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How Narcissists Are Created

Updated on March 10, 2018
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We've heard a lot about the abuse and destruction that pathological narcissists are capable of, but what it is less-often discussed is how narcissists are created in the first place. This is something people ask all the time, so let's get right into it.

The Why

The article "Are Psychopaths Actually Narcissists?" goes into a lot of detail about the narcissistic wound and how important that is to the creation of the pathological narcissist, so we will just summarize that briefly here. The narcissistic wound is basically the trauma or series of traumas that happened to the person which made them into a narcissist. It is the defining psychological injury which occurred during the narcissist's development. This is usually at a very, very young age. For the narcissist, the trauma or traumas occurred after the emotions developed but before regulation of these emotions or empathy was learned. This would be around the time they were a toddler. The closer down the scale the narcissist is to a psychopath, the earlier in development we can assume the trauma happened or began.

Things like empathy and self-control do have to be learned. They are not innate. If a person is never taught these skills, they will never have them. Therefore, we could say that many narcissists suffer from "too much" emotion, rather than not enough - even though they may seem to have none. The emotions they do possess are out of control and unregulated because they are unable to control the emotions in a normal way, much the same way a very young child is unable. The narcissist's emotions are all self-focused however - again like a very young child - and if they have any empathy at all, it is generally dysfunctional. The few emotions they do have are simply too important; they are the focus of the narcissist's entire being. To the narcissist, feelings are facts. Feelings are everything. It is for this reason that they are unable to empathize with other people when their own emotions are involved in the situation. Other people just don't matter as much as how they feel.

The How: Neglect & Abandonment

So what could have caused the narcissistic wound? It could be many things but often, it is abuse of some kind. There may be sexual or physical abuse in the narcissist's past. One of the key elements we often see with narcissists is neglect - either emotional or physical. We find that the narcissist's parents were often unavailable, either emotionally or physically. One of the parents may also be a narcissist of some kind; this is not uncommon and would certainly fall into the category of an emotionally unavailable parent. Because the child's needs are ignored by the parents, the child begins to hyperfocus on their own needs in self-defense.

All children are narcissistic in nature, but with the narcissist, at the time during development when the child's parents should be guiding the child's attention outside of themselves to learn empathy and concern for the world around them, the soon-to-be-narcissist only becomes more focused inside, on themselves. There often is no guide for the narcissist. They are ignored and left alone to teach themselves. They have only themselves to rely on and this becomes a pathological situation where, though they grow older and gain adult intelligence and experience, the emotions and ego never mature beyond this point.

The problem becomes compounded as they grow older and continue to reach out to the parent for guidance, love, validation or approval only to be ignored and rejected. They are often only noticed when they act out, or when they achieve something extra-special. This is especially true in situations where there is a narcissistic parent and the child is used by the parent to make the parent look good, or where the child is only treated nicely in front of others. This creates a reward cycle where the child continues these behaviors to get attention the only way they've been taught they can.

The result of all these things is that they create a person who believes nobody loves them, that nobody can be trusted because everybody is fake. Their brain screams these things at them 24 hours a day, even as adults. Narcissists have a brutal superego that spits abuse at them nonstop. Nobody loves you, nobody likes you, you're stupid, you're fat, you're ugly, you're worthless, you're garbage... on and on and on. This happens because if a child's parents reject them, the child begins to believe something must be very wrong with them. Children are narcissistic, remember. If something happens in their lives, they believe it is because of them. If you notice, this is the same way adult narcissists behave. Many narcissists were also actually told these things by their parents, and it just plays over and over in their mind 24 hours a day. In the article "Why Narcissists Abuse," this was covered at length. They have been neglected and rejected by their parents and it creates a situation where they believe they are worthless and defective. That in turn creates a person who believes that everyone in the world is just out for themselves and therefore no one will look out for them if they don't. It creates a person who believes that you only give in order to get something in return. In fact, many narcissists will straight tell you that if you ask them. They insist that everyone acts like that, that everyone uses people and only gives when they want something in return. This is of course a justification for their own behavior, but in a very real way, they believe that. It's what they've been taught: other people only matter what they can do something for you - and you only matter when you can do something for them.

Do you think narcissists are to blame for their behavior?

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The How: Indulgence & Entitlement

Neglect alone can be enough to create a narcissist but we also usually find another key element in the development of a narcissist, and that is indulgence. You might think that neglecting a child and spoiling a child cannot occur together, but they certainlycan.

Example I: Little Jane's parents are never home. They work all the time. Jane cries and begs for her parents' time but they are too tired and too frazzled to give her. When they are not at work, they are sleeping or trying to relax because they are so exhausted, they don't want to be bothered. When Jane complains that she never sees them or feels like they don't care about her, she is told she is wrong or that her parents' jobs are very important. This both invalidates her feelings and tells her that she is less important than the other things her parents are doing. Jane plays by herself all the time and waits for her parents to come spend time with her. She is a very sad, lonely little girl.

Jane's parents feel guilty that they are always pushing her aside for work or because they are so tired. Instead of actually spending time with her, which would take real effort, they try to make up for it by always giving Jane whatever she wants whenever they are with her, regardless of how she behaves. They are too tired to deal with tantrums and they feel guilty, so they give in. This does not stop Jane from feeling abandoned (a KEY feature in narcissism, especially Borderline Personality Disorder) and it does not teach her to turn her focus outward instead of inward, but it DOES teach her that she can have whatever she wants. She begins to equate being given things with love and so it creates a situation where whenever someone tells her she cannot have something, this feels to her as if they are telling her they don't love her. This hurts her very badly. It also angers her furiously because she has been taught that she deserves whatever she wants just because she wants it. She explodes and rages in grief and anger every time she is told "no." She is never encouraged or helped to mature and learn to take care of herself. Jane's parents have created a narcissist with their neglect and indulgence.

Example II: Little Johnny's mother is a narcissist. He is ignored almost all of the time because his mother is too caught up in her own problems, and his father locks himself in a bedroom whenever he is at home because he cannot deal with Johnny's mother's behavior. Johnny does not understand why his mother is angry all the time, but he learns to avoid her and take care of himself. She seems to be angry at him, and he receives a lot of verbal and emotional abuse from her and from his father. When he comes to them with problems, he is ignored, dismissed or even laughed at. The only time they is nice to him or notice him is when other people are around. His mother is given to fits of hysteria; she cries a lot and is often overtly suicidal. When Johnny talks about these things later, he is told he is imagining things or that he is lying or crazy.

Johnny's mother's constant denial and his father's endorsement of it, along with his support of everything the mother does - even when it is blatantly wrong - invalidate Johnny's feelings to the point that he learns not trust his own feelings or perception. Johnny's parents never tell him they love him or validate him emotionally in any way, but they do give him whatever he wants. The father does it because he feels guilty and the mother does it because she wants other people to see the things her son has. In her mind, this is proof she is a good mother. As with Jane, Johnny begins to equate being given things with love. It also teaches him that he deserves whatever he wants. He has never been able to mature out of a toddler's way of looking at things. His parents have simply reinforced it, rather than enabling him to grow out of it. He is never encouraged or helped to mature and learn to take care of himself. Johnny's parents have created a narcissist with their neglect, abuse and indulgence.

Neither Johnny or Jane have a guide through their development. They are on their own, wandering and trying to figure things out for themselves. Because of this, they are never taught the things people need to know to mature and as a consequence, they don't mature. They are simply stuck, with no way to bridge the gap between their age and their emotional development. As they get older, this gap becomes more and more noticeable, and more and more of a problem. They don't realize they are the problem because they have always been that way. It is difficult to notice a problem when something has always been the same. The disorder was "created" by their brain to protect them from the trauma of abuse and neglect, but what protects the child impedes the adult. Behavior that is acceptable in children is not acceptable in adults, but narcissists have not matured enough to be able to change it. And by the time they are adults, they don't see any reason to. The disordered thinking is so entrenched in their mind that they believe they are right, even when they know they are wrong. You can show a narcissist all the logical, tangible evidence in the world and if it contradicts how they feel, it won't matter. They either can't or won't recognize the problems in their own behavior. If they ever do see these problems, there is always a reason why it is someone else's fault.

This "helplessness" is also very childish. Children are not the masters of their own destiny and adult narcissists do not seem to feel they are, either. They seem to view themselves as helpless children in a world of domineering, oppressive adults - or, conversely, as needing to become the most domineering, most oppressive person around in order to protect themselves, like a schoolyard bully. Even the manipulations they employ against people and the lies they tell are often very childish; they are the types of things children would do to each other, or use on a parent to try to get their way. Narcissists can easily be thought of as 2 year olds in adult bodies, because that is what you are dealing with: a person with adult intelligence and experience who has the emotional capability and control of a toddler. There is a huge disconnect here in their minds and this creates some very specific problems in their thinking and with their reasoning. These things are very hard to overcome. If the person is also unwilling to try or unable to even see it, overcoming them then becomes impossible.

The Conclusion: A Recipe For Disaster

So, there you have it. The recipe to create a narcissist is neglect and indulgence. If you alternately ignore, invalidate and spoil a child, you will likely create a dysfunctional, empty, angry person who is not only unable to see or care about anything except for their own feelings, but who also believes they are entitled to absolutely anything they want and is unable to deal with the frustration that results from not getting it. Narcissists are lost, sad, crippled, empty children walking around the world with nowhere to be and no one to care about. Prisons and psych wards are full of them. It's a terrible, crushing disorder that completely ruins lives.

The best way to combat this disorder is to be a good mother or a good father. Spend time with your kids. Listen to them. Validate them. Don't try to talk them out of their feelings. The world is in the midst of an epidemic of narcissism right now. We have to try to reverse it before it's too late.

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    • Dearest Presence profile image

      Demetria Powell 

      2 weeks ago from Berkeley, CA

      This article was very insightful and spot on! Wish I had this knowledge 3 years ago.

    • Gyanendra Mocktan profile image

      gyanendra mocktan 

      3 weeks ago

      The Little Shaman, Yout article on the subject was timely for me. I knew the term and its meaning well. But your article awakens me and has helped me to handle my adult student who has been disturbed by her roommate who I think may be going through narcissism. Thank you.

    • profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      3 weeks ago

      This is a very informative article on what I believe to be a very complicated personality disorder. I agree that trauma in childhood would seem to be the root cause, and unfortunately there is no cure. Thank you for sharing.

    • profile image


      5 weeks ago

      Interesting articles!

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      I dont agree with thus article, my Mother was never neglected as a child, she grew up with nirmal loving parents that were over protective. To me its a simple case of, raising a child to believe she/he is the centre of attention and it is what they become, self absorbed.

    • profile image

      Jennifer Hosteen 

      2 months ago

      I found out that my husband cheated on me for seven years. It all happened when my son and I were in accident last year in February. The accident was minor one. We got home l ask my husband to say a prayer. When he said, why should I when you don't love me. That really made me wonder why did he say that. So I started looking at his Facebook page that is when I found out that he was cheating on me with women that I didn't know. I ask him why are you cheated on me with these women. He said, it's social media. Then I said you don't say hi beautiful when you don't say that to me. Also I found phone number that I didn't recognize so I call but the phone just rang, and a few minutes later my husband call and said why are you harrasing my friends. He told me I was never there. I work nights. To this day he doesn't think he did anything wrong.

    • profile image

      Rita delossantos 

      3 months ago

      Ive been married for 40 yrs to one .i knew nothing , until i found out he was cheating. What i have found about him is unbelievable .its been over a year and im hurting as bad or worse then the. trying to defend my truth , because he blames me , and not many believe me because of what a great man he seems to be ive lost everything including my family .i filed for devorce now its about me wanting all his money .im so devestated i cant take much more.

    • profile image 

      3 months ago

      This article deserves 100 stars. This is an awesome article. It hits a narcassistic person head on. I've lived with one and life was miserable. Everything was my fault or the kids fault. You begin to wonder is something is really wrong with you after all. They truly believe their own lies. They are very mulnipulatively. Abuse is real and affect a lot of lives. The effect is not good at all. Thanks for this article. Assurance that we are okay after all.

    • Crystal D Coy profile image

      Crystal coy 

      3 months ago from Radcliff Kentucky

      This article was amazing. I belive my currant boyfriend is a narcissist, and this article describes his childhood excately. But i also had a simliar childhood and i may be selfish or not think about others i am not a narcissisit. I do have bi-polar and ptsd, i alsi belive i hace bpd. I am very empathic to others. I can feel what they feel. My boyfriend on the other never thinks of anyone. Unless it benifits him someway. Screw how it effects me or his daughter. I also have lupus, so i hurt and he never seems to understand how bad it can be for me because he can not see past his own pain. He comes off like he is confused when i am really tried, like he does't understand how much just going to someones house can be sometimes. On the ither hand though he does help get my medicine, and that i get to all my doctors appointments. But it keeps me well enough that i am able to take care of him. I am co-dependant so i do everything for him. If i'm not feeling well i can't mother him basiclly. I have studied alot on phycology because i want to understand whats wrong with me. So i see these problems with him and i see him struggle. He sees how his actions hurt me and he at leasts acts like it bothers him. Sometimes i think he is just trying to minipulate me. I catch him doing it alot, trying to minipulate. With my mental issues he is alot to handle. After reading this artice i understand him better now.

    • rachel-leigh profile image

      Rachel Leigh 

      4 months ago from North Carolina

      Interesting read. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hammad Hussain Mu profile image

      Hammad Hussain 

      4 months ago from Sargodha


    • Erudite Scholar profile image

      Jeff Zod 

      5 months ago from Nairobi

      Neglected and abused children will grow up to become narcissistic adults.

    • dashingscorpio profile image


      6 months ago

      “The recipe to create a narcissist is neglect and indulgence. If you alternately ignore, invalidate and spoil a child, you will likely create a dysfunctional, empty, angry person who is not only unable to see or care about anything except for their own feelings”

      The part I agree with is the (spoiled child). It creates a sense of “entitlement” and self-indulgence.

      I also agree narcissists are created by society.

      If enough people kiss your ass eventually you’ll start acting like an ass.

      Truth be told lots of people are actually {attracted to narcissists}.

      They admire the appearance of their self-confidence, their not giving a damn about what other people think, and the courage to live life on their terms. Whether it’s Steve Jobs, Muhammad Ali, or even Kim Kardashian millions of people love narcissistic bold behavior and are drawn towards it.

      Arrogance and “swagger” in athletes, entertainers, and successful entrepreneurs is actually revered!

      Ever hear anyone talk about the lonely; “bad boy”, “diva”, “player”, “jerk/a-hole”, “gangster/thug”? No!

      Oftentimes the narcissist was praised early and often about some skill, talent, or even good looks they possessed. Over the years people would bend over backwards to know them or associate with them because they too hoped to bask in “his/her limelight”. They wanted the world to know that (he or she) is with (me)! Deep down everyone wants to either “be somebody special” or “have somebody special” and by “special” I mean the kind of person others dream about or covet. However once they discover there really is no room for a “co-star” in the narcissist’s life that’s when the frustration and pain sets in.

      The dream of being someone "special" to "someone special" dies.

      It would take the mightiest of persons to remain grounded and maintain humility when so many people are praising you for being “great” at something. Everyone wants a girl/guy who looks like a “10” but has the personality of a “5 or 6”. In other words, she/he’s “hot” {but doesn’t know it} or (act) like they’re “all that”.

      Odds are that’s an unrealistic fantasy which will most likely never materialize.

      Society creates narcissists and until we stop rewarding narcissistic behavior or stop being attracted to it we’re going to see more and more people cultivate and emulate the traits average people worship.

      The first step is to ask yourself why you are attracted to someone or desire to be in their presence.

      The second step is to determine if the traits you admire in him or her are narcissistic.

      Each of us (chooses) our own friends, lovers, and spouse. Choose wisely!

    • profile image


      6 months ago

      I agree Lehna. I used to believe reality tv was the problem. I now realize it was a symptom and byproduct.

    • profile image


      6 months ago

      In my opinion I also think the problem is partly in the culture. And it is much more complicated than just not being good parents. The whole (western) system is based on it. Narcissistic behavior is encouraged everywhere in the rather western extraverted capitalistic lineair system. It's exhausing and change on all levels is needed for sure

    • profile image


      8 months ago

      Our problem is in our culture. Parents aren’t home and both work a lot of hours. Society has to change things so this epidemic can be fought. Parents used to have time and families spent time together. Now we work so we can give material things to our kids instead of ourselves. Just an out loud thought.

    • profile image


      8 months ago

      How to care an adult narcissist who would not agree he/she has a problem.

    • Michael Casillas profile image

      Michael Casillas 

      9 months ago

      I just got out of an abusive relationship with a narcissist and possibly psychopath. And I really needed to know how these people are created. This article really helped sum that up for me. I look back at 4 narcissist that I’ve had in my life and they all seemed to have most of the key factors here. I’m not sure why I keep attracting these folks in my life but I can say that I will start asking more family history questions as I meet people and weeding them out based on that assessment of their childhood to see if they match the parameters of the ideas expressed in this article. Cause I can’t keep going through this anymore.


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