How to Not Raise a Narcissist 🧠
3 common mistakes parents make (5min read)
As a Neuroscientist that works with & studies the brains of those suffering from or recovering from narcissistic/emotional abuse, I’ve seen firsthand the effect a truly narcissistic person can have on another person.
This “Narcissist Epidemic” that’s taken over the US in recent years, begs the question, how did we get here, and how do we prevent more narcissists from being raised?
Yes, I said raised. There is not much evidence that suggests narcissists are born, 85-90% are created during childhood & adolescence.
That being said, a child's family dynamic growing up is one of the most significant predictors of narcissistic tendencies in adulthood.
To be clear, children & teens are naturally more selfish, not narcissistic, they’re still developing.
It’s perfectly normal for them to be less aware of those around them until they learn things like empathy and emotional regulation.
Around our early to mid-20s is when true narcissism is diagnosed most often. By this time these selfish childhood tendencies are no longer normal.
While this can be scary as a parent, fear not, here are 3 common mistakes parents make during childhood that may lead to narcissistic adults.
1. Not Doing Your Own Healing
This is very common because doing the “work” to heal ourselves is tough, especially while trying to raise a child.
By not working on healing your negative behaviors or patterns, you are exposing your childing to those behaviors & tendencies.
This is worrisome because the #1 way our children learn is by observing & reflecting our actions & reactions to certain situations & circumstances.
For example, if you embarrass a waiter that messed up your order by making a huge scene & humiliating them, instead of empathizing with the waiter, and regulating your emotions to handle the situation with grace & poise, your child sees that and learns that it’s ok.
If you haven’t taken the time to take a look at behaviors like this, or you have emotional wounds you haven’t healed in yourself, you’re more likely to pass on negative behaviors like this.
That being said, if your goal is not to raise a narcissist, one of the most important skills for your child to observe is Emotional Intelligence (EQ), especially the empathy component of EQ.
Training your EQ is tough work because it involves taking a look at your own childhood, trauma, beliefs, emotions, patterns, behaviors, and much more.
The beautiful thing about EQ though is that it is trainable, and you can improve it over time.
Doing this work pays off big time when your child reflects this EQ back to you or others as they grow up, making all the hard work worth it!
2. Not Mirroring & Validating Their Emotions
Parents who shame, distract, ignore or abandon their children's emotions instead of mirroring & validating them, teach the child that their emotions are not ok, and the child doesn’t learn how to regulate themselves.
This can lead to a whole host of negative effects as they get older.
For example, a parent who distracts their emotional child with toys, tv, food, etc is teaching them to numb themselves from their emotions.
As they get older, this childhood pattern could lead to overeating, drinking, drug abuse, etc to numb their emotions instead of regulating them.
These types of responses to their emotions can also lead to narcissistic tendencies when they get older as well because they stop looking for help with their emotions, and become self-absorbed to solve their own problems.
Instead, you mirroring & validating your child's emotions can help them train their EQ.
Mirroring is meeting your child where they are at and helping your child label their emotions.
Validating their emotions is letting them know that the feeling is reasonable.
For example, if your child gets in the car mad after school & slams the door, saying, “Goodness, it sounds like you had an awful day at school, what happened?” (Meet them where they are at).
Then when they tell you what happened, which could have been getting called out in the middle of class by the teacher, you could say, “Wow that must have been embarrassing, no wonder you’re so angry.” (Mirror & Validating).
This doesn’t mean agreeing or disagreeing with the emotion, it simply means letting them know that what they feel is OK.
Over time, this teaches them to trust their feelings & themselves.
3. Not Calling Out Narcissistic Behavior
One of the biggest mistakes a parent can make when raising a child is not calling out narcissistic behaviors.
For example, if your kid is throwing a fit in public because they aren’t getting their way.
I’m not saying to embarrass them or shame them in public, what I’m talking about is getting them out of the situation, and then asking these 3 questions:
How are you feeling?
How are you making the other person/people around you feel?
By doing this you’re helping them flex their empathy, social awareness & emotional regulation muscles, all components of EQ!
Bonus: Narcissism Test for Kids
On this path, having a measuring stick can be helpful. This is a narcissism test you can do every couple of weeks or months to test your child's narcissistic traits!
While you’re watching a show, movie, or reading a book and something bad happens to one of the characters, ask your child how they think that character is feeling.
If they blow up or say they don’t care how they feel, you know you’ve got some work to do to help them to refine their EQ skills, and learn how to be more empathetic.
Nipping this in the bud early is your best shot at helping them in the future!
If they say, I think they feel sad/happy/etc keep going, they’re on the right path, and their EQ is on track!
When To Get Help
If you’re worried that your child has these tendencies, and you don’t feel like you have the skills to help them, find help.
Often time public schools have great consolers for kids or find a therapist in your area that you trust, and who has a background in this area.
This doesn’t have to be a life sentence! You’ve got this, and so do your kids, good luck, and until next time, live Heroically!