And how to avoid doing so.
Vulnerable narcissists have a difficult time in life, tending to view the world as a competitive, threatening place in which their skills and abilities go unrecognised. Vulnerable narcissists often adopt a victim mentality in which is disempowering and demotivating.
If people are raised in ways which increase their likelihood of becoming narcissists, their underlying personality may dictate whether they're more likely to become grandiose or vulnerable narcissists. People who become vulnerable narcissists may be quieter, more sensitive and more introverted and - if the parenting mix is right - these traits may be susceptible to vulnerable narcissism.
If you have narcissistic traits yourself, whether you’re more of a grandiose or vulnerable narcissist, it’s very possible that you can teach your child to have a narcissistic view of the world too – whether or not that’s your intention.
Some of the things you may be doing which will increase the likelihood of raising a vulnerable narcissist include:
Giving them a sense of entitlement
Are you raising your child to believe that they deserve favourable and privileged treatment simply because of who they are? Instilling a sense of entitlement isn’t necessarily about sitting your child down and telling them they’re deserving of special treatment. Children learn from your actions and if you act in an entitled way towards other people – for instance, by demanding special treatment based on your perceived importance or financial status – you are teaching your children that some people (including them) are deserving of special attention. Bringing your child up to feel confident about their abilities and themselves in general and to pursue activities and interests which make them feel good is healthy and a small dose of entitlement can help people think creatively1. Encouraging confidence in your child is, however, very different to teaching them that they are superior to other people based, for instance, on their ethnicity, social class, wealth or intelligence. Growing up in this way can be demotivating. Why bother putting in the donkey work (even if it could potentially lead to good things) when you’re too good for it? Entitled people can also be very difficult for other people to be around2, displaying traits including high levels of competition, aggressiveness and selfishness3. If you’re raising your child with a chronic sense of entitlement, it’s likely that he or she will become frustrated and annoyed when the world fails to live up to his or her expectations.
Rejection of authority
Narcissists think they know better than everyone else – even where there is no evidence to support this. When we go through life, there are always going to be people who have some level of authority over us – from our parents, to teachers, to employers to governments. Whilst some authority figures may do a better job than others – and it’s always healthy to question those who are doing a poor job - if we want to function as a productive and healthy member of society, we need to respect others’ positions. We also need to realise that some of those people in authority are there because they’ve earned it on the basis of experience and knowledge. If you send out a message to your children that all their teachers are stupid and that you, and your child, are above adhering to the structures of the school your child attends, you are sending out a strong message that it’s fine to reject authority – simply on the basis that you think you know better than everyone else. Teaching your child to reject authority in this way can make life very difficult for them in future positions and relationships and can make them unpleasant to be around. Kids who display an air of “knowing better” than the adults around them aren’t likely to be thought of highly by those adults. When you teach a child to disrespect authority, you’re also teaching them to disrespect you. Your opinionated, demanding little kid won’t be quite as cute when they’re a manipulative, lying, confrontational teenager.
Acting like a victim There’s one great way to teach your child that the world is against them and, no matter how special they might be, their brilliance is never going to be recognised by an unfair society – and that is to act the victim. If you avoid taking personal responsibility for those things which go wrong for you in life and, instead, place the blame on other people or society in general – you are sending out a very palpable message to your children that they lack agency over their own lives. Making your child feel undeserving of your love We all want our kids to fulfill their potential, but do you find yourself only giving them love and attention when they have achieved something you consider valuable – from being chosen for a sports team to getting an “A” for science? Do they need to work for your love, rather than feel that you love them for who they are, with all their faults and flaws? When you raise a child in this way you are sending the message that in order to feel validated and worthwhile, they need to look for that validation externally – from you, in the first instance. Vulnerable narcissists operate from an emotionally vulnerable point. They don’t have the self-esteem to reassure themselves that they are good enough and they will search for that reassurance from other people. They may push themselves again and again to receive a validation which is never enough. If your kid feels the need to impress you all the time with their achievements, take a step back and see how you can give them the reassurance and love they want without them having to do anything to earn it. Criticising your child’s core personality The rage, anger and hostility displayed by vulnerable narcissists is driven by several factors including feelings of suspiciousness and
4. Are there things about your child which you feel are unacceptable – such as a tendency towards being quiet and more introverted? Maybe your child is the opposite of you, and you find that hard to accept. Or perhaps your child is so similar to you and, driven by feelings of self-dislike, you push them to be different. If you raise your child to feel ashamed of their core self – and combine this with creating in them a need for external validation – you are creating a perfect situation for them to feel judged and suspicious of the motives of others. Combined with a sense of being “superior” compared to other people, the vulnerable narcissist can lead a lonely and resentful life. If you identify with any of the above, it’s important to be aware of the long lasting damaging impact that raising your child in this way can have on their self-esteem, friendships and general happiness. Awareness is the first step in changing how you interact with your child and the values you teach them.
References 1. Zitek, E & Vincent, L (2015) Feelings of entitlement can enhance creativity, Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, 56 2. Moeller, Crocker, J, Bushman, BJ (2009) Creating hostility and conflict: effects of entitlement and self-image goals, Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology , 45(1), 448 3. Campbell, WC, Bonacci, AM, Shelton, J et al (2010) Psychological entitlement: interpersonal consequences and validation of a self-report measure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 83, 1, 29-45