How Does Someone Become A Narcissist? Five Possible Ways

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I prefer to have blog entries “locked down” before publishing, but in this case I felt it best to go with my work in progress of analyzing the difficult question of how someone might become a narcissist.  This is an extra special case of “Putting “Biblical Perspectives On Narcissism” Into Perspective“, where this post should be taken simply as a fellow searcher sharing some thoughts and analysis which you could possibly use as a starting point for your own study rather than looking to it for “the answer”.  Some of the following adds a bit of Biblical perspective to what is already discussed in secular literature.

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How does someone become a narcissist?  In It’s Not NPD, It’s A Heart Issue, narcissism is discussed as a heart issue, but how does this happen?  I am currently working through five possible reasons someone can become a narcissist.  The following has to be considered in light of God’s ultimate Sovereignty as described in Proverbs 16:4, as well as the sin nature and pride inherent in every man.  I want to emphasize again that this post is a work in progress, and should just be taken as food for thought.

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The five causes we’re considering are:

  1. Internal response to childhood wounding
  2. Internal response to childhood indulgence
  3. The result of the “Progression of Fools”
  4. A consequence of the “sins of the fathers”
  5. Cultural-driven narcissism

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These causes are likely interconnected in many cases.  Let’s look at each of the five in a bit more detail.

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Internal Response To Childhood Wounding 

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Mark 9:42

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.

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The following sequence can possibly explain one way in which insolent pride is developed as the ultimate result of a child creating defenses against being “put down” consistently by key care givers at an early age:

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  1. A child is consistently attacked and “put down” somehow along the lines of “you’re no good”, “you’re an embarrassment”, etc.
  2. He absorbs it and internalizes it, partially accepting it as true, resulting in a damaged self-worth.   This contributes to a long term underlying negative self-image or “inferiority complex”
  3. The child also simultaneously (internally) defends himself, by trying to lift himself up in the face of the put-down (struggling to tell himself internally that he actually is “OK” and not “useless”), and by rationalizing that the cause of his being berated is not his fault.  Someone or something else is responsible.  Both of these defenses are the seeds of the development of the long term narcissistic pathologies of self-exaltation and blame-shifting.  The extent of the development of these pathologies could be directly related to the frequency and severity of the child’s need to defend himself in the face of the abuse
  4. Both #2 and #3 above are distortions of a God-centered self-image (i.e. – a proper self-worth based on God’s perfect design, combined with proper humility) – with the toxic combination of pride covering over shame.  His emphasis on avoiding “shame” (ie – “I am bad”) overrides any sense of “guilt” (ie – “I have done wrong”) in any particular situation.
  5. Because care-givers (especially fathers) represent God in the lives of little children, the process of a child needing to defend himself in the face of a care-giver’s attacks also distorts the child’s understanding of the nature of God.  Instead of truly understanding the boundless goodness of God, he sees God as someone who is fundamentally against him and possibly using him for His own nefarious purposes – not unlike the narcissist who is putting him down.  The implication of this is that if the child thinks that God does not love him nor is good to him, he will come to believe that it is up to himself to go out and fulfill his needs by whatever means possible.  This could lead to the development of manipulative means to get what he wants – another narcissistic trait – rather than relying on the provision of God.
  6. The very people who should be helping him obtain a proper, God-centered (and positive) image of himself are the ones beating him down, and by definition not good sources of the wise guidance the child needs to develop a proper perspective for approaching life
  7. If this cycle repeats and is amplified, it could result in the bondage of entrenched patterns in the child’s thinking and responding

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This process may also result in

  1. The child developing an underlying anger and bitterness – at both what has happened to him, and at his powerlessness in the face of it.
  2. The child attempting to control situations in his life to avoid further “put downs”.  This could partially explain the narcissists’ drive to control everyone and everything – as not only a means of getting what he wants (since he is not used to receiving bounty from a loving benefactor), but as a means of self-protection.

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The case of narcissists who are the product of childhood wounding is the one where people might be most tempted to enter into a relationship with them for the purpose of “saving them”.  The well-known difficulty of “saving narcissists” is a lesson to these would-be human “saviors” that ultimate healing comes from God.

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There is serious judgment for those who are responsible for damaging children……

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Matthew 18:1-11

18: but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.

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Internal Response To Childhood Indulgence

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Proverbs 27:20

20 Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied,
Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.

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God has designed natural reproofs through civil society in order to mitigate against the effects of the human heart’s tendencies toward selfishness, greed, lust, and pride. However, when a child’s natural heart tendency is indulged it can amplify rather than counter their tendency toward self-exaltation.   The sequence might look like this:

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  1. Parents indulge a child, pandering to either the child’s pride or desire for things.  While this could sometimes be intended to build a child’s “self-esteem”, it is also possible that this could be part of covering over neglect (see the above section) through indulgence and actually communicate a lack of love (ie – “I will passify you with stuff and no boundaries, so I don’t have to spend time with you”), resulting in a child feeling devalued
  2. The child develops a combination of lack of self-worth (through a deep sense that his parents do not care about him) and unrestrained pride from thinking “I am the best” and “I deserve the best”
  3. This process is actually similar to the first cause, but is triggered by neglect rather than overt “put downs”
  4. The child’s unrestrained desires can result in it being expected and a feeling that it is deserved, with the attitude that “the world exists to serve me”

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In my view, while childhood indulgence could definitely contribute to selfishness, self-centeredness and pride, it would have a weaker correlation to the development of insolence and true narcissism than some of the other causes discussed in this blog entry.

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A Result of Walking Down The Progression of Fools

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This was discussed extensively in Narcissism and The Progression of Fools and Narcissism and The Progression of Fools – Continued.  An example of this is illustrated here.

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Romans 1:24-25

24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

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A Result of the “Sins of The Fathers”

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Exodus 34:7

who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

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Family histories of inter-generational narcissism is well recognized in secular literature.  The Biblical foundation of Exodus 34:7, which God described thousands of years ago highlights this.

From a practical perspective, it makes sense.  Narcissists seem to breed narcissists – their inability to show compassion to their children, their insolent pride which inevitably is directed toward their children, can easily result in damage to the child as discussed in the first “cause” at the top of this post.  The child develops the same pattern, and the cycle continues.

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From Beth Moore

Exodus 20:5 says, “You shall not bow down to [idols] or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”

The word punishing in this verse proves a stumbling block for some people. The King James Version translates this as visiting, which is more reflective of the original Hebrew word paqadh, meaning to inspect, review, number, deposit, or visit in the sense of making a call. It’s also used for taking a census.

Ezekiel 18 assures us God doesn’t punish children for their parents’ sins. God clearly says, “I will judge you, each one according to his ways” (v. 30). I believe God is numbering or reviewing those who have been adversely affected by the sins of their parents and grandparents. For instance, if a pollster took a census of the number of alcoholics in three generations of an alcoholic patriarch’s family, the head count likely would be very high. Why? Because alcoholism was deposited in the family line. It came calling, and an unfortunate number of children and grandchildren answered the door.

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[Note:  Breaking the chains of inter-generational sin is an important subject for me personally, and I hope to address it in a future post.]

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Growing Up In A Narcissistic Culture

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As we discussed in Narcissistic Groups, Cultures, and Nations, there appear to be entire cultures where the culture itself, as well as the individuals and subgroups comprising that culture, deal with both one another and outsiders in a narcissistic manner.

Culture is a combination of ways with which individuals within a particular “people group” express themselves and relate to one another.  The mechanisms and root causes in which cultures develop are well beyond the scope of this blog.

One way to think of a people group is as an extended “family tree”.  Therefore, in historical terms, the culture of a particular people group ultimately evolved from how a particular family tree related to each other.  Therefore, a culture of shaming children, multiplied over time through the “sins of the fathers”, could be one cause of an extended culture of narcissism.

Of course, chains of sin can be broken.  But if you are entering into some kind of relationship with a person that comes from a narcissistic culture, they may have a blind spot and not even realize that their whole upbringing led them into narcissistic patterns of thinking and treating people.

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In Conclusion

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Even though there may be several paths for getting there, the end result of narcissism is  similar – someone living in a self-centered, self-exalting, insolently prideful bubble.

While there may be several possible causes as to how the N standing in front of us got that way, and while understanding how he got that way will be helpful, it doesn’t change our challenge on how to wisely deal with them while honoring God in the process.

In many ways, regardless of the cause, “the fix” for narcissism is the same.  In each case, it is humanly impossible to save them from it.  While thought patterns can be managed to an extent, the underlying causes can only be resolved through the genuine healing and transformation which come from The Great Physician.

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Please see Putting Biblical Perspectives On Narcissism Into Perspective

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