They “rise above” their felt sense of a shame-based self and become psychopathic and create a false self (Lowen:2004). Most authors identify a weak or passive same-sex parent as being part of the dynamic that supports the creation of a narcissistic child.
Sigmund Freud in his pioneering work, titled “On Narcissism”, identified that we all pass through a primary development stage of narcissism where we as infants believe we are the center of the universe. However, this is given up when the child realizes that they do not control the parents but is entirely dependent on them.
Freud believed that narcissists did not reinvest their emotions back to the parents, but instead redirected them back to themselves thus starting the process of a self-absorbed, grandiose, self-entitled person. The psychoanalyst, Heinz Kohut, argues that the deficiency of being appropriately “mirrored and modeled” by the parents creates a child stuck in their grandiose narcissistic developmental stage, and yet still requiring constant self-approval by others for their self-esteem, all of which is central to an adult narcissist.
His peer, Otto Kernberg, cites evidence that narcissists often arise from the dynamic of a cold, unempathetic, self-absorbed parent, often the mother, who may be narcissistic themselves. Emotionally starved and angry at the depriving parent, the child withdraws and lives from that part of the self that the parents value, be it looks, intellect, athleticism, or a skill or talent.
The child then develops from a split self, where the perceived defective parts are suppressed and hidden, while an overdeveloped and false grandiose presenting self is built to face the world. There is no clear-cut agreement on the causes but all agree the trend is that narcissism is a growing and disturbing problem in society which is misunderstood and often untreated.
An early researcher in the field of narcissism, Hervey Checkley (1976) well describes a general outline of this form of psychopathic personality. “Despite being intelligent and having a superficial charm, they made poor life judgments and didn’t learn much from their personal experiences causing them to repeat dysfunctional or unfruitful behaviors.
They lacked insight concerning themselves and the impact of their behavior on others, but this seemed not to concern them at all. They did not understand and cared little about the feelings of others, lacking remorse and shame for the harm they did others. They were consummate liars, unreliable, insincere, although often appearing to be very sincere to those with little experience interacting with them”.
He also noted “They failed to have significant or lasting intimate relationships, and even their sexual relationships were superficial and impersonal. They appear to be unable to feel intensely any of the emotions that others experience, except primitive or proto-emotions such as anger, frustration, and rage.
On the surface, they appear normal, sane, and in control, and do not exhibit anxiety or neurotic traits, or show delusional thinking when it exists. They present with a technical appearance of sanity, often one of the high intellectual capacities, appears likable, and not infrequently succeeds in business or professional activities”.