Is Narcissism Genetic?

Can you inherit narcissism? Is it genetically-based? These are questions that have some scientists, geneticists and researchers searching for answers. The exact cause of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is not known. However, most researchers and mental health professionals believe it results from a combination of factors. These factors include biological vulnerability, social interactions with early caregivers, and psychological factors that involve temperament. There are studies that suggest that a gene (or genes) for narcissism can be inherited but that a person also needs the “right” environment for narcissism to be manifested. There are scant studies that look specifically at whether narcissism is genetic, although many theories as to the cause including trauma or abuse in early childhood, overindulgent parenting, genetic predilection toward NPD and narcissistic parenting.

What are some of the studies?

Researchers can study the genetics of personality through two different means: identical twin studies and examination of the human genome. Twin studies typically examine identical twins that were separated at birth and raised in different households. Identical twins share identical genes, and therefore, any similarities in personality traits may be attributed to genetics. Research has suggested that identical twins raised separately share more personality traits than fraternal twins, who do not have identical genes.

Scientists have begun to correlate the existence of certain gene variations with personality disorders. According to a study in a 2007 issue of the “International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology”, a specific gene called tryptophan hydroxylase-2 may be implicated in the development of certain personality disorders, including narcissistic personality disorder. Tryptophan hydroxylase-2 helps regulate the production of serotonin, an important brain chemical involved in mood regulation.

Livesley et al. concluded, in agreement with other studies, that narcissism as measured by a standardized test was a common inherited trait. The study subjects were 175 volunteer twin pairs (ninety identical, eighty-five fraternal) drawn from the general population. Each twin completed a questionnaire that assessed eighteen characteristics of personality disorder. The authors estimated the heritability of each characteristic by standard methods, thus providing estimates of the relative contributions of genetic and environmental causation.

Of the eighteen personality characteristics, narcissism was found to have the highest heritability (0.64), indicating that this trait in the identical twins was significantly influenced by genetics. Of the other seventeen characteristics, only four were found to be statistically significant: callousness, identity problems, oppositionality and social avoidance.

Advances in technology such as brain imaging have proven that the brains of those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), both of which are in the same cluster of personality disorders as NPD, are not functioning properly. The activity levels in the brains of those with BPD and APD are abnormal. Research studies involving the “cluster B” personality disorders have confirmed significant physiological brain dysfunction in two of the four cluster B disorders. Just what has caused the brain to function improperly is not completely understood.
Very little research can be done with NPD, specifically, as most narcissists don’t admit to having any problems and don’t go to a therapist unless forced to by family or work.

Additional research conducted on BPD has detected this personality disorder in the offspring of parents at a rate of roughly 68%. In other words, approximately two thirds of the children of those diagnosed with BPD have BPD themselves. A review of the literature suggests narcissism runs in families and that many narcissists have had a narcissistic parent themselves. But once again, does that prove it is genetic or learned behavior?

As scientific research on narcissism and the other cluster B disorders expands and results in better information, it seems that there will be a greater likelihood that genetics may play a role to some degree.

Conclusion

There is considerable speculation and many theories about the causes of narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Some scientists believe narcissism is primarily genetic, but many mental health professionals strongly believe narcissism is rooted in childhood. Few studies have been done to date on the causes of narcissism, but some geneticists have implicated a high-frequency recessive gene as a genetic explanation for the personality trait and for the more severe NPD. Interestingly, the authors who discount the genetic explanation and believe parenting is the cause of narcissism are evenly split on the details of the parenting theory. Some believe over-critical and demanding parenting methods result in the development of NPD, while others believe the opposite is true, and that permissive parenting styles are to blame.

Currently, there is no cure for NPD and generally narcissists are highly resistant to therapy or change. The most common advice therapists give their clients who are involved with a narcissist remains the same: discontinue contact or at least limit contact with narcissists as much as you possibly can; people with NPD cannot or will not change their behavior and everything must be done on their emotionally abusive terms.

In the event that more research suggests that there is indeed a genetic predisposition, some questions will still remain. Is narcissism the result of a genetic predisposition which does not manifest unless the disorder is psychologically or physically triggered by childhood experience? Is the disorder purely genetic, passed down to a certain percentage of offspring and requiring no triggering events or experiences at all? Considerably more work is needed before the causes of narcissism can be fully understood.

References:

  1. www.livestrong.com/article/129955-causes-narcissistic-personality-disorders/
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissism
  3. http://www.ehow.com/about_4674831_narcissism.html#ixzz2S4S3YJgG
  4. http://www.daughtersofnarcissisticmothers.com/cause-of-narcissistic-personality-disorder.html#ixzz2S4Yof8v8
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About Alexander Burgemeester

15 Responses to “Is Narcissism Genetic?”

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  1. Ann says:

    Thank you for your interesting article. I have been doing some research trying to make sense of the disorder. I have experience of a narcissist in my life. But as someone pointed out this person had a particularly hard upbringing, which is certainly the case and I can see it would cause low self esteem. But I don’t think this is the only factor. As from what I have seen one of her sisters at least seems to have the same traits. The other sister wanted nothing to do with the family at all. I wonder if it has anything to do with close communities in the past, not direct inbreeding but a weakening of the gene pool through the ages. It closely resembles psychopathic disorders which have a lot to do with inbreeding. Though if that were a factor you would think this disorder would appear in ethnic minorities, who marry cousins, or does it?

    No expert on this but my views from what I have experienced would pint to this
    Passed down to a certain percentage of offspring and requiring no triggering events or experiences at all?

  2. Thankyou, Alexander, for your clear article. Narcissism seems to run deep in the men of my family, and last night I was the recipient of an older brother’s narcissistic rage. Since I am newly divorced from a narcissist husband and am reading up on the subject, I am able to clearly spot the disorder like never before. Because of last night, I am once again reminded that, because of the the narcissists stunning lack of empathy unequally weighted with the heaviness of the cold, must-win mentality, one must always simply walk away and stay away and never stop watching.

  3. Sally says:

    I unknowingly at the time married a man 35 years ago who also drank too much.. He had a hard luck “story” that as a virgin (he was 13 years my senior)
    At the age of 24 !/2 with a 3 and a 1 year old, I told him he had to get help for his drinking or leave…I was not going to raise my children in an environment where Dad comes home whenever he feels like it etc….Fast forward to today..BOTH my beautiful, talented adult children are imo Narcissist/Sociopath or Borderline…I KNOW this Pathology in inherited… My children were loved and raised solo by me, and had great family incl my parents etc…The story is too sad to elaborate on..But there is no doubt in my mind, it’s ALL Nature…the roll of the genetic dice…

  4. Cindy says:

    I had the misfortune of marrying an extremely narcissistic man. Both his mother and father and mother had severe personality disorders. I found all this out only after I married him.

    His lack of sympathy, constant lying, deceitfulness, stealing, and carrying on with other women led to divorce. I had one child with him and he physcally and financially abandoned both of us.

    I raised my child with love, boundaries, and a solid moral core – I thought. The lying began when she was very young; being sneeky and deception followed, stealing began shortly after. Of course, she was disiplined for any moral infraction. Why she was being punished was explained. The problem was – she punished me back. For example: Taking away TV for a week for lying, resulted in all my winter coats disappearing in the middle of winter. Any amount of trying to get her to tell me where the coats where resulted in her denying any knowlege of what I was talking about. My coats reappeared in the spring, dumped on a street corner.
    Not allowing her to attend a party because she did not do her homework project, as promised, resulted in a horendous smear campaign of me at her school. Supposedly, according to her, I locked her out of the house so she couldn’t do her project. Being caught drinking ( yes, drinking) in school was blamed on someone else. Manipulating me to give her money for something, that didn’t cost what she said it did, resulted in calling me foul names and physcial abuse. Money, disappearing out of my purse, or anywhere for that matter, was another of my punishments for setting boundries.
    From the beginning of her life, I felt she wasn’t bonding with me. Strange that I would feel that. She wouldn’t let me hold her, hug her, put my arm around her. It’s as if I was there for one thing and one thing only – provide for her. I never felt any love coming back. If I was sick, there was no compassion and she became more demanding. If I was (rarely) down about something, it’s as if she smelled blood in the water and would berate me. I rarely, if ever, showed any weakness after that.

    I took her to therapy when she was a teenager and she charmed the pants off them. I could she how smug she was coming out of the office, knowing she fooled a professional.

    Long story short : After I put her through college, I put a roof over her head for one year, I helped her move to another state to do her grad work. She got a job, ( I was very proud of her) took out a loan, and I never heard from her again. She used me for what I could do for her, and after that was used up, she had no use for me anymore. It’s been 5 years.

    I know she took up with a man 15 years her senior, and transferred everything her father did on to me – Neglect, abuse, abandonment. I was not allowed to meet or have any contact with this man – ever. Why? Because her house of cards and the “poor me” stories she told would tumble in ruins at her feet.

    She is exactly like her father and his family. I knew what they were like and did my best to raise her in a loving, caring, nurturing enviornment – and she was! But, I couldn’t fight what was already inside her. It was there, it developed, I knew it and tried in intervene quickly, but, therapy did nothing.

    • Faith says:

      Our stories are pretty much the same. It helps to know other parents did the best they could also. They just seem to not have a conscience, soul, or heart. I also knew something was not right with her, I tried so hard then she found a rich mans son, and off she went, I had served my purpose. At least I have peace now. Best of luck to you.

    • Kea is says:

      My daughter is the same. When she was just a baby her nickname was touch me not. The name isn’t exactly accurate, I could carry her all day and she was happy but she would cringe at a hug or cuddle. I see her struggle with adult life and know she believes everything in the world is my fault. She has also started drinking and there is nothing I can do. When I was sick or her brother she always thought we were faking it and just wanted to make her pay attention to us. So sad and sick. I know it will only get worse and I keep reminding myself of the little girl she use to be.

    • Pam Broomhall says:

      I am so relieved to find I am not alone. I divorced my probably NPD husband when my daughter was 4 and she had a good stable and supportive upbringing. Now aged 34 she is at least as bad as him if not worse. I am very strongly of the opinion that NPD is hereditary, the research hasn’t been done yet.

  5. Camryn says:

    My mom is seemingly narcissistic. She shows all too many of the signs. She has four children, including me. None of us are adults yet; the oldest is 17. She picks fights with everyone and refers to the family as herself. She sets ridiculous rules up for us and expects us to follow them, although she doesn’t follow them herself, and these rules are not to set up character or teach us right from wrong. It’s just to see how much power she has, and how far she can go. She won’t let us brush our teeth after breakfast. AFTER breakfast! None of us res

    • Camryn says:

      Sorry, my message got cut off. Here:
      None of us respect her for what she’s done, and believe me, there is much more that has happened. And the worst part is my dad has been manipulated to think that the children need to change rather than his wife, who married him for his money. He says that he’s on our side, and that he will do what he can. But he NEVER comes through. My mom smokes inside the house, even after I politely ask her to go outside. I don’t want to have the consequences of second-hand smoking. Even more so, I don’t want my siblings and I to become narcissistic.

  6. elle says:

    Well, I am newly discovered narcissist. I am 17 years old. There is different types and I am the covert/closet narcissist. I make people believe that I am sweet and loving, and that I could not hurt a fly. But, meantime I,m cruel and don’t care for anybody but myself. I am good into making people sorry for me. I constantly think about myself and my needs, I feel special in some sort of way and if I must tell every point of my traits it will never end. But what I am getting at here is, I have an covert narcisstic father. My mother usually tells me I never cried and I was different from most normal pre-schoolers. I was not loving at all. The narcissism runs hectic in my family, from both grandmothers, to uncles and ant’s to nieces and nephews. BUT I want to be helped and cured although I know my narcissism will not disappear but I can learn empathy and learn to connect, I can build my relationship stronger with God. There is help, I am not cured yet, but I feel I will get there, fight my awfull genes, and believe.

    • John says:

      Elle,

      Your story affected me, and I wanted to wish you good luck with your life. You mention your father as a closet narcissist, but you don’t say much about your mother. If she has genuine sympathetic feelings you may be able to learn something from her. I think we all learn from our parents or carers how to think of others as well as ourselves. I can remember when as a young boy my selfish ideas would come out and my mum would gently point out that the other people have feelings too, and I learnt so much from her in that way. So you have made the biggest breakthrough yourself in seeing yourself, and wanting to change some things. We all learn about being together with others and being kind, from watching how others behave, so I believe there must be hope, now you have had insight into your makeup.

  7. dee says:

    Wow what a revelation this article and the comments below Are For me. My two adult children both inherited this from father a brutally cruel man Who fooled me And still fools people daily. I left Him when the children were babies but the poison was passed on.
    I have spent a lifetime giving my children every opportunity. mostly to little appreciation. last year finally I realised it was me or them they had sucked me dry. I built a wall around my delicate feelings and said no more, I continue to love and encourage them, but I tell them the truth about what they are doing and wont tolerate disrespect.
    watching my 30 year old son with his wife fills me with fear because they are having a baby and the older my son gets the more. I see hes a copy of his dad in temprament although the other side I see hes a lovely boy and tries hard.
    I feel like by my choice of husband made all those years ago when I was 20. I have cursed my children. I wish I could change that. I cant. They have both achieved well but I know the emmotional state is a snake hiding in the grass waiting to strike.

  8. Mrs M says:

    My husband has NPD. I have been better able to cope since learning about the condition.

    Interestingly my 12 year old daughter seems to have the same traits. I have two grown up children from a previous marriage and although not perfect, they could show empathy, love and care. I suffer with IBS (unsurprisingly) but when I am ill my 12yr old is ambivolent (not sure I spelt that right but it is the perfect describer). As soon as you do
    not do what she wants she becomes ackward, argumentative and naughty.

    My husband hasn’t completely changed. But it is interesting watching him cope. Sometimes gets angry. She is more fearful of his anger and somehow he gains more respect from her because of this. If I get angry I get told off in front of her. He is more tolerant of her behaviour when it comes to being disprespectful of me. He is far more willing to let her off saying its not worth
    the fight.

    Truthfully, I always thought she’d care for me more as I had always cared for her and protected her from his wrath. This has not been the case at all. Its like a mutual admiration with me as the imperfect one on the outside.

  9. Stacy says:

    Hi. My mother is a narcissist. I didn’t want to believe this and for many years attempted to maintain a relationship with her and my dominated father, only to learn she truly had no empathy and could only relate to anything outside of her as being about her. I have two older sisters and I had always hoped we would end up closer because of the mental and physical abuse we witnessed and suffered. Instead, I honestly believe at least one of them is narcissistic herself and the other possibly borderline as well as narcissistic.
    I have been terrified to have children of my own so the traits are not passed on. I myself do not feel I have these traits, but I do sometimes feel disconnected and reactive when I feel displaced. My therapist assured me I am not a narcissist in any way but it’s little solace.
    I disconnected from my family about 5 years ago. Though it was a difficult thing to do, I felt I was on an emotionally abusive merry go round that left me exhausted and terrified as to what might be coming next from them in terms of judgements and lies. It’s hard to explain to people why I have n o family and they often seem to think I did something or am a terrible person for not just putting up with my family. Still, I can say I feel some peace from being completely apart and can only hope to never cross paths with them again.

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