“You have your mother’s nose, and your father’s narcissism!”
For better or worse, through genes or through environment, parents pass along many things to their children. And one of those might be narcissistic traits, as highlighted in a new paper titled The Apple of Daddy’s Eye: Parental Overvaluation Links Narcissistic Traits of Father and Child.
In the study, a team of researchers explored whether parents’ levels of narcissism resembled those of their 9-to-11-year-old children – and if so, what aspects of parenting might explain the correlation.
They discovered that the answer to the first question seemed to be a clear yes: when parents score higher on narcissism, their children tend to as well.
As for the second question, how parenting behaviors might factor into the narcissistic equation, that’s where things get a little murkier.
The researchers found some evidence that mothers’ and fathers’ parenting behaviors influence children’s levels of narcissism in different ways.
In the case of fathers, the link between parental narcissism and children’s narcissism was partly accounted for by parental overvaluation – a tendency to lavish children with unrealistic praise and a sense of superiority.
The same did not appear to be true for mothers. In fact, none of the variables the researchers examined accounted for the link between mothers’ and children’s levels of narcissism. Incidentally, though, the researchers did find that mothers with warm and positive parenting styles tended to have children with higher self-esteem.
That goes to show how narcissism and self-esteem are distinct traits, even if people sometimes have trouble distinguishing the two in strangers. By the same token, there seems to be a difference between encouraging children to have a healthy sense of valuing themselves, and laying on the praise a little too thick.
Other studies have previously suggested a link between narcissism and parental overvaluation, along with childhood experiences like feeling invalidated by one’s parents and having highly controlling parents. While the latest study leaves open questions about the exact mechanism by which narcissism is transferred from parents to children, it does suggest that highly narcissistic parents are more likely to have similarly entitled and self-centered offspring.
Image: Flickr/Samantha Steele