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Understanding Narcissism

This article attempts to explain where narcissism comes from and its contributing factors. It also addresses the myths associated with narcissism, the debate over whether narcissism is becoming more prevalent among our nation's youth and the surrounding social factors.

Etiology of Narcissism

The etiology of this disorder is unknown. Researchers have identified childhood developmental factors and parenting behaviors that may contribute to the disorder:

• An oversensitive temperament at birth
• Overindulgence and overvaluation by parents
• Valued by parents as a means to regulate their own self-esteem
• Excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback
• Unpredictable or unreliable caregiving from parents
• Severe emotional abuse in childhood
• Being praised for perceived exceptional looks or talents by adults
• Learning manipulative behaviors from parents
(Cooper & Groopman)

The Myth of Narcissism as a Cover for Insecurity

"…Narcissism is not about deep self-loathing or low-self esteem but a confidence in individual achievement areas paired with a neutral to negative attitude toward closeness and emotional intimacy with others." (Twenge & Campbell)

"Many people assume that narcissism can be cured with even more self-admiration. It can't." (Twenge & Campbell)

It is very important that programs seeking to work with school bullies be very careful when trying to build their self-esteem, as narcissism might be an unintended consequence. Bullies need to learn respect for others. They already have too much respect for themselves." (Twenge & Campbell)

Is Narcissism on the Rise?

Other psychologists question the claim that narcissism is more prevalent today than in years past. They challenge the methods and conclusions of Campbell and others and have found contradictory results in their own studies. "Kids today are remarkably similar to previous generations, at least in terms of their traits and behaviors," says Kali Trzesniewski, Ph.D., a narcissism researcher, meta-analysis expert, and psychology professor at the University of California, Davis. "They are just as narcissistic as we were at their age." (APA Monitor)

Social Factors that Affect Narcissism

"Overall, we've seen a massive increase in narcissism among college students, but we may begin to see a leveling off, or scores may even begin to go down," says Jean M. Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University. One reason for the potential decline may be the financial crisis. Easy credit, she says, allowed people to present themselves as wealthy and powerful. "We've had some damping down of materialism since then, but a lot of other cultural forces — the Internet and parenting in particular — are still pushing in the direction of narcissism," Twenge says. (APA Monitor)

Today's parents work hard to engender high self-esteem in their children and the belief they are special, i.e., parents increasingly giving their children uncommon names, according to data culled by Twenge and University of South Alabama psychology professor Joshua Foster, Ph.D., from the Social Security Administration's baby name database (Social Psychological and Personality Science, Vol. 1, No. 1). In the late 1880s, 40 percent of boys received one of the 10 most common names. Today, fewer than 10 percent do. (APA Monitor)

J. Fernando, "The Etiology of Narcissistic Personality Disorder," The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 1998, Vol. 53, pp. 141-158.
Sadie F. Dingfelder, "Are Young People More Self-Obsessed Than Ever Before?", APA Monitor, February 2011, Vol. 42, No. 2, p. 64.
Jean M. Twenge, Sara Knorath, Joshua D. Foster, W. Keith Campbell, Brad J. Bushman, "Egos Inflating Over Time: A
Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory," Journal of Personality, Vol. 76, No.4, pp. 875-901.
Leonard C. Groopman, M.D. and Arnold M. Cooper, M.D., "Narcissistic Personality Disorder," Armenian Medical Network website (www.health.am), date of publication unknown.
Thomaes Sander, Brad J. Bushman, Hedy Stegge, Tjeert Olthof, "Trumping Shame by Blasts of Noise: Narcissism, Self-Esteem, Shame and Aggression in Young Adolescents," Child Development, Vol. 79, Issue 6, November/December 2008, pp. 1792-1801.

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