Where Does Narcissism Come From?
By: Nancy
September 23, 2014

Let me begin today by saying that I am not a fan of labels at all.  I think that labels are for people who need to group people together for their own purposes, like insurance companies,hands-in-the-air for example.  They might help someone perform a web search.  It can sometimes help someone realize that there are other people out there with similar characteristics…but mostly, labels are counter-intuitive to any kind of productive work or healing, and can even have the opposite, or wounding, effect.  I’m just not a fan.

Nevertheless, for the purposes of our topic today, we will talk about the characteristics of what the world and ancient Greek mythology have termed Narcissism.  I was asked this question earlier this week…How do folks develop characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?  Since those who exhibit characteristics of NPD and their significant others are a population that I am passionate about working with, let’s start by talking about what those characteristics look like.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR), these are the defining characteristics:

  • Grandiosity
  • Need for Admiration
  • Lack of Empathy
  • Fantasies of Success
  • Will only associate with high-status people or institutions
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally exploitative
  • Envious of others or believes others are envious of him/her
  • Arrogant or haughty behaviors or attitudes  (p. 717).

Do you know someone who exhibits many or all of these characteristics?  Do you ever wonder how they got that way?

There is a general consensus in the research and professional literature that NPD begins development in early childhood under conditions of too much neglect or criticism, or too much idealization.  Parenting that communicates the messages of “you will never be good enough and/or you are not worth my time”, or “you are the most special person ever” can lead to the coping mechanisms of grandiosity, excessive entitlement, etc.  Both messages are out of balance and produce an over-abundance of anxiety in children.  These kids carry this anxiety into adulthood.  The mask of narcissism is the strategy implemented to deal with this intense and almost crippling anxiety and underlying extremely low self-esteem.

Most folks find interacting/living with someone exhibiting these characteristics to be less than palatable.  Once there is recognition, however, that these are coping mechanisms for deep psychological wounds, a sense of compassion can begin to grow that can facilitate healing.  A therapist capable of building trust and giving grace where others find it difficult to do so can facilitate changes both in interpersonal relationships and within the anxiety-filled heart of those struggling with these kinds of wounds.


NPD can present in varying levels of severity, but even those at the mildest level usually have significant problems in long-term intimate relationships and work interactions.  The treatment for NPD is not short-term.  A great deal of trust must be developed between the client and the therapist to facilitate healing, and this trust-building takes time.  With a skilled therapist, however, a great deal of improvement can be accomplished.

If you know someone who exhibits these characteristics, give me a call at 317-218-3038 or email me at [email protected].  I thoroughly enjoy the process of working with these individuals and their significant others, and I have several articles and websites that I can refer you to for help as well.  Let’s get started!

Thanks for dropping by and reading my work!


American Psychiatric Association, (2000).  Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: Fourth edition, text revision.  American Psychiatric Association: Washington D.C.

Healing Hearts provides counseling services to the surrounding communities of Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, and Geist. Call or text today to set up your appointment. 317-218-3038

© 2014 Nancy Eisenman, MSW