour that others are in awe of them’.. like anyone who they decide to grace with their affections should be so thrilled and grateful’……..like ‘they are going to be only a success in life’… So many accolades that they begin to believe all of it.. and it goes totally awry… and there’s no looking back… For one to believe all of this and take it to the tenth degree there has to be a personality that takes all of this in with not hint of doubt or questioning the fact that it’s a little too much ! … they haven’t been shown how to deal with ‘humility’…. Just my thoughts…. Diane

  4. What a great post! I love the feeling and thought in your writing.

    I think narcissism is natural to humans, it is a part of our development, it is when we become aware of ourselves as separate from others, our ego begins to take shape, and we form boundaries. Why we need it and did we always have it or did it arise as part of an evolutionary change in humans, I don’t know. I wonder. Quite a few traits are survival skills which have changed over time as our society becomes more civilised, not sure if that applies to narcissism.

    Whereas narcissistic personality disorder is what happens when something natural gets distorted, blown out of proportion. Those with NPD never separate from others, their ego dominates, and they have no boundaries.

    I often think of narcissists (those with NPD) as being stuck in childhood. The ones I know seem to behave like warped children no matter what age their bodies are. And I think it gets worse as they get older, they seem to lose their finesse, the charm doesn’t work as well as it used to, and they seem less capable of hiding their behaviour. They don’t like aging.

    I think that some of the theories about NPD floating around, especially in more recent times, may be the result of narcissists (who are not aware that they have NPD) writing about narcissism.

    I’m looking forward to part deux 🙂

    • Thanks. 🙂 It makes sense to me that narcissism would be a part of our natural evolutionary process – it helps to ensure that we survive. And perhaps that’s what I mean by “healthy” narcissism – that inner mechanism that prevents us from just being complete doormats. We have to be able to stand up for ourselves and defend ourselves.

      NPD people seem to have inherited an extra dose, or the normal dose was groomed and developed in some way. And yes, this leaves them completely stuck in childhood. I would describe my ex-narc as being stuck in adolescence. He hated the idea of aging – tried to get me to pay for a face lift, actually – he owned more face creams than any other man I’ve ever known. He was always concerned about his hair, his clothes, his weight. Appearance is a huge thing for him. He also couldn’t move beyond teeny-bop music, either.

      Thanks for pointing out that some of the discourse about narcissism may be coming from narcissists. I hadn’t thought about that, even though I read your excellent post on that topic. 🙂

  5. I’m not qualified to comment about narcissm as I’m clearly fortunate not to have been affected by it but I read your post with interest. The only parallel I can offer is the irritation one feels when in conversation with say, a group of people and one person takes over and dominates the chat, turning the topic of conversation around to be all about them. Is this a form of narcissim? Ithink we probably all know people like that!

    • If you’ve experienced someone who wants to dominate like that, then you’ve likely experienced a person who has narcissistic tendencies, at the very least. Probably not Narcissistic Personality Disorder, although you never know. That person might be irritating everyone else in his life with his self-involved crap!

  6. I haven’t experienced ‘narcs’ and I’m thankful I haven’t. As you say we all have a degree, it’s a natural, normal trait. The extent of which one elevates their superiority or perfectionissm is another matter. I agree with most of the comments and you have written an excellent post (as usual). My reaction to his email (as I wouldn’t be able to help myself) would be simply “sod off – or get over yourself – no one cares, but you”. 🙂 x

    • Yes, it was very tempting to do that, but he would only have seen that as an opportunity to engage me – something that I really don’t need or want! The first rule when ejecting a narcissist out of one’s life is to observe “no contact.” It’s the only thing that really works with them.

      Glad that you haven’t had to deal with one of these people, but you have lots of other stuff on your plate. Hope you’re okay, sweetie. 🙂

  7. Interesting. Yeah– it definitely does NOT go away with age, I can testify to that as a daughter and as a girl who (foolishly) dated a man twice her age!

    I think it’s definitely a combination. More often than not, I would assume that it has its roots in nurture– certain childhood experiences or lack thereof that caused someone’s neurological pathways to not develop or to develop askew. But at the same time…. it seems that some people truly are born with a genetic predisposition to different spectrums of personality disorder. So… who knows! Probably a scientist somewhere 😉

    • I don’t think that anyone knows for sure, but it makes sense to me that a personality issue(s) combined with certain childhood experiences will produce NPD. And yes, I think that the neurological pathways don’t develop – narcissists are often described as “frozen” in childhood.

  8. Wow ! I have just came out of a 5 year on / off relationship with a narc , and discovering this has opened my eyes , now I know it wasn’t anything to do with me ! I knew somthing wasn’t right after the first year ! Couldn’t take anymore ! Anymore stories to be found on this

  9. What a wonderfully written, informative piece! While I’ve never had any experience with a narcissist, can I just say…What.A.Jerk.!!!!!! Here’s to not ‘feeding’ him ever again! Have a great weekend and be well! ~Karen~

  10. I’m glad I came here and read this today. A lot of what you’ve been talking about I have experienced recently and didn’t understand exactly what was going on until closer to the end of it all. My story is almost point for point like this. Narcissism can be very hurtful to the person with the problem and those around them. Great post. And thanks.

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