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Parenting Style and Narcissistic Traits among Emerging Adults

Updated April 29, 2021
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Parenting Style and Narcissistic Traits among Emerging Adults essay

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Introduction

Emerging adult includes individuals falling within the age range of 18-29 years old, typically characterized by the developmental period of young adults with instable self-concept,discovering their identity and their potentials to explore newer experiences (Arnett, 2006). This fragile phase is dominated by a volatile state of mind which requires a secure, understanding and nurturing environment from parents. The present study seeks to explore the influence of parental style on the development of narcissistic traits among emerging adults.

Parenting Style

Parenting is the perception of children about the activities of parents that provide care, support, and love in a way that leads to a child’s total development (Virasiri et al., 2011). The role of parent’s to enhance children potential can be realized through effective parenting style (Azizi & Jaafar, 2006).

Parenting style is developed on the basis of two elements of parenting: parental responsiveness and parental demandingness (Maccoby & Martin,1983). Parental responsiveness is the extent to which parents intentionally foster individuality, self-regulation, and self-assertion by being attuned, supportive, and acquiescent to children’s special needs and demands (Baumrind, 1991). Parental demandingness refers to the claims parents make on children to become integrated into the family whole, by their maturity demands, supervision, disciplinary efforts and willingness to confront the child who disobeys (Baumrind, 1991).

Based on parental responsiveness and demandingness, four parenting styles are conceptualized, which are usually followed by individuals while rearing their children. They are authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and negligent. Authoritative parents offer high priority to child’s needs and demands and provides them autonomy and independency. They are high on acceptance and behavioral control, whereas low on psychological control (Baumrind, 2013; Baumrind et al, 2010). They provide optimum responsiveness as well as exert adequate demandingness over their children. Authoritative parenting is considered to be the optimal parenting style (Baumrind, 1996; Baumrind, 2013; Maccoby & Martin; 1983).

Authoritarian style is expressed by those parents who are high on demandingness but low on responsiveness. They reject their children and are psychologically controlling (Baumrind, 2013; Baumrind et al., 2010). Their children always tend to be dependent on others throughout their life. Permissive parents are too low on being strict to their children and permits the child to do anything according to their will. Their children will be attention seekers. They are high on responsiveness and low on demandingness. Negligent or uninvolved parents are low on control as well as low on responsiveness. They have very less communication with their children and always inattentive to them.

Narcissism

Narcissism is defined as a feature of self-esteem, including overwhelming pride, arrogance and sensitivity to insult (Kazdin, 2002). The three factor model of narcissism consists of leadership or authority, grandiose exhibitionism and entitlement/exploitativeness.Among them leadership /authority is generally an adaptive outcome whereas the other two dimensions are maladaptive.

Narcissists possess beliefs of superiority, entitlement, self- absorption along with exhibitionism.Leadership/Authority refers to self perceived leadership ability,social potency,and to a lesser extent,dominance.Grandiose Exhibitionism is reflected by combination of self –absorption,vanity, superiority,and exhibitionistic tendencies.The third factor consists of entitled beliefs and behaviors related to interpersonal contexts,such as a sense of deserving respect and a willingness to manipulate and take advantage of others.

Theories of Narcissism

Psychodynamic perspective describes Narcissism on the basis of object-relation theory stating that an infant’s interaction with their primary caregivers (objects) are internalized over time as mental constructs and thus affect self-concept and the nature of future relationships. Child interacts with self-objects, or people who are so important that they incorporate them as part of ourselves. This assimilation into self occurs through a process of transmuting internalization, in which the child adopts what are perceived to be the desirable features of the objects. The primary self-object during the first two years of life tends to be the mother.

The mother serves as a mirroring self-object when she emphatically confirms and admires the child’s strength, health, greatness, and specialness. Mother and/or father serve as idealizing self-objects who model perfection, power, strength, calmness, and care. These attachments reflecting presence of empathic and loving relationships help to establish the idealized goals and values pole of the self. Healthy mirroring and idealizing afford development of the ideal personality type, with an autonomous self. Such people are usually characterized by healthy levels of self-esteem and by mutually fulfilling interpersonal relationships.

Exposure to deficient self-objects produces children who possess a non-cohesive, empty, or injured self. Kernberg’s theory on Object-relations stresses that the family environment is fundamental in instigating the development of pathological Narcissism. On the one hand, caretakers are likely to be cold and indifferent, perhaps even sending messages that are implicitly spiteful and aggressive. This damages the self-concept and sets the stage for the development of some pathological means of self-esteem regulation.

Given an inferior or inadequate self-concept, the child is ready to embrace some saving defensive mechanism. The family supplies this by finding in the child some exceptional talent, perhaps the role of family genius, which becomes a refuge from the inferior or inadequate self, thus offsetting parental neglect and rejection. As circumstances rule out an integrated, normal self-identity, a grandiose self becomes attractive, because this is the only self the caretakers are willing to accept.

The construction of this grandiose self is a defensive organization to achieve a more cohesive self. Narcissists tend to fuse the ideal self, ideal object, and self-image, leading to the development of grandiosity and omnipotence. Although such a fusion distorts reality, it nevertheless permits greater continuity of experience and a measure of social adaptation.

In contrast, social learning theory of Narcissism by Millon (1981) sees narcissism developing not as a response to parental devaluation but rather as a consequence of parental overvaluation. The child is treated as a special person, provided with a lot of attention, and led by parents to believe he or she is lovable and perfect. Such unrealistic overvaluation leads to self-illusions that cannot be sustained in the outer world. Benjamin suggests a subtle but “ever-present threat of a fall from grace” (1996, p. 146), an element that perhaps accounts for the emphasis on perfection of the self.

The caretakers admire the child excessively but do not permit mistakes. The child is to be glorious and perfect, and the parents refuse to tolerate any hint of error, for then the child would be glorious and perfect no more. The covert message might be phrased, “You are glorious and perfect, and we love you for it. But don’t screw it up, because if you do, it’s over.”These views are in parallel to Freud’s notion about Narcissism. Freud (1914, p. 48) was aware that pathological narcissism could develop because of parental overvaluation, stating that parents “are impelled to ascribe to the child all manner of perfections which sober observation would not confirm, to gloss over and forget all his shortcomings” and even “the laws of nature, like those of society, are to be abrogated in his favor”.

Horney (1939) remarked, “Parents who transfer their own ambitions to the child and regard the boy as an embryonic genius or the girl as a princess, thereby develop in the child the feeling that he is loved for imaginary qualities rather than for his true self.

Impact of parenting style on narcissistic traits among emerging adults

Kohut (1977) conceptualized that parent’s responsiveness and the way they fulfill their child’s desires often influence the way the child forms an idealized concept about their parents and thereby an interpersonal behavior is expressed towards them. Both parent’s responsiveness and child’s idealization together contribute to how the child develops self-identity. He further highlighted the fact that if a child undergoes optimal frustrations in which he or she is confronted by situations in which they receive no help from their parents, it acts as a strategy to reduce the child’s level of grandiosity to an appropriate level.

However, if the level of frustration moves to either of the extremes, it can have adverse effects on the personality of the child and may lead to narcissistic traits. Adding to Kohut’s point of view, Imbesi (1999) proposed that permissive parents often fail in providing their children enough opportunities for optimal frustrations. Permissive parents are those who exert low control on their children and are less responsive to them (Baumrind, 1966; 1967; 1971).

Imbesi argued that children bought up by permissive parents tend to be extreme on grandiosity and hence are more prone to expression of narcissistic behavioral patterns in their personality, especially grandiose narcissism (Miller et al., 2011; Pincus, 2013). Much before to these findings, Kohut (1971) thought in favor of the concept of transcendence proposed by Freud and introduced self-object transferences of mirroring and idealization, which proposes that children have a need to safeguard their self-worth in order to mirror their parents and other figures of authority.

A recent review of the existing empirical evidence linking Perceived parenting behavior to narcissism (Horton, 2011) suggests that both psychodynamic and social learning theories on the origins of narcissism have merit. That is, social learning theory’s of indulgent parenting (Millon, 1981) has received support in the form of empirical associations between child reports of parental affection and/or lack of monitoring and grandiose narcissism, which is characterized by arrogance and beliefs in superiority, as well as to vulnerable narcissism, which is characterized by emotional liability and vulnerability (Ramsey, Watson, Biderman, & Reeves, 1996).

Indeed, children who report more affection and less monitoring from their parents score higher on narcissism. On the other hand, control efforts that include emotional manipulation and contingent displays of affection (rather than specific monitoring of behavior), Perceived parenting tactics that psychodynamic theorists regard as catalysts for narcissism (Rothstein, 1979), have been linked consistently to vulnerable narcissism (Miller & Campbell, 2008) and to grandiose narcissism once self-esteem variance has been partied (Horton, Bleau, &Drwecki, 2006).

Review of Literature

A fundamental part of any study is acquiring proper knowledge of the area in which the research is to be conducted. Review of literature is a text of a scholarly paper, which includes the current knowledge including substantive feelings, as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic. It helps the investigator to become aware of the significance of the problem they have selected for the study in the initial stage of the research to become familiar with the area. Later, it promotes greater understanding and the crucial aspect of the problem. Many studies have been conducted on the basis of Perceived parenting style and emotional stability among emerging adults.

Parenting Style

Watson et al., (1992) analyzed Baumrind’s authoritative, permissive, and authoritarian Perceived parenting styles within the context of Kohut’s concept of self. A correlational study was done between perception of college students and measures of self-functioning to determine whether authoritative Perceived parenting style is associated with less narcissistic maladjustment whereas permissive Perceived parenting style is associated with immature grandiosity. Authoritarianism was hypothesized to be correlated with inadequate idealization. The empirical evidence validated all the three hypothesis and additionally they also found that Perceived parenting traits of mother are more strongly correlated to self-functioning of children than that of father.

To study the effect of over parenting on negative child outcome, Chris Segrin, Alesia Woszidlo,Michelle Givertz, Amy Bauer,Melissa Taylor Murphy (2012) conducted a study on 538 parent young adult child dyads from locations throughout most of the United States. Results showed that over Perceived parenting is associated with lower quality parent-child communication, significant predictor of young adult child entitlement and also has an indirect effect on lower family satisfaction. Clearly indicating that over Perceived parenting increases the child’s expectations from others believing that he or she inherently deserves privileges or special treatment.

Subhashrao and Arti (2015) researched about the effect of parenting style on self confidence and mental health among college going emerging adults. They examined the significant difference between parental acceptance and rejection with positive self-evaluation, perception of reality, integration of personality, autonomy, group-oriented attitudes and environmental competence of students. The independent sample t-test done on each variable showed that there was significant difference in integration of personality, autonomy, group-oriented attitudes and environmental competence of emerging adults based on whether they had parental acceptance or rejection whereas significance difference was not found in their positive self-evaluation and perception of reality between parental acceptance and rejection.

Narcissism

Otwey and Vignoles (2006) did a quantitative test of psychoanalytic predictions of narcissism and childhood recollections. They compared between both overt and covert narcissism and found that both these forms are controlled by recollections of parental coldness and excessive parental admiration. Covert narcissism was also found to be controlled by attachment anxiety. Finding of this study are helpful in explaining the paradoxical combination of grandiosity and fragility in adult narcissism.

Another study related to narcissism and attachment was conducted by Smolewska and Dion (2005) to examine the relationship between maladaptive narcissism, attachment avoidance, and attachment anxiety. The differences between overt and covert narcissistic vulnerability was also explored in the same study. The results revealed that the most important among overt and covert narcissism is covert narcissism and anxiety is more important than avoidance in the adult attachment.

Studies concerning relations among narcissism, self-esteem and delinquency in a sample of risk adolescents in a sample of at-risk adolescents show positive interrelation between narcissism and self-esteem (Barry, Christopher T., et. al., 2007). Narcissism shows significant correlation with delinquency. So-called adaptive narcissism was positively correlated with self-esteem, but maladaptive narcissism was not related narcissism was not related to self-esteem.

Kristen M, and his colleagues (2018) conducted a study to examine the relationships between grandiosity and each of these personality disorder syndromes, using a novel index, namely the Grandiosity Index. Seventy-five incarcerated males completed clinical interviews of psychopathy and narcissism and a self-report inventory of narcissism and were rated on interpersonal measures of psychopathy and narcissism. Results showed that scores on the Grandiosity Index were significantly correlated with scores on both clinical and interpersonal measures of psychopathy and narcissism and with self-reported narcissism. This study demonstrates that grandiose features are associated uniquely with clinical ratings of psychopathy, though not significantly more with psychopathy than with narcissism.

Parenting Styles and Narcissism

To investigate links between parenting and grandiose narcissism, Horton, Robert S,Tritch and Tanner (2014) conducted a study on 145 participants and found that psychological control was associated positively with narcissism, whereas monitoring and coldness were associated negatively. Overvaluation and parental support showed no reliable associations with narcissism.

Eberly-Lewis, Vera-Hughes, Melissa Coetzee, M. Taryn,(2018) ,investigated whether mothers’ and fathers’ positive parenting and lax discipline were linked indirectly to adolescent grandiose narcissism through a need for positive approval and independent self-construal. Results revealed that maternal positive parenting and discipline were indirectly linked to grandiose narcissism through adolescents’ need for positive approval. Fathers’ positive parenting was linked directly and partially through independent self-construal to grandiose narcissism. Fathers’ discipline remained directly associated with adolescent grandiose narcissism.

Over parenting shares conceptual similarities with parents’ psychological control practices,which involve emotional and psychological manipulation of children. Winner, Nathan A., and Nicholson, Bonnie C. (2018), explored parental psychological control as a mediator between over parenting and narcissism, including in regard to both grandiose and vulnerable narcissistic phenotypes. Participants included 380 young adult college students (age range: 18-26 years) who completed the Pathological Narcissism Inventory, as well as reports of their parents’ behaviors related to over Perceived parenting and psychological control. Mediation analyses supported the hypothesized role of parental psychological control as a mediator between over parenting and narcissistic traits, including traits related to both grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. This study further clarifies the nature of over parenting, and speaks to the need for further research in establishing the mechanisms by which over Perceived parenting may lead to narcissistic traits among young adults.

Elizabeth Huxley and Boris Bizumic (2017) investigated the influence of perceptions of parental invalidation, an important aspect of parenting behavior theoretically associated with narcissism. Correlation and hierarchical regression analyses were conducted using a sample of 442 Australian participants to examine the relationship between invalidating behavior from mothers and fathers, and grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Results indicated that stronger recollections of invalidating behavior from either mothers or fathers are associated with higher levels of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism when controlling for age, gender, and the related parenting behaviors of rejection, coldness, and overprotection.

The lowest levels of narcissism were found in individuals who reported low levels of invalidation in both parents. These findings support the idea that parental invalidation is associated with narcissism. Two studies were done by Robert S. Horton, Geoff Bleau and Braian Drwecki (2006) to investigate the relations between Perceived parenting dimensions (i.e., warmth, monitoring, and psychological control) and narcissism both with and without removing from narcissism variance associated with trait self-esteem. Results of this study showed that 3 Perceived parenting styles were significantly related to one another. Parental warmth was associated positively and monitoring was associated negatively with both types of narcissism. (healthy and unhealthy).

Warmth was correlated positively with monitoring, but negatively with psychological control. Baumrind’s authoritative, permissive, and authoritarian Perceived parenting styles were analyzed within the context of Kohut’s psychology of the self by P. J. Watson, Tracy Little, BS, and Michael D. Biderman, PhD (1992). Associations of perceived parental authoritativeness with less narcissistic maladjustment, permissiveness with immature grandiosity, and correlation of authoritarianism with inadequate idealization were studied in college students based on their perception of their parents. Results suggested that authoritarianism seemed to be associated with less immature grandiosity.

Clinical accounts suggest grandiosity is an important characteristic of both psychopathy and narcissism. The same was studied by Klipfel, Kristen M.and Kosson, David S (2018) by examining the relationships between grandiosity and each of these personality disorder syndromes, using a novel index, namely the Grandiosity Index. 75 incarcerated males completed clinical interviews of psychopathy and narcissism, along with a self-report inventory of narcissism and then were later rated on interpersonal measures of psychopathy and narcissism.

Scores on the Grandiosity

Index showed significant correlation with scores on both clinical as well as interpersonal measures of psychopathy and narcissism and with self-reported narcissism. After controlling scores on narcissism, grandiosity index explained substantial unique variance on psychopathy in regression analysis. The results showed that grandiose features are associated uniquely with clinical ratings of psychopathy, though not significantly more with psychopathy than with narcissism.

Dakanalis, Antonios, Clerici, Massimo& Carrà, Giuseppe (2016) conducted a study which aimed to examine the potential mediating role of two variants of narcissism (grandiosity and vulnerability) in explaining part of the underlying mechanism by which insecure (avoidant and anxiety) attachment affects behavioral elements of eating pathology (dieting and bulimic behaviors). Data from 2,055 college freshmen (52.2% women; mean age 18.34 years) was collected and analyzed using a latent variable structural equation modeling approach.

Results showed no significant direct link between attachment anxiety and bulimic behaviors, whereas grandiose narcissism fully mediated the association between attachment avoidance and future dieting behaviors. Dieting also predicted future bulimic behaviors and served as an additional (full) mediator between grandiose narcissism and bulimic behaviors.

The results support the theoretical postulations linking different insecure attachment experiences to different narcissistic tendencies and also imply that specific insecure attachment patterns may pass through different mediating pathways (narcissistic grandiosity and vulnerability) to specific behavioral elements of eating pathology (dieting and bulimic behaviors) regardless of gender.

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