We get a lot of requests from viewers of Live On Purpose TV. Here's a new one: “Dr. Paul, will you address how to deal with a child with a narcissistic personality disorder?” I've got you. I think I understand where this question is coming from. Because I've worked with children for my entire career. I've worked with parents for almost 30 years now as a psychologist. And the place we need to start with this particular question is to clear up the difference between narcissism or narcissistic traits and narcissistic personality disorder.
First of all, the roots of narcissism go clear back to Greek mythology where Narcissus was so taken with his own reflection, he fell in love with himself and that's where narcissism comes from. Where you're so in love with yourself that you ignore other people or their needs or the impact that you have on them, children do this as part of their natural development. I don't want to confuse today’s narcissistic personality disorder, which is a very specific diagnostic category, with narcissistic traits or tendencies which are common and expected really in a normal course of development. So, let's talk about both, and then I will give you four specific things that you can do as a parent if your child is showing a lot of these traits. From the diagnostic system, this is what narcissistic personality disorder is. Narcissistic personality disorder or NPD is a personality disorder with long term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. People affected by it often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success or about their appearance. They often take advantage of the people around them. This may sound like somebody you know. This only becomes a disorder if it is more than we would normally expect to see in typical human behavior. The things that I just listed for you, self-importance, okay? A need or admiration from others, a lack of empathy. We're going to see that probably even in ourselves from time to time. So, don't get worried about having narcissistic personality disorder or someone that you know having this, especially if they are young.
Narcissistic personality disorder usually develops in adolescence or during early adulthood. It is not uncommon for children and adolescents to display some traits similar to those of NPD. But such occurrences usually are transient and do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of NPD. Translation: Your child doesn't have NPD –narcissistic personality disorder. There are traits and characteristics. Let's not make the error of diagnosing children with NPD. It's something that happens in later adolescence, early adulthood and then it's characterized by a long-term pattern. So, when we see those patterns emerging, there are things that we can do.
Let’s talk about how to handle narcissistic traits or behaviors rather than the disorder, which I personally would reserve for older people, not children. What I'm saying here also applies to the other personality disorders like antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder. These are things that develop into a characterological pattern. And we don't even really call it a disorder until at least late adolescence, if not, young adulthood.
Now, what can we do about it if we see some narcissistic traits? I've picked out four points from a blog post by Christine Hammond that appeared on Psych Central's website. In this blog post, she hit several different points, these are the 4 that I liked the best. Number 1, minimize entitlement. Entitlement is that feeling or sense that the world owes me something. And in our kids, it's often that the parents owe me something. Entitlement is a destructive thought pattern because it puts people in a position where they don't understand the value exchange that's necessary to receive something that you want. I like to teach kids, “Yeah you can have anything you can afford.” Now, I put it in those words because there is a necessary exchange. The world doesn't owe them anything. Let's talk about your kids for a minute. Your kids have more than they deserve. I believe every kid deserves a good life with parents who love them no matter what and even if. When I say they don't deserve it, I mean that under their own power, they don't have the resources to live the kind of life that you are providing for them. Is that true? Yeah, that's true if you are providing a place for them to live, because kids don't have the resources to do that on their own. Because kids are receiving all of this stuff from you for free, they can develop entitlement. That's what we need to watch out for. There's a lot of ways to help kids with this.
Let's move on to the second one that I got from the blog post. A troubling aspect of narcissistic traits or characteristics is a lack of empathy. So, the next thing we want to do as parents is to teach empathy. Empathy has two important components to it: you understand and care how someone else feels. I think both of those components are really important. The understanding obviously helps you to connect with another person. And caring is probably the main thing that's lacking in narcissistic personality disorder. Let's give our kids opportunities to connect with other people in ways that they can see, understand, and care how they feel.
The next tip that came from the blog post is to avoid rescuing. This is something that I like to teach a lot. I remember having a conversation years ago with Jim Fay when I was doing a special podcast just for parents. And Jim was my guest on the show. He's one of the founders of the Love and Logic approach. And Jim shared with me that there are 3 R's of parenting that we need to avoid. Rant, rave and rescue. This is where you bawl them out and you bail them out. Narcissistic personality disorders are characterized by a lack of appreciation about how our own behavior impacts the world and others around us. When we don't rescue our children from the natural consequences of their choices, it actually empowers them to see the world in a more truthful way. When we rescue them, it sends the wrong message. It sends the message that, “Oh, well, you're probably not capable of handling all the stuff in your life. Let me as the all-powerful parent come in and just save you from all that.” Now, I exaggerated it so that you would be a little repulsed. Did it work? You don't want to be in that position as a parent. You want your kids to understand that their behavior matters. So, when they make a mistake and there's a consequence that is forthcoming, don't rescue them from the consequence. Let it fall.
As we come to the fourth point, I'll put a little context around this as well. Narcissism is basically an unhealthy level of self-love. And it's not even really love, it's based in insecurity. It's based in trying to always obtain external approval for what's going on inside. So, this fourth tip is probably the most powerful one. Show unconditional love. You remember your job as a parent is to love your children no matter what and even if. That's your job. Showing your child unconditional love means that they don't have to earn your love. This is one of the risk factors for a narcissistic personality problem. In other words, to depend on the external validation from others, it is really a conditional acceptance approval or even love that they desperately are trying to avoid. And that's what develops into a personality disorder, quite often. So, show that unconditional love. That's your job to love them no matter what and even if.
Parenting can get kind of tricky. Especially when it comes to topics like these. If you would like to have a free breakthrough call with me or one of our certified coaches, go to drpauljenkins.com/breakthroughcall. We look forward to having a personal conversation with you.