Nipping Narcissism in the Bud

file0004545897“When science discovers the center of the universe, a lot of people will be disappointed to find they are not it.” ~Bernard Baily

How Do You Know If Someone Is A Narcissist?

The following adjectives are often used to describe someone with too much narcissism: selfish, arrogant, entitled, show-off, big shot, bossy, self-absorbed, egomaniac, attention grabber, manipulative, high maintenance, proud, vain, above the rules, better than others, full of himself. You know the type. Does anyone you live with or work with come to mind?

I am not talking here about severe narcissism, known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is a serious mental disorder estimated to occur in .5 to 1% of the general population. I want to focus on what happens when a healthy sense of self develops into an unhealthy preoccupation with one’s own desires, needs or interests.

Striking a Balance Between Self-Love and Selfishnessfile9541242059988

Like any other trait, self-centeredness falls on a bell curve–most people have a chunk of it. In fact, having too little can be as problematic as having too much. One of the crucial tasks of childhood is to develop an ego. Learning to acknowledge and express your needs and wants is crucial in order to become an adult capable of setting boundaries and taking care of yourself.

The goal is to find a balance between love of self and love for others, between self-compassion and empathy. With enough ego but not too much, you see yourself as no better or worse than anyone else. You acknowledge your unique skills and talents, realize you have things to teach but also things to learn, and can own up to your flaws and frailties, making you feel part of the human family rather than somehow above it.

Since narcissism does not appear to have much of a genetic component, it is primarily reinforced by our parents, our extended family and our culture. Obviously, if you are a new parent or have young children, there’s a lot you can to do prevent raising a spoiled child, but don’t give up if you have teenagers or adult children. It is never too late to break bad habits and create new ones.

file0001339653498Tips for Parents of Young Children

Although it is normal for toddlers to act as if the universe revolves around them–demanding what they want when they want it, and throwing temper tantrums at times when their desires are thwarted–it is the job of parents, teachers, and other caregivers to set limits with love. Do not give things (snacks, toys, anything) when kids are fussing. Tell them you will give them what they want if and when they stop whining and start using the magic words (“Please” and “Thank you”).

Even when your child is behaving, do not give into all their wishes. Children need to learn that life has limits and that you are in charge. This means that no means no. Allow them to work through their feelings of disappointment….”I know that you are sad and frustrated that we can’t go to the park today but we don’t have time.”

Teach your children to be grateful for what they do have. You can do this by modeling for them, saying please and thank you to others who wait on you or give you things. Teach your children, even before they can write on their own, to write thank you notes for gifts received.

A child can dictate a note that you write, draw a picture, and put it in the mailbox. I have known more than one grandmother who stopped sending gifts to grandchildren who never even acknowledged them.

Teach your child to have empathy for the needs and feelings of others–including your own. Every known religion teaches some form of The Golden Rule which is the underpinning of all ethics. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Tips for Parents of Teens & TweenersOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Although the specific desires of teens may be different than toddlers, the principles are the same. Your teens will appreciate what they have if you allow them to earn some part of what they want. The use of an allowance which can be started with kids as young as 6 or 7 can be an important teaching tool.

One way to do this is to set a weekly amount that you will give them on the condition that 1/3 can be spent on whatever they like (within your limits), 1/3 mist be saved for future goals, and 1/3 will be given away to a person or cause that they believe in. Extra money can be earned through specific jobs that help lighten your load as a parent or save your family some money (e.g. mowing the lawn, babysitting a sibling, washing the car.)

Do charitable work on a regular basis as a family, and find ways that your teenager can be exposed to others less fortunate. At birthdays and other holidays, insist that your teen be part of gift-giving, not just gift receiving. Gifts can be small and symbolic or homemade. Handwritten cards with grateful sentiments often make the best gifts of all.

Tips for Parents of Young Adults

If you still give financial support to your adult children, work out a budget with them. It reinforces entitlement for you to be saving and penny-pinching while they are not asked to cut back on unessential items or vacations. Insist that they contribute to the family. This can be done through part-time work or through weekly tasks such as meal preparation, grocery shopping, bill paying, or other housework.

When young adults move back home with parents, sit down with them and explain that you will no longer remain in the old parent-child patterns. If your adult child is doing things that you wouldn’t tolerate from a tenant or roommate, then you are letting yourself be taken for granted. Create clear expectations about cleaning up after themselves, participating in the workload of the household, being respectful of your space in terms of noise, visitors, and checking in with you.

As a family counselor, I often remind young adults that their parents have absolutely no obligation to continue to support them or to have them live at home. In the most difficult of cases, with kids who have been given so much that they have no appreciation for the needs of others and little respect for their parents’ boundaries, sometimes parents have to cut off funds and show their kids the door. Some adults, both young and old, only learn lessons the hard way. Take a stand against narcissism–with love and limits.


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