According to Thomaes & Brummelman, the development of narcissism begins at around the ages of 7 or 8. This is the time when children begin to evaluate themselves according to how they perceive others. Although narcissism comes partly down to genes, it is also impacted by the environment. If a child grows up with loving, warm and supportive parents who take an active interest in what they do and in their life as a whole, the child is much more likely to conclude that they are innately worthy – as their primary caregivers certainly seem to think so.
However, if a child is bought up by parents who over-exaggerate the child’s qualities – praising them for everything superficial that they do, the child will deduce that in some ways they are superior to others – a core belief of all narcissists. If, at the same time, the parents don’t connect properly, or engage only superficially with the child they will also be dealing with a major attachment dysfunction which can result in a traumatic rupturing of the child’s psyche. As well as believing themselves to be better than others, they will receive the conflicting message that their innermost selves and feelings are not worth attention. This article wants to further explore the idea that lack of parental engagement in a child’s life, Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), can result in narcissistic traits developing within an individual.
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)
A child who is raised by parents who fail to respond adequately to their emotions and emotional needs for whatever reason, may experience Childhood Emotional Neglect. As a child who doesn’t get their emotional needs met, they receive a subliminal message, basically telling them that their needs are not important enough to be taken care of. When this happens, as a protective tool, often children will grow up learning to push down any emotion, or block them out altogether.
Although hiding from emotions may have worked as a protective measure in childhood, as an adult it can have serious negative affects on your ability to function normally. Numbing yourself from your feelings will keep you disconnected and isolated from other people, stopping you from being able to form healthy relationships. It will also make you feel less valued and less worthy than other people.
Narcissism is a spectrum. People can vary between having slight narcissistic personality traits to clinically diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder. Individuals with traits of narcissism may be self centred and grandiose. They may also be willing to walk over others in order to get where they want to in life.
When someone has clinically diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder, it is much more extreme. They will have a desperate need to be admired, believe themselves to be better in every way than others, have no ability to feel empathy and as such will fully exploit other people to fulfil their own status and achieve ultimate control and power.
The Link Between the Two
There are many reasons children may not have had their emotional needs met, one of which could be that they were raised by a narcissistic parent. Because narcissistic parents will be focussed on getting their own needs met, the needs of their children go unattended. It can then often become a perpetuating cycle as many narcissistic people will themselves have grown up with extreme narcissists for parents and experienced an acute variety of emotional neglect. Narcissism may in part be down to genes, but often a narcissist will also have grown up in a household where their emotional needs were not only completely ignored, but also where they would have been superficially praised for things that are meaningless or indeed inaccurate. Emotional neglect along with a misplaced sense of superiority is at the core of every narcissist.
At the centre of both individuals suffering with narcissism and those with CEN is often the same feelings of being alone, empty and insignificant. They just have two very different ways of expressing these feelings. Although these two disorders are very different externally, in a strange, contradictory way ,they actually serve to cause and perpetuate each other, especially as many CEN sufferers are attracted to narcissists in adult life.
If you have a client, or know of someone who is struggling to find the right help for either Childhood Emotional Neglect or Narcissism, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and out-patient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long lasting recovery. For information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).
- Brummelman, Eddie, Gurel, Cisem, Thomaes, Sander and Sedikides, Constantine (2017) What separates narcissism from self-esteem? A social-cognitive analysis.