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Therapists explain common causes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

by Sarah Graham
Thursday 22 January 2015
2572 130

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a type of personality disorder characterised by grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. If you are affected by NPD, you may think, feel and behave in ways that cause problems in your personal relationships, including aggression, deceit, and an exaggerated sense of self importance.

As Registered Psychotherapist Aubyn de Lisle explains, "someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder will have to maintain their sense of grandiose validation, respect and self worth at all costs and everyone around the narcissist will serve to reflect their self worth back at them. Anyone who fails to make the narcissist feel good about themselves will trigger destructive rage and ultimately be discarded." 

We asked four RSCPP therapists to explain some of the common causes of developing Narcissistic Personality Disorder.


Social influences during childhood

There doesn't seem to be one defining cause for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, however social influences in early childhood seem to contribute to this disorder. An overly indulged attachment, or a disinterested and/or abusive parental attachment may contribute to this. People with NPD carry a sense of entitlement and grandiosity towards others; these are behaviours which are influenced by early parental relationships and other social influences.


Isolation and rejection during childhood

Some individuals grow up in environments where they feel isolated or rejected, where love is conditional and only given if they achieve something special. If this was your experience, you may find that you have quite a low opinion of yourself, a fragile sense of who you are and what you are worth. As this causes you a great deal of pain, you may cover for this low opinion by "bigging yourself up" to other people around you, telling others how good you are at things and how special you are. You may also sometimes compensate for your low self worth by putting down others around you, making yourself feel better by comparison. If you have low self worth and tend to cope with it in this manner, you may often find it difficult to reflect on and acknowledge the negatives about yourself. You may therefore try to keep yourself as busy as possible when alone, and try to over compensate for your negative views of yourself by bragging or putting others down when you are with other people. 


Neglect or abuse 

Narcissism commonly arises from a substantial experience of neglect, deprivation, abuse or active hostility at an early stage of life. In essence, the disregard felt from the supposed caregiver is so unbearable that you, as a growing child, were faced with a terrible dilemma; either you accept that the caregiver is bad and reject them, or you accept what you are 'told', and therefore conclude that you yourself must be bad. The narcissist takes the second choice, and hatred rather than love becomes the ruling emotion. This is so painful that you may defensively react against it, leading to the grandiosity and omnipotence which we so commonly associate with this most painful condition. Much of its pain comes from isolation, which is self-imposed because close relationships will feel very threatening - both because if someone gets close they may glimpse the 'truth' of your inner badness, but also because your need to feel superior does not allow you, the narcissist, to risk appreciating the qualities of others. Paradoxically, narcissists can be very seductive; flattery and charm attract admirers, whose attentions help to keep your fear of the bad person you believe that you really are from breaking through.


Parenting that is either too critical or too indulgent

Children raised in balanced, loving environments learn fairly early on that, although their needs are paramount and will be met, at times their needs will not be immediately met. This is an essential piece of learning, as the child who learns this, and learns to have confidence that their needs will be met, learns to self-soothe in order to manage their needs. If the environment you grew up in was too indulgent, you may not have learnt that others have needs that might sometimes take priority. You may well continue to believe that you are special and should always be the centre of all attention. If the environment was too critical, you may have learnt that you are not good enough and will need to do things to bolster your self-image. Both of these are characteristics of NPD. This is one factor of many that can combine and lead to the development of the disorder.
Chartered Psychologist Dr. Lori Bisbey

Finding support

You can find out more about symptoms and causes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, including how to find a therapist. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

Find a Therapist working with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

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Updated 22 January 2015