What can you do to raise a child with healthy self esteem and not be Narcissistic?
In reading this NPR article about research being done on the impact of praise and rewards on children developing narcissistic traits, I thought that we really have to break this down a bit to understand it more fully or parents will be swerving back in the direction of correction and criticism, thinking they will be helping create a more empathic child.
There are people who have narcissistic tendencies or behaviors or beliefs and then there are people who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Two very different things.
History of The Concept
The popular notion or narcissistic behaviors can range from someone who thinks highly of themselves to people who look down on others or only think of themselves. The myth of Narcissus tells the tale of a young man who thought he was better than others and he was led, by a God, Nemesis, to a pool of water where he became so enamored of his own image he was unwilling to leave and stared at his reflection until he died.
Some people may “look” narcissistic by only focusing on themselves in relationships with others or always being needy or by always putting other people down. But these people may be suffering from low self esteem, unhealthy boundaries, lack of insight, not knowing how to get what they need and want in life and struggle to find ways to connect and engage with others. In my mind, these people are really suffering more from Codependency, or developmental immaturity from childhood trauma experiences. They have not learned how to value themselves and others, to find emotional connection and intimacy with others. They walk around always feeling as if they are deprived and deficient, never seeing the abundance of their lives and opportunities to find joy.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Others, actually have what we call Narcissistic Personality Disorder. They are grandiose, always seeing themselves as better than others and having to go “one-up” around everyone. They need to be admired and rage when people don’t adore them or criticize them. This is an on-going and pervasive pattern in their relationships that causes problems for them and everyone around them. Someone once said, “you know a narcissist when they walk onto an elevator with a cigar…everyone around them is passing out, but it doesn’t bother them, so who cares?”
NPDs tend to surround themselves with people who admire them, or train others, including their children, to do so. When those people start to set healthy boundaries NPDs can fall apart and rage and manipulate and hurt everyone around them while feeling like the injured party.
These folks do not develop out of a lot of admiration from overindulgent parents, however. Usually they have had significant trauma themselves and have had to be perfect for a primary caregiver, who needs them to be perfect to boost their own self esteem. Their NPD develops as a coping mechanism for pain and shame, and if you scratch the surface of these people you will see how fragile and wounded they really are. But if they can’t figure this out and you try to scratch the surface, they will hurt you….badly! You can’t fix it, only they can.
Parenting Your Child
In conclusion, it is not praise and rewards that create an NPD, it is lack of recognizing the child for who they are, allowing them to develop that self, encouraging them to be the best person they want to be without needing to be better than others. When parents jump onto the field or ring in their kids’ sports events to battle other parents or the coaches, they are trying to help themselves feel better…it’s got nothing to do with their children. When parents push their children to succeed on stage even though the child experiences shame and pain while pursuing their art…it’s got nothing to do with their children. And children sense this need in their parents and can either try to please them or hide away to avoid the humiliation.
Think more about who your child is and what lessons you want them to learn. How can you help them find their authentic self and grow to be the best person THEY want to be? How can you help them learn to value themselves and understand how they impact others so they can have self esteem at the same time as they feel humble?
Please feel free to share your stories and questions. I’d love to hear what you think!