Causes Of Narcissism: A healthy ego can be a good thing. It means that you’re capable of seeing the merits of your accomplishments and the meaningful nature of most of your actions. However, just like everything in life, too much of a good thing can be problematic, and having too much of an ego often becomes unhealthy and even toxic to those around you.
You’ve likely heard of the term “narcissistic” used to describe individuals with an inflated sense of ego or self-worth, but there’s a lot of nuance to this term as well as the personality disorder it tends to coincide with: narcissistic personality disorder.
People in power, for instance, tend to be labelled as narcissistic more so than others, even if such a reality is far from true. Narcissistic personality disorder is a very real mental health disorder, though, and can be destructive to both an individual’s personal wellbeing and that of others around them.
That’s why it’s essential to understand where narcissistic personality traits may stem from, how to identify them, and what to do if you suspect you or a loved one may be experiencing relevant symptoms.
If you’re concerned you or someone you know may be impacted by or experiencing narcissistic personality disorder, consider this test developed by the professionals at Mind Diagnostics to see if your hunch might be true: https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/narcissism-test. Keep in mind that this test is not a diagnostic tool, and it should not be treated as such. This test is simply a preliminary check to see if further action may be necessary.
What is Narcissism?
To be arrogant or narcissistic, in terms of the way people often use these terms, is to be full of yourself or too proud; to many, if you’re a narcissist, you think you’re better than others. Narcissistic behavior is typically paired with an inflated sense of self, the inability to feel empathy, and heightened selfishness.
Someone who is narcissistic might find themselves unable to care about what happens to someone else so long as they’re content and happy with their lot in life. They likely won’t go out of their way to help others, and they will tend to put their own interests first, even if it ends up hurting others.
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Not everyone who is narcissistic shows these traits in great severity, though. Like most personality traits, narcissism can be present at different levels in different individuals. Those diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder experience these sorts of behaviors and attitudes chronically, so much so that they significantly impact individuals’ lives.
What Causes Narcissism?
There is no one life event that will cause someone to be narcissistic; typically, it’s a combination of excused behaviors and permitted actions that lead someone to becoming narcissistic, and this begins in early childhood. Children who are narcissistic may develop these traits when their parents are permissive and allow them to do whatever they want without consequence.
If the parents also consistently give in to their child’s demands and don’t say “no,” for instance, then the child won’t develop a sense of not being able to have something, and they may grow to think that they’re owed everything that they want.
diagnosis and treatment can go a long way in helping an individual acknowledge and work to change behaviours.
Narcissism usually develops in childhood and persists into adulthood, but it can also develop when the person is mature. Narcissism can also be modeled to children by parents – living in a household with narcissistic family members can predispose an individual to developing these habits later in life.
Of course, it’s also possible for individuals to have narcissistic behaviours and traits even without a clear “cause.” Sometimes factors beyond the control of the person in question or even parents can influence the way they view themselves and others.
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder
While anyone can behave in a narcissistic way, not everyone who is narcissistic has narcissistic personality disorder. There are fewer than 200,000 cases of narcissistic personality disorder reported in the United States each year, so it’s actually a relatively uncommon condition.
People with narcissistic personality disorder will show traits of narcissism at an incredibly high level, even to the point where it can damage their relationships and wellbeing.
Most challenging of all, those with narcissistic personality disorder are likely to be unwilling to believe that their failing relationships are their fault; a genuine inability to admit they might be wrong is a common trait in many individuals with the disorder.
According to the DSM-5, at least 5 of the following criteria must be met for an individual to receive an official diagnosis:
- An inflated or grandiose sense of self-importance: this can manifest as exaggerated achievements or sense of self-worth, an expectation to be treated differently/as a superior, etc.
- A genuine belief that the individual in question is special and should associate only with other special people
- A desire for excessive admiration from others
- A sense of entitlement, even without accomplishments/context to justify “special treatment”
- Preoccupation with fantasies surrounding power, success, beauty, perfection, brilliance, etc.
- A lack of empathy or an inability to identify with/understand the emotions and needs of others
- Frequent envy towards others (or, on the flipside, frequently believing others are envious of them)
- Arrogant behaviour and attitudes
- Exploitation, manipulation, and other similar behaviors that allow an individual to take advantage of others for their own needs
Takeaway: Narcissism is Complicated
Like any other personality disorder or mental health disorder, narcissistic personality disorder can be challenging, but it is treatable.
It’s also important to remember that individuals with this disorder aren’t inherently “bad” people; diagnosis and treatment can go a long way in helping an individual acknowledge and work to change behaviours that are harmful to others.
While the causes of narcissism in general can be difficult to quickly summarize, professional care like therapy and counseling can help shed some light on the situation. It can be hard to admit that you may need the guidance of a professional, but it’s likely to significantly benefit you in the long-term.