The answer to this is worth far more than the proverbial $64,000. There is a general consensus, however, that the narcissist was made very young, through some trauma or series of traumas. Abandonment or threatened abandonment by parents is a common theme.
I recently heard two stories of 4-year-olds who were sent out by parents to steal. If they didn’t get what they were sent out for, they were not allowed back in the house. Imagine what that would do…
One young lady I worked with was rejected by her mother from the earliest age. In fact, she was told repeatedly, “I should have aborted you!” She was never allowed to relax as a child, but was either coddled and pampered or abused and rejected. Her mother would dress her up in expensive clothes and give her expensive hair treatments and parade her around like a doll. Everyone would make much of her looks. But the rest of the time she was considered a burden. In other words, her mother was narcissistic.
What kind of confusion would it cause a child to be rejected for being a child, for wanting to play and laugh and wiggle; but to be praised for acting like an adult, when she was only four?
Through all of this, she learned one lesson from her mother: she would be loved when she was not herself and hated when she was herself. If she acted like her heart wanted to act, she would be rejected and abused. If she acted like her mom wanted her to act, no matter how unnatural it was, she would be loved.
This appears to be a message learned by many who grow up to be narcissists. They know in their hearts that they will be rejected if they relax or if they fail, or if they just are who they are. In order to be accepted, they must create an image that is acceptable, even superior. Control is the ultimate goal—control of what others think of them. You are welcomed or pushed away based on what they think you will think of them. When the narcissist looks in the mirror, it isn’t because she loves herself; it is to reassure herself that you ought to think highly of her.
So, yes, the narcissist is in pain and lives in fear. That doesn’t excuse his cruelty, even if it explains it. And not everyone who suffers such rejection ends up narcissistic. For some, however, narcissism is the means they use to avoid and deny the pain.
But this is why it is so difficult to help a narcissist. To go back to that time of fundamental rejection, to admit the vulnerability, is unthinkable. Is it possible? I do believe that the Lord can take us back into those most difficult times and lead us through them to wholeness. There is such love and acceptance in the real gospel. I do believe that there is hope in Jesus even for narcissists. Someday I hope to see such a thing.