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?