What is the Root Cause of Narcissism?

What is the root cause of narcissism? This is a question that has been debated by psychologists for many years. There does however appear to be a general consensus that the development of narcissistic personality disorder is due to a mix of factors, which include both nature and nurture.

In this blog post, I will explore the possible causes of narcissism. I will also discuss available treatments and what the long-term outlook is for people with this disorder.

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is a personality disorder that is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. People with this disorder often believe that they are better than others and have a strong sense of entitlement.

Attention seeking: Excessive attempts to attract and be the focus of the attention of others; admiration seeking.”

American Psychiatric Association DSM 5 diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Ironically, people with narcissistic personality disorder also have fragile egos and get inordinately threatened whenever they think that anyone is criticizing them.

When threatened, they react by:

  • lashing out angrily,
  • withdrawing and sulking, or
  • engaging in “self-destructive” behaviours such as substance abuse.

NPD is different from having a healthy ego or high self-esteem.

A healthy ego is important and necessary for our survival. It helps us to assess our capabilities and limits and to set realistic goals. It also allows us to have a sense of self-worth and to feel confident in our abilities.

People with narcissistic personality disorder, on the other hand, have an exaggerated sense of self-importance that is totally untethered to reality. This leads them to go to extremes in order to protect their “image.”

Grandiosity: Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert; self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others.”

American Psychiatric Association DSM 5 diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

What is the root cause of narcissism?

There are a number of theories about what might cause someone to develop narcissistic personality disorder.

In general, however, researchers point to the following three factors as potentially being the root cause of narcissism:

The Environment

Here we are talking about the family the child is raised in and the dynamics in the household. If the child’s parents dote upon him (or her) excessively, the child will believe that they are superior to others, which is a recipe for NPD. On the other hand, if the parents neglect or constantly criticise the child, they may also develop narcissistic personality disorder as a way of compensating for the lack of love and attention.


Genetics, as narcissism appears to run in families. If someone has a close family member with the disorder, they may be more likely to develop it themselves.


Neurobiology, as some research suggests that people with narcissistic personality disorder have abnormalities in the way their brains process information.

The prevalence of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic personality disorder affects about 0.5% of the general population. The disorder is more common in men than it is in women and it often begins to develop in adolescence or early adulthood.

It is interesting to note that studies have shown that 17% of first-year medical students and 20% of the military population usually have narcissistic personality disorder. This is likely due to the fact that people with narcissistic personality disorder gravitate towards fields where they can feel important and admired.

“Goal-setting is based on gaining approval from others; personal standards are unreasonably high in order to see oneself as exceptional, or too low based on a sense of entitlement; often unaware of own motivations.”

American Psychiatric Association DSM 5 diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

While some people with narcissistic personality disorder are able to function well in their chosen profession, they often have difficulty sustaining long-term relationships or holding down a job. Their manipulative nature and paranoid focus on keeping up appearances often leads to them being isolated and alone.

Relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation; mutuality constrained by little genuine interest in others‟ experiences and predominance of a need for personal gain.”

American Psychiatric Association DSM 5 diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Unfortunately this often leads them to indulge in self-destructive behaviours such as substance abuse or promiscuous sexual behaviour.

Is there a cure for narcissistic personality disorder?

Mental health specialists can treat NPD with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. The goal of treatment is to help the person with the disorder learn to manage their emotions and develop more realistic expectations of others.

The long-term outlook for people with narcissistic personality disorder is generally good. With treatment, most people with the disorder are able to live relatively normal lives. However, there is a risk that the disorder could worsen over time.

If you are concerned that you or someone you know might be suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, it is important to seek professional help

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