Is my teen narcissistic or just a normal self-centered teenager?
Dr. Markham --
I have been seeing a Christian counselor and she mentioned yesterday that she thought one of my girls was narcissistic. Do you have any advice on this?
Narcissism means that a person has been deprived in early childhood of the normal affirmation and admiration of the parent that every child needs. Every child reacts differently to the environment, and some kids are more vulnerable than others and need more from their parents than others.
If the damage to the child’s self-esteem is severe enough, the child grows up completely self-centered because they are still in the toddler stage of development and have not developed empathy for others. Also like toddlers, they have an inflated view of their own capabilities, which is a defense against their secret, shameful feeling that they are unlovable and worthless.
All teenagers are self-centered and insecure. All of them are still figuring out a realistic assessment of their capabilities and where they fit in the world. All of them are still developing good judgment and tend to be in denial about risk. Therefore, they all fit the description of narcissism. For that reason, I would discourage any diagnosis of a teen as narcissistic.
If your teen is showing signs of narcissism, I recommend:
1. Taking a deep breath and reminding yourself that this is a normal phase that will get better.
2. Reading the book The Smart Love Parent: The Compassionate Alternative To Discipline which is probably available used online or at your library. This is the single best book I have read on how to love kids back to emotional health who seem to be headed down a wrong road.
3. Avoiding labeling your child, which just reinforces her behavior. Instead, comment on behavior and the way it makes you feel.
“When you don’t call me as we agreed, I feel worried. I also feel hurt. It makes me think you don’t value me enough to keep our agreements and you don’t care if I am worrying about you.” (You should know that some teens unconsciously pull such stunts precisely to worry their parents because they want proof that they are indeed loved) or
“When you drop your clothes all over I wonder if you expect me to pick them up, and that makes me feel hurt.”
Then you set a limit and give a choice: “The rule is that you call me when you say you will. I need to feel comfortable to give you the freedom you want, and you calling me when you agree to is what makes me comfortable. Do you want to commit to calling me when you leave where you told me you would be and head to another party, or do you want to stay in this weekend?” or
“The rule is everyone in this home cleans up their own messes. Do you want to do clean up your clothes now or after breakfast?”
4. Take care of yourself so you aren’t resenting your child’s selfishness. In other words, treat yourself with love and respect and then you won’t take your child’s selfish behavior personally.
Whatever the question with kids, love is the answer. If your child isn’t extending you basic courtesy and respect, it’s an indication that you need to do some repair work on the relationship. Err on the side of love, always. They won’t always be this way. They’re teenagers!