How A Narcissist Is Created

Dr. Melanie Cabrera Image


One of the first questions I am asked by many of my clients is, “how did he or she get this way?”, thus prompting this article  where we we will begin to explore how a narcissist is created. The short answer – narcissists are not born, they are created via faulty parenting and, subsequently, disturbed object relations. 

Object relations, if I were to summarize, relates to how one sees both good and “bad” qualities in themselves and others in a stable, interconnected way, and is able to maintain a positive connection with someone when hurt emotionally (but not abusively…think constructive criticism) by a person’s behavior with whom they have a relationship. How we normally operate interpersonally is via an understanding that everyone, including ourselves, have flaws.  Sometimes we make mistakes and inadvertently hurt our friends and loved ones.  However, the normal recourse is a heartfelt mea culpa and changed behavior so as to avoid further harm.  Why?  Because we value our friend or loved one and feel absolutely terribly for causing harm. Believe it or not, this ability is something we learn in childhood USUALLY.  Keep in mind, there are always exceptions to the rule, such as someone who defied the norm despite being raised by a narcissistic parent as it is possible to develop object relations later – if one is willing.  But before you get excited that your narcissist will change, remember that they believe the problem lies with you, not them.  They’re wrong, of course, but I digress.

Pathological narcissism is a fusion of the ideal self, the glorification of the parent, and actual self-image.

One of the most prominent theories of how narcissists develop basically states that the parent or parents failed to provide age-appropriate, gradual frustrating experiences in life WITH the appropriate validating responses for attempts to overcome those experiences.  When we talk about such experiences, we are typically talking about those in early childhood through adolescence.  If these experiences are not met with the appropriate validation for attempts, the infantile ego resorts to what is called “magical thinking”, denying vulnerability and instead instilling an inflated self-image as a self-defense mechanism. 

For those who noticed their narcissist had an enmeshment with an equally dysfunctional (at best) parent, there’s a reason for that too. Pathological narcissism is a fusion of the ideal self, the glorification of the parent, and actual self-image.  So, particularly with the covert narcissist, you’ll readily see the grandiosity, the continued attempts to mirror the parent, and the underlying dysfunction.  We’ll get into how the parent contributed to this a bit later in our discussions, but suffice to say there are pretty standard behaviors attributed to parents of a narcissist.   There’s a saying in my field, “cluster B’s are the result of rather shitty parenting”.  Narcissists and antisocials got the shittiest end of the parenting stick but it is the victims who suffer because of the armor they’ve had to build to protect themselves.  

Don’t you dare feel bad though – they were told long before you that there was a problem and chose to not address it, leaving destruction in their wake. Please note that this article only scratches the surface of how a narcissist is created and is meant only to help you understand the depths of their pathology. No amount of love your poured into them would have made a difference in the outcome.

It is time to get some help dealing with the narcissist in your life.