It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Narcissists--where do they come from?

In the Nature v Nurture debate, we sometimes find ourselves wondering about narcissism. Some of us can clearly look back up the family tree and see abusive, narcissistic ancestors, people who abused their kids, giving them that “narcissistic injury” that trapped the child emotionally in the pre-logic years, creating a narcissist. But some of us cast an eye over the family gene pool and realize that our grandparents were loving people, good parents, wonderful examples that, for some odd reason, our narcissistic parent(s) did not emulate. How does that happen?

For each biologically inheritable trait you possess, there are two genes. You get one gene from your mother and one from your father.

There are dominant genes and there are recessive genes. Brown eyes are dominant over blue, for example, but a brown eyed person who had an ancestor with blue eyes may carry the blue-eyed gene, even though s/he has brown eyes and so do his parents and grandparents. That blue-eyed gene is recessive and it is the brown eyed gene that is being “expressed.”

But if this brown eyed person has a child with another brown eyed person who also has a recessive blue eyed gene, there is a 25% chance that they will produce a blue-eyed child.

Diabetes works much the same way: the gene for diabetes is recessive but if two people who have the recessive gene have a child together, there is a 25% chance that the child will be diabetic. Now, there are environment factors that come into play with diabetes: some people will be diabetic from childhood…Type 1 diabetes is where the pancreas ceases to function, which is typical of juvenile diabetes. Type 2 occurs when the body becomes resistant to the insulin the body produces. This resistance is usually attributed to obesity, improper diet, and even age. What is left out of most of the articles on this subject, however, is that obesity, improper diet and age are not, in themselves, sufficient to bring about the onset of diabetes. For that to happen, you have to have inherited that gene.

This explains why you may know people who seem to be a normal weight to you and they are diabetic and you also know someone who is morbidly obese and is not. It has to do with the genes. If you have the diabetic gene and you eat poorly, exercise little, and become overweight, given enough time you will develop diabetes. If you don’t have the diabetic gene, then no matter what happens to you, you won’t get it (unless something awful happens to your pancreas, like cancer or disease).

I think narcissism works much the same way. We know it runs in families…we also know that people from normal families develop it, much to the confusion and dismay of their families. My mother’s dysfunction was a cause of concern and confusion for her own family, and in later years, my father and step-mother as well. Her parents were normal, loving, compassionate, civic-minded people who, while acceding to the values of their society (gender equality did not exist in the 1930s and 40s for example), did not abuse their children. My stepmother, having met my maternal grandparents on numerous occasions, did not find them to be unusual in any way, my uncles report a normal upbringing in which my mother was spoilt by their father as the only girl, and my mother’s aunt reports that my mother was always, in her words, “difficult.” A picture of my mother, put together from my own experiences plus the reports of other who knew her in her early years, emerges of an entitled, headstrong, spiteful and wayward child who grew into a woman who retained all those qualities and more.

If neither of her parents were narcissistic nor were they abusive, where did my NM come from? I don’t know much about my great-grandparents, but I do know that my grandfather’s mother was notoriously difficult. She and my Nana didn’t get along, partly because GGM was bossy, tried to infantilize my grandfather, and refused to learn to speak English. GGM therefore had an excuse to carry on extensive conversations with other family members, leaving my Nana out because she didn’t speak German or Russian. When she came to visit, she tried to boss Nana around in her own kitchen, using her few English words to make it very clear to Nana that everything she was doing was wrong, pushing Nana out of the way to demonstrate the “right way” to do something, and generally pretending Nana didn’t exist or, at best, was a scullery maid at her beck and call. It’s not too big a stretch to think that GGM might have contributed a recessive gene for narcissism to my grandfather. On Nana’s side, her sister—the aunt who identified NM as being “difficult”—was a bit of a difficult one herself. Married multiple times in a society that frowned severely on divorce, and so focussed on having a daughter that she gave her three sons androgynous names and, once that daughter arrived, pretty much leaving the boys on their own so that she could focus exclusively on the girl, Auntie was known as the family “eccentric.” She so enmeshed that daughter that the child had a panic attack when it was time to separate from mama and go to school (she was kept out of school for a year due to it), and the daughter did not successfully go out on her own until after Auntie passed away. But Auntie was charismatic, with flaming red hair and grand gestures and a big voice—always the centre of attention and able to turn any conversation to herself, but in a way that made people love her—in small doses.

And so if Nana’s sister was an N—and Auntie had all the hallmarks of it—then obviously her own genetic heritage harboured the gene. And if Nana inherited one copy of the gene from her parents and Grandpa inherited one copy of the gene from his mother, and if their second child got two copies of the gene…one from Nana and one from Grandpa…then my mother would have born with two copies of the gene, which would activate it. And if my uncles got no copies of the gene…or even they only got one copy each, that would explain why they were so normal and their sister was so very, very different from them.

This, of course, is merely speculation. There is no proof that a gene for narcissism exists but if it does, this is how it can be passed down the generations and how a seemingly normal, perfectly functional family can produce a narcissist without any narcissistic injury occurring to the child. Nurture certainly has its part—I have to wonder how different my mother might have been if her father had not spoilt and indulged her as a child, reinforcing her notion of entitlement, and if she had been held accountable the same way her brothers were. But, knowing that my mother dismissed her coddling as her due and was furiously jealous of the freedom her brothers were allowed, it probably would have made little difference. Rather than take into account the social restrictions of girls in that time, my mother chose to perceive her parents as “favouring” the boys over her, and herself abused as a result.

There is a danger, if you believe narcissism is transmitted genetically, to back off and think “oh, the poor thing can’t help it!” That would not be true. Just as the Type 2 diabetic can eat right, exercise, and keep their weight down, the narcissist has control over the expression of the gene. Biology is not destiny, and narcissists fully comprehend what their society expects of them in terms of behaviour and are fully capable of displaying those behaviours, as they often do when it is to their advantage. Narcissists have no less choice than non-narcissists when it comes to behaviours: just as the diabetic can choose to eat chocolate or an apple, the narcissist can choose between lying and telling the truth. The difference is no more than a matter of desire: some diabetics choose to eat the chocolate even though they know they are not supposed to because they want the reward, the taste, the feeling chocolate gives them…and narcissists are no different.

Neither of my maternal grandparents were diabetic, but Nana’s father was…and so was one of her children. Neither my father nor my mother were diabetic, but I am. It is clear that the gene can be carried to the descendants of the diabetics by non-diabetics. I know that families headed by fair, loving, compassionate parents can produce a malicious, vindictive, selfish narcissist because I have seen it in my own family. And knowing how the gene for diabetes can “skip” a generation or two, it would stand to reason that if someday a gene for narcissism is discovered, it is transmitted in much the same way, so that parents who do not express the gene but carry it, may pass it down to their children.

It bears thinking about.


  1. It does bear thinking about - thanks for the post! My family has so many gene-carried auto-immune disorders that I'm trying to sort out, so this is food for thought. I have to admit that when I started reading this, my mind went to, "So it isn't their fault?" with much dismay.... So I'm glad you explained all of that at the end - not ready to let N's off the hook for their outrageous behavior!

    1. Nope--not letting them off the hook. Explaining and excusing are two different things.

      Our society expects us to restrain many of our urges and it is the job of the parent to help kids learn first of all, what behaviours need restraint and, secondly, what the society expect of us. Narcissists learn this--they are capable of restraining their urges when they believe it is to their advantage to do so. But when they see no clear (and usually short-term) advantage to restrain themselves, they don't. Because they simply don't want to. The phrase "what's in it for me?" is their anthem.

      They are entirely responsible for their behaviour.

  2. Interesting that you say your mother was spoiled by her father. I've been reading a lot on covert incest and it sounds like a possiblity in this case. Take a look at "Silent Seduction" by Kenneth M. Adams.

    1. I doubt that was the case: my grandfather had 3 granddaughters and if he was inclined towards covert incest, certainly one of us would have been a target.

      The instance of men who have incestual relationships, covert or otherwise, are miniscule in comparison to the general population of father-daughter pairs. Mostly, they love their daughters and, when the child is particularly winsome and even manipulative, being human, their daddies succumb. Who doesn't like to be the cause of lighting up a little child's face with delight?

      As Freud said "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." And I would say that most times, a father who spoils his little girl just loves her and loves to see her happy.

  3. So ironic. My MIL came from a seemingly normal family, although I suspect her father may have been narcissist, but I don't know enough about him to be sure. My MIL was the youngest, and the only girl of four children. I've met the uncles, and I like them. I don't have issues with them, but MIL has issues with them! Boy does she. Never a nice word about them and how her brothers were all out to screw her! Even my husband believes that, although he has an okay relationship with them. I just think he's listened to her poison for years about them and he really doesn't have the truth. :( I suspect she's the narc, and they (her brothers) dislike her. They don't really have much of a relationship with her, but knowing what I do now about her and NPD, I suspect something similar with her as what happened with your mother.

  4. I've found it's hard to get family to talk about other generations. I finally discovered my mother was a covert N most likely. In the past, a couple of my aunts would tell stories about my mother's unwillingness to help them when she was a teenager and how put upon she'd act if you needed help.

    I finally pressed one aunt about their mother, wondering where my mother's narcissism came from. They all seemed to worship their father, though they admitted when he lost his temper they'd run for the hills.

    This aunt finally told me some things about her mother. That she was aloof and quite vain and often hated doing things for people and that she was a perfectionist. There were 7 kids. I'd hate it, too, but that's the problem. People dismiss traits as a sign of the times or in this case, too many kids. And it makes it hard to trace traits. No one wants to admit there's dysfunction that flows through the generations

  5. Both mil & FIL are malignant narcissists. They both grew up dirt poor, children of alcoholics and with a lot of shame.

    They became very materialistic and are still very much the social climbers!

    They decided to have one child only (my husband) so as to limit their expenses.

    They are both self-absorbed, depraved, attention-seeking and very toxic. They had no interest in raising an independent son. Instead they are very controlling and manipulative. Their Image is all that matters.

  6. What the hell happens in this world? I don't know what wrong with this society?

    1. Narcissists are as old as humanity and as commonplace as grass. What is different is our recognition of them. Fifty years ago, child abuse--including child sexual abuse--was swept under the rug and the perpetrators, by and large, got away with it. This lead to a perception of a society in which such things didn't happen because nobody knew about it.

      Today things are more open...not only is the revelation of child abuse more commonplace, but the behaviours that were once swept under the carpet or held in check by social expectations are more open as well. Today people feel justified in being rude to each other and selfish...fifty years ago, that would cause raised eyebrows all around and, if the behaviour was habitual, social ostricizing. Now, for a large number of people, it is "cool" to be bad and uncool--stupid, even--to be conscientious, thoughful, and kind. And selfishness, which used to be trained out of us by our parents and the society at large, is considered an entitlement. This last is reflected in our voting: people vote for selfish candidates because this justifies their own selfishness. People who want to do good for the country and even the world don't make it very far in the polls because the electorate fears having things taken away from them by the liberals who have been mischaracterized by the conservatives as people who steal money (taxes) from the people who earned it, and then give it away to lazy, drug using, immoral people who just have more and more babies in order to get more and more tax money. Fearful of losing what they have these rapacious baby machines and their liberal guardians, the ignorant and politically naive vote for selfishess every tme.

      And THAT shapes our society because it puts the selfish and conscienceless in control of the government, and the politicians and their supporters, like actors and corporate heads, are the society's role models.

  7. Dear SweetViolet, 50 years ago one could indulge their narcissism by participation in various racist organizations and actions. While political correctness these days is a blessing, the evil doers of today don't wear stupid bed sheets to meetings. They do in evil behind closed doors, upon their families. Where narcs come from? Who knows, or cares. But where they are eternally heading - and fixing to drag as many people as they can,.. Wouldn't be surprised if the very devils tremble at the knowledge that they will be burning alongside with narcs. As if brimstone isn't horrible enough.

  8. Humanity is doomed. And selfishness, and mentally sick will rule the world, cause they think money will save them.

  9. Thank you for your blog post. Sadly it runs in the family. Our family is full or narcissists and psychopaths. My spouse and I were the "black sheep" of our family. We raised our children with love, never any abuse. We have one normal grown child and one with malignant NPD. The one with NPD did not exhibit this behavior until adulthood and it gets worse every year. We once were excited at the prospect of grandchildren by her, but now hope she never has kids. She has Munchauser's by proxy towards her pets and we fear what she could do to any children born to her.


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