In recent weeks I have been diving into the subject of narcissistic personality disorder. While the term "narcissism" has been tossed around over the course of this presidential election, it is important that we understand the forces at play behind the arrogant, bullying, entitled, and self-absorbed behavior that is so easy to ridicule and judge.
In the presence of an emotionally available parent, children have a good chance at growing up to be empathic, self-aware, and comfortable in their skin.
However, if a child is seen only as a means to a parent's need for approval, attention, or admiration, that child may lose their capacity to develop a healthy sense of self. Without a lovingly attuned parent validating a child's feelings and needs, the child may see emotional vulnerability as a sign of weakness, developing defensive strategies to survive.
Another scenario that may contribute to the onset of narcissistic characteristics is one in which the parent prevents the child from bumping up against any of life's difficulties or unpleasantness. Children who are highly indulged and constantly praised may grow into adults who operate as though they are above the law, deserving of special treatment.
I recently heard a newscaster describe Donald Trump's answer to the question, "What would make you happy?" His response suggested that what he'd most love to do would be to just keep flying around the country, speaking at rallies.
That profound need for adoration and approval is the "drug" the narcissist seeks. When no one is paying attention to them it is as though they don't exist. But underneath the arrogance and entitlement lies a fragile ego. It is this aspect of narcissism that I find so heartbreaking.
If you'd like to read additional articles on this topic, please click here. You can visit this page to learn about the two-part class I am offering with Wendy Behary on Co-Parenting With a Narcissist.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.