Are You Raising a Narcissist?

 Are You Raising a Narcissist?I was in a Starbucks in an affluent community on the South Shore of MA, taking some time between appointments to write, when I witnessed a scene that got my attention (!).  I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  This is how the breakdown in society begins, in such small ways.

Three early-30-something couples came in with three kids under the age of 3, two girls and a boy.  The women sat to chat while the men went off to order coffee.  The little kids, being toddlers, set off to tear the place up, knocking cups off of display cases and throwing fresh unsold newspapers all over the floor.  The boy screamed constantly, running his toy truck through customers’ legs and annoying the heck out of everyone in a room that magnified sound like an empty aircraft hanger.

The parents completely ignored the chaos their kids were creating.  At one point, when the little boy climbed up on a chair to knock bags of coffee beans off of shelves, his mother actually turned and cheered his “bravery for climbing so high”.  In so doing, she actually affirmed his destroying someone else’s property.  What was she thinking?

The rudeness of these people was mesmerizing.  Other customers looked on in the same fog of confusion as I was lost within, all of us struggling to understand why grown ups would tolerate the rude and noisy public behavior of their children.  The kids screamed so loud for the half hour the families dominated the space that my ears actually hurt.  No one from the store stepped in to stop the disorder so everyone present was doomed to wait or to leave.  I like to think that this kind of event is unusual and took the employees by surprise.

But I’ve seen some other outrageous behaviors like this go unchecked by distracted parents recently and I’m sending up an alarm.

Children are growing humans.  They are trying to figure out how to work their bodies to get their way.  Little kids, from the time they start walking until they turn 5ish, are wild little animals who need alot of our time and patience as we attempt to civilize them into our society’s mores.  The adults around them have to teach them the manners that will serve them socially for the rest of their lives.  Little kids can’t help being the way they are.  They can’t stop themselves gracefully.    Once they get revved up, they usually stop only when something scary happens – when they make someone cry or when they get overwhelmed and cry or when they knock bags of coffee all over the floor of a Starbucks.  It doesn’t feel good to them to be so out of control, which is why they rev up and spin out.  They need help regulating their reaction to stimulation (their nerves are not so myelinated yet), craving the parental attention to help calm down inside.  Instead, it seems there are more and more distracted parents who aren’t available to offer the day to day steady feedback that little kids need.  The results aren’t pretty.

This kind of parenting grooms future narcissists.

If you have ever lived with someone with a personality disorder, you know first hand the devastation these people bring to every relationship they enter.  Their focus on themselves and their needs, to the exclusion of the needs of others, is so confusing and hurtful, as is their criticisms.  Contrary to public perception, narcissists do not love themselves – they hate themselves and spend their precious energy propping up a false image so they won’t be “seen” by others as being the worthless person they believe themselves to be.  Narcissists try to secure missing parts of themselves through others and it never works, so they move from relationship to relationship, soaking up others’ identities and burning bridges as they go.  There are many narcissists out there, as many as 1 in 25 people.  Once you become familiar with the profile (the seduction phase, the vampire phase and the need-to-destroy phase), you will recognize people you know.

Narcissists are psychopaths.  Psychopaths are not just the creepy, raving street guys or clever serial killers.  They look like normal people who seem to function OK and are often quite brilliant and charismatic, but yet there is something a little wrong.  Their number one goal is to subsume others in order to survive because they have never developed their own internal source of energy.  They cannot accept responsibility for their behavior, choosing instead to blame others for their own mistakes.  They must always be right and criticize others overtly or covertly.  They must ‘win’ at all costs and compete with those they envy, eventually moving to destroy them.  They are incapable of feeling empathy or real compassion.

They do not know how to self-regulate because they were never taught as kids.  Many were abused as children, many were spoiled rotten…both ends of the spectrum creating the same wound in the child: that the child doesn’t matter.  This is soul-murder and their souls were killed.

It’s a tragic fate that is rarely treatable, so it’s best to stop these patterns before they are taught.

So will the little kids in the Hingham Starbucks end up as narcissists?  We will never know.  But we do know that on that morning, they were rewarded for causing damage and annoyance by parents who used the store as a playground and the customers as playmates and overseers.  Not one of the six parents involved moved to protect their children from criticism or intervened to teach consequences.  I’m sure this is one of the reasons the kids’ noise went from loud to bedlam.  They knew on some level that their parents weren’t really caring about them and their needs.  They were at that Starbucks during naptime because of their parents’ needs, which were so great that the parents could not acknowledge that their kids were out of control.  I kept thinking, “so you couldn’t find a sitter for the hour?”.

Now is a good opportunity to evaluate your own parenting style and philosophy.  Do you let your kids run free to become a public distraction?  Do you make decisions about them that are in their best interests or in your own?  Are you willing to turn off the cell phone and take the ear buds out when you are with your kids so you can put attention on those relationships?  Where attention goes, energy flows.  Your children need you, at every age.  It’s never too late.


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