I was pregnant when I realized my ex was a narcissist and a sociopath, and that scared me for a variety of reasons. One, having a baby meant that I wasn’t going to be able to escape completely, two, I was scared that my child could grow up to be the same type of person, and three, I was worried that my child might grow up to be like me–vulnerable to a sociopath. A lot of people who have children with a narcissist worry about the same things.
So…I started reading. Most sources indicate that narcissism is probably created by a mix of nature and nurture. That is, there is a genetic tendency, but whether or not the disorder develops depends on the child’s environment. The Cleveland Clinic website for example says:
The exact cause of NPD is not known. Many professionals believe that a combination of biological/genetic factors, individual temperamental patterns, and early life experiences (such as excessive pampering or, alternately, harsh or negative parenting) contributes to the development of NPD.
Great, so not only do we have to dodge genetics, but also two forms of extreme parenting! Plus, since I have been a narcissist magnet due to low self-esteem and poor boundaries, I wanted to make sure that, not only was my child not going to be a narcissist, but I also wanted him to have healthy confidence and good boundaries so that he would be successful in avoiding narcissists. Knowing that I wanted to navigate around all of the potential issues my child could grow up to have, I started realizing that since genetics was against us, I had better learn how to be the best parent possible. I felt like I had an extra weight on my shoulders. I didn’t just want to be a good parent, but I needed to be better than good!
And of course now, there is a new study going around that shows parents can create little narcissists by overvaluing their children. This study found that parents who were warm and loving were more likely to have children with high self-esteem, while parents who overvalued their children and encouraged them to feel like they were more special, were more likely to have narcissistic children.
The bad news is, researchers still believe there is a genetic link. The good news is, this study really shows how we as parents can still have some control over whether or not our children become narcissist…if we parent the right way.
I’ve read other research that emphasizes the importance of a good, secure attachment between a baby and a primary care giver. Children who do not develop secure attachments, are more likely to have emotional and mental problems as adults. According to the wikipedia notes,
Early insecure attachment does not necessarily predict difficulties, but it is a liability for the child, particularly if similar parental behaviours continue throughout childhood. Compared to that of securely attached children, the adjustment of insecure children in many spheres of life is not as soundly based, putting their future relationships in jeopardy. Although the link is not fully established by research and there are other influences besides attachment, secure infants are more likely to become socially competent than their insecure peers.
PBS offers a good link on how to work on an attachment with your baby, and how to improve on attachment later in life.
Why Love Matters: How affection shapes a baby’s brain
The information about brain health, mental health, attachments and disorders can get pretty technical, but when I was pregnant and reading, I found one book that was far better than the rest. It described early brain development, how to encourage it, and how to nurture a child to promote the right development. This book has examples and case studies about kids raised in different environments and how they turned out-including explanations of a lack of early nurturing can create a brain that is more prone to depression, anxiety and other disorders, or in extreme cases, psychopathy. It was really mind-opening for me, because I also realized that I was probably not nurtured much as a baby, which probably has a lot to do with my low self-esteem and insecurity as an adult–the same insecurity that made me a predator magnet.
There are extreme and famous cases of behavioral problems due to a lack of care in orphanages that help demonstrate just how important love and nurture are for an infant’s growing brain. Children with especially bad experiences actually have different brain scans as the age. And these studies show that a baby’s early environment has a strong effect on the child’s behavior, brain growth and mental health. It shows just how important we are as parents who can help prevent problems in our children.
Most of us as parents naturally know how to love our children, but when our children could have genetic tendencies towards narcissism, we have to more careful, in my opinion. So it’s really important for us to be educated and informed about how we can create the best environment possible–with love and support and consistency, but without encouraging a sense of superiority. There are a lot of good books out there about parenting to encourage good emotional health and brain development, but I really thought that Why Love Matters gave the best overview and information. It armed me with good information and inspired me to be the best mom possible.