The causes of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are faulty upbringing, genetic tendency, and different brain structure. Faced with extremes of parental reaction – too much or too little control, lack of empathy, and overvaluation – children may turn pathologically narcissistic and insensitive to others. NPD can even be inherited. Some NPD patients also have a different structure in the area of the brain that controls emotions and social behavior.
Some critics consider April Wheeler, played by Kate Winslet, in the movie Revolutionary Road a classic example of a narcissist with grandiose delusions. In fact, her untiring love for herself, need for admiration, and lack of empathy – all of which drive her to suicide – do point to what psychiatrists call narcissistic personality disorder or NPD. April had an unhappy childhood. Is that the only cause or one of the many causes of narcissistic personality disorder?
What causes narcissistic personality disorder is a question that has baffled mental health experts for quite long. Hypotheses exist but nothing points conclusively to one definite cause. Some studies say it could be genetic, while others point to a strong environmental/parenting angle. In some individuals, it could well be a mix of both.
1. Faulty Parenting
Many psychologists, including Sigmund Freud, believe narcissism to stem from environmental influences, chiefly parental influence. Freud’s theory suggests that we are not born with ego; our sense of self develops somewhere during infancy and early childhood. This is called primary narcissism and is part of our healthy mental development as a baby.
As we grow, we invest our sexual energy on objects outside ourselves. But when our objects of love (parents) do not return love, we turn this love onto ourselves. This leads to the development of secondary narcissism or narcissism as a mental condition.
Too Much Or Too Little Parental Control
Many mental health experts and researchers after Freud developed on this idea and came up with a strong parental angle in the development of narcissism. Karen Horney, for example, agreed with Freud on the development of secondary narcissism as a result of lack of love from caregivers. She suggested that narcissism is seen in overly authoritative or overly permissive parenting styles. This is because if parents do not love their children for their real selves, children create inflated images of themselves to draw admiration or attention.
Lack Of Parental Empathy
Psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut held that narcissistic psychopathology is a lack of parental empathy during childhood.
Too Much Expectation
Kohut’s contemporary and researcher Otto F. Kernberg also endorsed this theory of parental neglect as the cause. He believed that in their childhood, narcissistic personalities were never valued for themselves; they were valued only when they met their parents’ expectations.