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Is Narcissism Genetic?

When you grow up with a narcissistic parent, your upbringing is far from normal. You probably didn't have a happy childhood, and learned to cope as best as you could. This can lead to different coping skills in different people, and most of them aren't good for your mental health as an adult.

If you have grown up with a narcissistic parent, you may be asking yourself if you are at risk to become a narcissist as well. However, just the fact that you are reflecting about this is a positive sign. It shows that you are open to being the kind of person who is caring and compassionate towards others. In short, if you are worried about becoming a narcissist, you probably know that this isn't what you want for your life or your relationships.

What the Science Says

Since narcissists often don't realize that they have a problem, they will often not present for treatment in a therapeutic setting. This can make research on narcissism somewhat different. However, there have been some studies done on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, to determine if it is passed down in families.

According to Charlie Health,

Several studies from across the world have demonstrated that narcissism is, at least partly, genetic. According to a couple of studies, the risk of inheriting narcissism is over 50% in some cases.

This may seem deeply troubling if you have grown up with a narcissistic parent in your household. It can be a deep fear for many of us who have grown up this way that we will grow up to be like our parents. We realize the deep scars that a narcissist can leave on the psyche of those around them, and this isn't something we want to pass on.

Take heart, though. According to Duke Health:

No, there is no gene for NPD, and people are not born with it. Like other mental health conditions, environment is a major factor. Children who are encouraged to believe they are extraordinary and always deserve the best -- sometimes at the expense of others -- could later develop NPD. In these children, traits like confidence are rewarded, while qualities like empathy are not.

This research tells us that children who grow up to be narcissists, due to factors like a lack of empathy, are conditioned to have these beliefs in childhood. Environmental factors can explain why some children of narcissists grow up to be narcissists themselves, while others don't.

Some children seek to emulate their parents in order to please them. However, in the case of a child who has been hurt or shunned by a narcissistic parent, they are likely to want to be vastly different than their parents.

Psychology Today also tells us:

Here’s a lay description of how it works: The narcissist does not truly trust others in close relationships. Because the narcissist does not trust others, he (Note: you could just as easily change the pronoun to she) refuses to put himself in a position where he feels vulnerable. Despite the outward appearance of grandiosity and superiority, the narcissist actually lives in a state of anxiety and hypervigilance.

The takeaway here is that narcissists become so in order to avoid closeness with others. They don't feel save in being vulnerable, so they seek to be dominating instead.

How do I know if I'm a Narcissist?

If you have recently found out that one of your parents is a narcissist, and you are worried that you may be as well, it is best to seek help from a professional, as only a mental health professional can truly diagnose Narcissistic Personality Disorder. However, there are many signs that can point to this being the case.

According to The Mayo Clinic, here are some signs that someone may be a narcissist:

  • Have an unreasonably high sense of self-importance and require constant, excessive admiration.

  • Feel that they deserve privileges and special treatment.

  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements.

  • Make achievements and talents seem bigger than they are.

  • Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.

  • Believe they are superior to others and can only spend time with or be understood by equally special people.

  • Be critical of and look down on people they feel are not important.

  • Expect special favors and expect other people to do what they want without questioning them.

  • Take advantage of others to get what they want.

  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.

  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them.

  • Behave in an arrogant way, brag a lot and come across as conceited.

  • Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office.

One of the major signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a lack of empathy for others. This means, not recognizing the feelings or needs of others, or lacking the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Since empathy is a skill that is learned, even if you do find yourself having narcissistic personality traits, there is hope to recover.

You can find help from a professional, no matter what the situation that you are dealing with. A true desire to change and become a better person is a powerful motivating force for everyone. This is true regardless of what diagnosis you may have.

Does the Golden Child grow up to be a Narcissist?

If your parents were narcissists, they likely assigned roles to the children in the family. Typically, there will be one child who is the Golden Child, who can do no wrong. This is the child that the narcissist identifies with most closely. Because of this close proximity and the way they are treated, the Golden Child can be at risk to become a narcissist as well.

According to Thriveworks,

A golden child can become a narcissist. Because golden children are told that they must be good at everything and feel pressured to live up to unreasonable expectations, they are sometimes unable to develop their own sense of self. This can cause low self-esteem, which lays the foundation for becoming a narcissist. 

This can happen due to the Golden Child's proximity to the narcissistic parent, and the pressure that is put on them to excel in every way in order to earn love. A Golden Child can have excessive perfectionistic traits, and feel like they have to be perfect in every way at all times.

Since oftentimes it is the Scapegoat child who is seeking therapy because of a narcissistic parent, you may be wondering if your Golden Child sibling is a narcissist as well. Though this may be the case, it isn't always true. A Golden Child also suffers at the hands of the narcissist, although this isn't always as obvious as the suffering of the Scapegoat child.

Unique Family Dynamics

Although there are many commonalities that all of us experience when we grow up with a narcissistic parent, there are differences in each family as well. This can depend on how many children are in the family, if one or both parents is a narcissist, and if there is any outside intervention for the children at a young age.

If a child is able to find another positive adult role model, such as a teacher, other family member, or mentor, then this can serve as a protective factor, and help the child to grow up in a healthier way. However, this isn't always possible.

Narcissists can do a good job hiding their true nature from outsiders. They may seem charismatic, and like good and likable people. This can prevent children from receiving outside help. So, for many of us, we don't begin the path toward healing until adulthood.

Because of the varied nature of family structure, and the way that siblings may be pitted against each other by a narcissistic parent, each child truly has a unique experience. It is these experiential factors that will determine whether a child will grow up to be a narcissist themselves in adulthood.

As I mentioned earlier, the best way to begin to heal the scars from your childhood is to work with a therapist, or to find a support group with others who have grown up with narcissistic parents.

It is possible to heal from the abuse that you have endured at the hands of your narcissistic parents. Your history doesn't have to be your future. Now that you have realized that your parent is a narcissist, you have the power to make a change in your life, and to have fulfilling relationships.


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