Scientists know what causes strep throat, the flu and now coronavirus. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to identify what causes narcissism. It’s much more complex than a virus or bacteria. However, mental health professionals have an idea of one factor or a combination of factors that answers the question: what causes narcissism?

So, What Causes Narcissism?

Environment ― There can be mismatches in parent-child relationships with excessive adoration or excessive criticism that is poorly attuned to the child’s experience. In a healthy family, parents meet the children’s needs, emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually. In a toxic family, the children are expected to meet the needs of the parents. This is where the disconnect happens, and the child must learn coping skills, such as developing narcissistic traits to survive.

Genetics ― There can be inherited characteristics passed down from generation to generation. Sometimes, even an entire family can have narcissistic personality disorder.

Neurobiology — The connection between the brain and behavior and thinking can also be a cause of NPD. Many psychologists believe that narcissism gets its roots in childhood, although these counselors are reluctant to diagnose a child or teenager with narcissism, as their personalities are evolving.  Think about how toddlers are very self-centered. If the child has a wet diaper, is hungry or doesn’t get their way, the toddler throws a fit.  For the child, the mantra without even knowing it is that “it’s all about me.”

But the difference between a healthy child and one with narcissism is that the healthy child grows out of this. The child realizes that other people in the world have needs and feelings, too. Yes, teenagers are selfish and let’s be real – even ornery – but that doesn’t mean they are narcissists. It is often a way for the teen to flex their emotional, physical and verbal muscles to be independent.

The narcissistic child, however, has symptoms of narcissists that being and grow. Those include but aren’t limited to persistent bullying behaviors, a need to win, very high self-worth, constant lying, blaming others for bad outcomes, being more competitive than cooperative and a preoccupation with getting their own needs met over other people’s.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental health Disorders or DSM V lists traits of someone with NPD. Mental health professionals say a person must present with five of the nine characteristics to be on the spectrum of NPD.

Narcissism traits can include:

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).

2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.

3. Believes that they are “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).

4. Requires excessive admiration.

5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of, especially, favorable treatment or automatic compliance with their expectations).

6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).

7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.

9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Regardless of what causes narcissism, the fallout is the same.  Narcissists create chaos in the world around them, especially those most intimate with them. Narcissists are difficult, if not impossible, to cure, for it takes years of therapy and groups to address the behaviors. And most of the time, why would the narcissist want to change anyway? They are getting everything they need but their actions and words. They are getting their supply.

If you believe you are in a relationship with a narcissist or that your child exhibits signs of narcissism, get help. Find a therapist who understands narcissism and who can help you navigate the world around that person. 

what causes narcissism