Causes of Narcissism

The exact cause of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is not known. However, many 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 and the ability to manage stress. Some researchers suggest that NPD is more likely to develop when children experience care giving that is excessively pampering and overindulgent, or when parents have a strong need for their children to be talented or special in order to boost their own self-esteem. On the other hand, other researchers speculate that NPD develops as the result of neglect or abuse/ trauma inflicted by parents during childhood. The disorder is typically evident by adolescence or early adulthood when personality traits are more solidified. Still other studies suggest that NPD, at least partially, is due to genetics. As mentioned, there are several schools of thought about what leads to narcissism. A common theme overall is that the transition into the adult world fails in some way, leading the person to remain in the early, self-focused primary narcissistic stage of development.

Narcissism does appear across families, perhaps through some genetic cause, but also because the narcissistic parent doesn’t bond with his or her children. This, in turn, may cause the children to become narcissists as well.

Risk factors

Narcissistic personality disorder is rare (1% of the general population). It affects more males than females. NPD often begins in early adulthood. Although many adolescents may seem to have traits of narcissism, this is normal for that developmental stage and doesn’t mean they’ll go on to develop NPD.
Although the cause of NPD isn’t known, some researchers think that extreme parenting behaviors, such as neglect or excessive indulgence, may be partially responsible.

Risk factors for narcissistic personality disorder may include:

  • Parental derision for fears and needs expressed during childhood
  • Lack of parental affection and praise during childhood
  • Severe neglect and emotional abuse in childhood
  • Excessive praise and overindulgence by parents, other family members, or peers
  • Unpredictable or unreliable care giving from parents
  • Learning manipulative behaviors from parents
  • An oversensitive temperament at birth
  • Excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback
  • Excessive praise for good behaviors or excessive criticism for bad behaviors in childhood
  • Being praised for perceived exceptional looks or abilities by adults


Researchers can study the genetics of personality through two different means:

  1. identical twin studies and
  2. 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.

Childhood Abuse

Other research has indicated that abuse or severe neglect in childhood can lead to narcissistic personality disorder as well as other personality disorders. Individuals with documented cases of child abuse are four times more likely to be diagnosed with a personality disorder, including NPD, in early adulthood. Similar findings have been found in research regarding a mother’s verbal abuse of her children. However, researchers remain cautious about interpretation because “retrospective” studies cannot distinguish whether this is a cause-and-effect situation or if the two are related in a different way.

Environment during Childhood The environment that a child experiences while growing up may impact the development of personality disorders. According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment by the parents (or caregivers) can influence personality disorder development through severe neglect, lack of affection, unpredictable parenting and the parental demonstration and teaching of manipulative behaviors. If a child learns from his parents that vulnerability is unacceptable, he may lose his sense of empathy for other people. As mentioned earlier, overindulgence and treating the child as excessively special may also lead to narcissism.

Social Conditioning

The modern media bombards people with information on how we should aspire to achieve bigger and greater things in a world where celebrity status is viewed as the ideal state. People are taught via media, if not parents, to expect special treatment; there is little regard for the value of community and helping their fellow man. It’s now the norm to expect to get something for nothing and always be on the “look out for number one”.

Over emphasis is placed on physical fitness to promote sexual relationships and self-image rather than being fit for physical health. The emotional side of relationships is undermined as people concern themselves with seeking an attractive mate as opposed to one who can share their values and provide emotional support to them and any children they may have together.

There has been a general decline in morals and an increase in activities that were once seen as “socially unacceptable” e.g. prostitution, pornography, drug taking, gambling etc. Being “nice” and having a strong moral character are becoming less and less encouraged as personal qualities. The phrase “Nice guys finish last” is used more frequently and has become more acceptable for promoting ruthlessness and risk taking. How often does that phrase come from the lips of narcissistic people?

Single-mindedness, wealth, status, influence, and sexual prowess are the qualities that dominate the mass media today. Excessive narcissistic traits are regularly glorified in nearly all the national and international newspapers with stories of celebrities breaking the law or their marriage vows.



  • My soon-to-be-ex husband is from identical twins. I am his 5th wife…. His identical twin brother was married just once. Looks like their father was a narcissist. The mother looks like to me was the victim. They had 6 children all together and I think it’s was the reason why she never left her husband. My husband was never diagnosed with NPD but he has all the traits of that personality disorder. As I found out now it’s not uncommon that the wife and the family members are the first to notice it as for the rest of the wold my husband is the most charming man.
    However in your article you said that twins are shearing all the disorders. But in the case of my husband it’s clearly not the case. Both twins gouw up in the same family. All the children’s hated just one sister. I think she was the “golden child”. Non of the children (well, they all now in their 60s) never talked about their father (I was married to my husband and knew the family for 14 years ) . But everyone was talking about their mother and everyone said that their parents didn’t love them but only one child… Of course it’s the sister everyone hated. My husband destroyed life of his identical twin without any empathy. He was grooming my children, thanks God without any luck. But I think he was more successful in grooming his ex stepdaughter when she was only 14. No one has ever reported it and he just always gets away with everything.
    Can you explain how this could happened?

    • They lie, lie, lie, lie. If you get to talk to one film it, so you can compare what they say later, and I meen like in 2 minutes. Very persuasive they can be, but black is black. Not to them they will fight White is black until you give in!

  • lol armchair diagnosis. always so accurate. read up a bit more on objective sources and maybe get a phd or psyd before trying to diagnose anyone, Taina.

    • What are you laughing at? and why are you skulking here? There isn’t anyone more supremely experienced in NPD than the person living with a NARC. Most PHD’s are clueless with these personality disorders. Even researching counselors that specialize won’t even grasp the charming deceptive nature of these “humans”. It is a disease that unless you have walked in a victims shoes, you have no right in assuming an “armchair” diagnosis. Perhaps Luciel, you lean towards these tendencies. My armchair diagnosis for you shows an uncomfortable nature to your defense. Again? Why are you here? You are obviously googling “something” and happened on to this.

    • Nobody has to be a PHD, MD, COP or any other certified white coat practioner. to know when something is wrong with someone you live with everyday!! Taina, KUDO’s to you for being proactive and aware of abnormal behaviors. This condition often goes unmentioned and many have had to suffer severe emotional and mental consequences of this (evil, maladaptive) disorder. My ex was a Narcissistic and passed the test of 5, yes he fooled 5 therapist before he diagnosed. I on the hand, knew after 2 years something was severely wrong. So, this leads me to wonder is the “LOL, armchair diagnosis” comment is from a NARC…………..

  • I thought the article was spot on. My ex boyfriend had a traumatic childhood and over the course of our relationship I realized he was a narcissist. He was extremely abusive and I was very worried when his son moved in with us. I tried to protect his son but in the end it didn’t matter. He was grooming his son to be a narcissist and lesson 1 was teaching him to disrespect me. I left but his son still lives with him.

  • My malignant textbook cerebral covert Narcissist older stepdaughter and her family have an elitist attitude. They are an elitist, snobbish and stuck-up family who have god complexes in their false selves but, inferiority complexes in their authentic, true selves. I have asked my husband about his daughter’s childhood, teenagehood/adolescence hood and early adulthood and he told me that both himself and his ex – girlfriend (the biological mother of his daughter) both raised their daughter up really well. Witnessing both his and his daughter’s behaviours and attitudes towards each other, it has given me the impression that both he and his ex-girlfriend must have put their daughter up on such a high pedestal, they must have made far too much of a fuss of her, pampered her, spoilt her rotten and gave her far too many indulgences, that’s why she has turned out to be so arrogant, haughty and egocentric. She says that she has lots and lots of charisma and charm, but she hasn’t got any of that at all. Instead, she is extremely beguiling. I noticed on Facebook that her older step – sister and my stepdaughter’s female best friend all have love, affection and attention for each other and for their family members and for their friends on their Facebook friends list. When my stepdaughter and her boyfriend at the time (her ex – boyfriend now) were living together with each other, she was extremely hostile to him – he was one of her narcissistic supply. Both me and him were treated like we were outsiders of these Narcissistic elitist families. So we were both ostracized out of these families and rejected out of these families by just one person alone – my stepdaughter!!. She didn’t make him – her ex – boyfriend or me – her stepmother feel welcome into the family, we were both never welcomed into the family, we were never treated like we were a part of the family, like we were one of the family. We were treated like we were outsiders and outcasts. If someone comes into this family and that person is not blood – related to any member of this family, then this person is treated as narcissistic supply, then ostracized and rejected by this family and also get treated like they are an outsider and an outcast. My stepdaughter’s female best friend is not blood related to my stepdaughter or to any member of my stepdaughter’s family but, she has been welcomed into the family, been treated like she is a part, like she is one of the family, been accepted as a member of the family by this family, but, she’s not even a member of this family!. She is also a Narcissist herself!!. I’m marriage – related to this family but, I’ve been treated like I’m narcissistic supply, never welcomed into the family as a new family member, never been treated like I’m a part, like I’m one of the family, I’ve been treated like I’m an outsider, an outcast. I’ve been ostracized and rejected by this family.

  • It is handy to have labels for shorthand discussions, but we should beware: as humans, we don’t fit into specific slots. We should be careful about assigning a “condition” to someone and then interpreting everything they do as related to that diagnosis. Don’t be quick to judge anyone harshly. Protect yourself but cultivate a soft heart toward humanity, imperfect as we all are.
    For example, what causes NPD? My NPD brother is, I believe, a result of family tragedy. My mother, God bless her, had plenty of tragedy in her life before she even married (honestly, such was common in the recent past; people died young). But when my oldest brother died, she kind of… checked out. I remember her staring out the window, her face collapsed in grief, and wondering why she was mad at me. I was five. My brother was three years old. Our infant coping skills developed as two sides of the same coin. I became the “empath,” always trying to please others, with no personal boundaries as to how others should treat me. He became the narcissist, always seeking approval, always needing attention. My mother adored us and had no intention of subjecting us to her “absent” or “inconsistent” parenting.
    This was no one’s “fault.” It was just the best we could all do as humans reacting to life situations.
    Fortunately, I married the right person, someone who accepted me and helped me grow. I asked for and had God’s help, which cannot be underestimated. Fortunately, I have intelligent children who also have good partners. The dysfunction that I brought into adulthood has certainly had an impact, but it is mitigated by those positive aspects of my life which means that I am a very happy, though still human – with normal human dysfunctions! In this family, we are able to accept our shortcomings and deal with them, for the most part.
    However, my NPD brother, who was given the purse strings to my parents’ estates after our father’s death, became ever more dysfunctional to the extent that the court is now dealing with our inheritance. While the court could possibly find him guilty of multiple felonies, he self-incriminates, not being able to accept that he has done anything wrong.
    It is not bad enough that my children have not had the benefit of my parents’ financial legacies as his did (his daughter studied abroad and his son, at 23, owns a company and never finished college). That is actually less important to me than that his children are taken in by what the court, the bank, and the attorneys all see as blatant lies. What this means is that “the sins of the fathers” will be carried forward into the next generation – my brother’s grandchildren. This is heartbreaking to me. And since it has been going on for 25 years (the estate business) I have pretty much dealt with the anger or the confusion or the guilt (of contributing to brother’s dysfunction and then taking him to court). All I have left is determination to see it through and faith that God will turn it all to the positive, that He will forge the path into the future for GOOD and not leave us floundering in the surge of the tragedies from long ago. He will calm these waters.
    I started writing this response to the above article because I wanted to emphasize that even people with NPD don’t necessarily ALWAYS fit the profile. And when the NPD finds fault with his victim(s), he is not entirely in error because ALL of us are on some sort of spectrum, ranging from functional to helpless. Yes, I am much improved in my boundaries and people pleasing aspects, but there will always be faults in me. That is how we are made. It is our faults, as well as our virtues, that make us human. And as imperfect as we are, we are daily grateful to be beloved by God.

    • Abby – thanks for your balanced and empathetic reply. Your take on this is spot on. Labels can be helpful to some and disastrous to others – depending on the level of experience and maturity. Humans are indeed imperfect. Acceptance and forgiveness is an excellent starting point when you figure out there’s a person with signs of NPD in your life. It’s definitely one of the more unaccepted disorders someone can suffer from. So maybe helping to erase that dark stigma attached to it is of extreme benefit to begin with.

    • I’m only 3 yrs late here, but… Abby! That is a really good comment and i find it informative, encouraging, even inspiring. I hope you are writing more like this elsewhere, bc so many of us need more of it no matter who we are. Thank you.

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