What makes a narcissist?

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. 

Thoughts?

9 Comments

Filed under grace, heart, Narcissism

9 responses to “What makes a narcissist?

  1. Kay

    Dear Dave: Thank you for opening my heart (agape love) to this awful flesh sin. Yes, there are a few people that are called by the name of my Jesus Christ that are exhibiting these lethal leanings. One of my daughters-in-love comes from a family as this. THAT makes it my business. After having seen it in action for over three years, with your clarification and The Word, I can at least begin reaching out in a different way. Prayer intercession FIRST, then being watchful I too don’t get trapped in ‘quicksand’, having my life sucked out by bottomless pits (people), but living Christ’s Life as if mine and theirs depended on Him (duh). Thank you. My heart is aching as I write this. It is evil, predominant in The Church, and as I see it, an evil spirit (or several). Maybe we now can understand why The Church is not the Haven for us as years gone by, why politicians that begin with good character end up despots, why the Family is in such duress, etc. Much of that is brought about by self-dependency, outside of the Lordship of Christ.

    I’d like to offer a prayer for you (since you are opening a Pandora’s Box): Father, our Lord and King, give particular covering for Dave and his family in this ministry, that his feet would not be caught in this web of deceit and lies the narcissists live in, that You give him special and specific clarity as to how to reach the hearts of these broken people imprisoned in self-destruction.
    You said we are to offer Water to them as to You, visit them as we visit You, love them as You love us. By Your Spirit only and for Your Glory ONLY!! Amen

  2. I can see these kinds of pasts and traumas that created both my narcissitic dad and my rebellious self. Interesting. Thanks Dave!

  3. Kim

    Living in confusion and misery with my husband, one evening the word “narcissist” kept coming into my head. Knowing it was a supreme selfishness, I felt there was more to it. So, I googled it and was shocked at the education I got. As I went through the list of the actions of the narcissist, I kept saying, “that’s him ! that’s him !
    Years of confusion came to and end. Now I “knew” the how’s and the why’s. Once educated I went through the short (for me) mourning period of accepting that what we had wasn’t real, there was never real love and the anguish of the wasted years (26 years).

    The experts seem to think that the cause is usually some type of parental neglect emotionally and/or mentally. But, I disagree. Once I was educated, I looked back and discovered that my present husband is a covert, malignant, passive aggressive narcissist but, my former husband was an overt, brash and loud narcissist. The I realized that my father was also a narcissist. One thing they all had in common was severe spoiling as children. Once educated, you see narcissists everywhere. Again, each one had been spoiled rotten. Maybe the spoiling coupled with some ego shattering, emotional experience is what makes a narcissist.

    • st

      I would agree. Before I read all of this info on narcissism, I thought my mother’s problem was that never in her life had she ever been told “no”. The first times I told her “no” after I was married, her response reminded me exactly of an out of control toddler being denied a want at the grocery store.

      • Kim

        Yes. It stands to reason that a huge sense of entitlement and a huge lack of humility would be from parental spoiling. And, then maybe the emotional trauma (embarrassment probably from peers) put them into the practical position of setting up the fantasy image of themselves. Not to be crass, (hmmm how can I say this without the vernacular) but before I knew the ins and outs of narcissism, I used to say my husband thinks he’s garbage, but thinks his garbage doesn’t stink. It was a comfort to know my insights weren’t off the mark. Going through an almost three year divorce and the experts were right. The lies are astounding; he has not a shred of honor or integrity, wants to win at any cost and is a snake my eyes. Since I am a saved, true Christian, I forgive him and pray for his soul continually. The Bible seems to be my only friend right now. I have given my life to Jesus and will still have my faith no matter how it turns out. He has given me a peace and serenity in a most anxious time. But I look up now, not out. This is all temporary, and eternal life with the Lord is my future. Who could complain?

    • Kim,

      It is true that many narcissists seems to start life spoiled and pampered, but there are always the hidden messages that counter the praise. Another of the connections between narcissism and legalism is acceptance based on performance. Very often, coddled children are under performance expectations. Love and special treatment come when the child performs well. But rejection is always just under the surface. The child grows up to believe he/she is special and worthy of admiration, but also knows that it can all go away in an instant. Pampering parents are often cruel when no one is looking.

      So, again, you have that dichotomy. Privileged and rejected; admired and fearful. What seems to make the narcissist is not the pampering, but the conditional acceptance. The child is never secure in the relationship. So he/she grows up needing, but never trusting; expecting but never believing.

      I wrote a couple of stories that illustrate this a while back. You might be interested in them.

      https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/the-beginnings/

      https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/priscillas-story/

      These are not meant to be definitive stories, fitting all situations. They are just illustrations of the kind of strange parenting many narcissists received.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • UnForsaken

        These are interesting comments, as the Ns I’ve known all appear to have been from ‘happy’ homes…and to be spoilt.

        Although I never knew my grandparents to be inconsistent, there was a high level of expectation and around his age of twelve my Ns mom went through another phase of mental illness. This was the first time since his birth, and thankfully, every time it happened (about five times? ) was short and curable. His parents were serious, child-centered people. In that era, you told nobody when this happened, and the gossip/shock value would still be big today. It was at a crucial time in his life, and I believe he’s still stuck at that age! His life continued to cater to his mother’s every whim, including her need to obsessively live by the clock and pamper him. He tended to exaggerate anything that had to do with him, and began to love impressing people and putting down his peers.

        But I don’t believe this is what made him an N. It was a choice, but somehow extreme self-absorption seems to start earlier than that. Could it be that some people will be Ns not matter what happens to them or what training they receive? I wonder if in their hearts they have already unconsciously determined to be about themselves and to do it in whatever way that works. Some children change by the grace of God. Some do not. This still puzzles me even knowing it must be about the heart and God’s providence. Any clarification on why such young children might harden their hearts when others who have worse experiences do not? I don’t believe it is hereditary, but for some of us it does frequently recur in our families. Conditioning and coping methods? I would be interested to hear what you think, Dave!

      • Kim

        Dave,
        I put some thought into this. I have certain memories of both my husbands. One brash and overt and the other covert, quiet and sneaky.

        Long before I knew anything about the big N, I had come to the conclusion that the overt one was without a conscience and therefore I concluded him to be a sociopath. He could put on a really great act when caught. Tears, the whole thing. But you always had the sense there was no…substance (?) to it. Then years later during the divorce after I discovered his affair there was a short period where we were getting along. He had been living with his g/f for quite awhile. He told me a story about how his g/f’s aunt had come to visit and by accident had crashed their glass kitchen table. And then he said in a semi emotional way “I felt so bad for her”! Right then I said to myself, no he does not! He was mimicking his g/f! I then got an insight to this man that could not care less but learned the words and how to express it as those around him so they would think he was as normal as they were. And suchhhh a good guy! hmmmm

        Then, a couple years ago, (just prior to my finding out about his affair) my covert husband said something very surprising. I had had heart surgery. And one day later on he said something very…unusually exposing. He said he always squelched his feelings and then said “like when you had the surgery (I almost died from a wrong med) I just pushed down my feelings”. I had no answer. All I could think was huh?? he couldn’t care less about me and where did that statement come from as he did not normally talk about his feelings.

        So I have come to the conclusion that just like a person is born with a propensity for something, such as the vices and being a liar etc, these guys/girls are born this way. Then the environment at home and life experiences brings it out and because they are “empty”, they adapt and become what we know is the syndrome of N. None of my N’s had any spirituality. The covert one rejects God and is “mad” at Him for taking his father early (he was 49) and the mere mention of the Bible brought out disdain. I one time said to him, “Mad at God?? Who do you think you are”?As if to say, are you kidding me? The all powerful God?

        Now this does not absolve them of all their sins. They do know right from wrong but make the choice to do wrong. They truly are lost souls. So, we simply have to get as far away from them as possible, forgive them and just pray that they find God or let God find them.

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