Helping children build self-confidence is a wonderful thing, but there is a big difference between a child who believes he or she is equal to peers and a child who feels superior.
According to experts, parents may play a big role in how some children grow into narcissists, and it all has to do with the process of overvaluing.
“People with high self-esteem think they’re as good as others, whereas narcissists think they’re better than others,” explained Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor at Ohio State, to MNT.
“Children believe it when their parents tell them that they are more special than others. That may not be good for them or for society.” The reason behind the study was to see how adult people who are narcissists become that way.
The Mayo Clinic indicates narcissism is a personality disorder; a diagnosable mental condition where an individual feels an inflated sense of self-importance and a deep need for the admiration of others. At the same time, however, narcissists tend to lack empathy for their peers, and react severely to even minor criticisms, suggesting a fragile self-esteem beneath the confident exterior.
For decades it hasn’t been clear what causes a narcissist personality, but parent/child relationships have long been a suspected contributing factor.
Parents who tell their children they are better than others but simultaneously offer harsh critiques and maintain unreasonable standards may be at the core of the narcissistic personality, and the research from Ohio State supports that theory.
In the research, narcissism was heavily linked to parents who believed their children were superior by nature, parents who ranked high on statements like: “My child is a great example for other children to follow,” offered in the study.
What’s more, the research team found such parental overvaluing did not actually build true self-esteem–it only built narcissist qualities in children.
“Narcissistic children feel superior to others, believe they are entitled to privileges, and crave for constant admiration from others, study author Eddie Brummelman told Forbes. “When they fail to obtain the admiration they want, they may lash out aggressively. Narcissistic individuals are also at increased risk to develop addiction. Subgroups of narcissists, especially those with low self-esteem, are at increased risk to develop anxiety and depression.
Parents with children who showed healthy self-esteem in the research were not those who overvalued, rather were those who showed emotional warmth. Similarly, there was no link observed between emotional warmth and narcissism.
“Overvaluation predicted narcissism, not self-esteem, whereas warmth predicted self-esteem, not narcissism,” Prof. Bushman summarized. “When I first started doing this research in the 1990s, I used to think my children should be treated like they were extra-special. I’m careful not to do that now. It is important to express warmth to your children because that may promote self-esteem, but overvaluing them may promote higher narcissism.”
Researchers feel the study is important, because many parents who overvalue aren’t trying to give their children a superiority complex, they are simply trying to build self-esteem. Parents need to understand that emotional availability and support are what children need, not an inflated sense of self.