Have you ever wondered if narcissism can be passed down?

If so, you’re not alone. Some of our community members asked about this during a support group for those co-parenting with a narcissist.

So, I dove into the latest research, and here’s what I found.

In a parent-child relationship, narcissism can be passed down if:

  • There is modeling of narcissistic behavior.
  • Unhealthy parent-child dynamics exist.
  • Inherited genetic traits play a role.
  • There is a lack of emotional support or validation.
  • There are unhealthy levels of competition in the family dynamic.
  • The child experiences trauma or neglect.

In this post, I will explain these possibilities so that you can understand how narcissism can be passed down from parent to child.

If you have or currently are experiencing narcissistic abuse, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse for help.

1) Modeling Narcissistic Behavior

One way narcissism can be passed down to children is through modeling.1

Just like kids learn to tie their shoes by watching their parents do it, they also pick up on how to act by observing the adults around them. 

If a parent consistently shows narcissistic behaviors, like always talking about themselves, not listening to others, or getting angry when they don’t get what they want, their children might start to think this is the normal way to behave. 

They see these actions as the way to interact with the world, leading them to mimic this behavior. 

Over time, these learned patterns can solidify, potentially leading the child to develop narcissistic traits themselves, as they’ve been taught that these behaviors are acceptable or even successful strategies for navigating life.

2) Through Unhealthy Parent-Child Dynamics

Narcissism can also be passed down through unhealthy parent-child dynamics.2 

For instance, if a parent places extreme pressure on their child to succeed or be perfect, the child might start to believe their value only comes from what they achieve or how others see them. 

A narcissistic father pressuring his son to be perfect.

This can foster a deep sense of insecurity and a constant need for external validation, which are traits often seen in narcissism. 

Alternatively, if a parent excessively praises their child and doesn’t provide realistic feedback about their actions, the child might grow up feeling entitled and superior to others, expecting special treatment and struggling to empathize with those around them.

These dynamics set the stage for narcissistic tendencies to develop as children learn to value themselves and others based on these distorted principles.

3) Inherited Genetic Traits

While behaviors and attitudes can certainly be learned, research suggests that genetics might also play a role in the development of narcissistic traits.3 

Just as physical characteristics and certain health risks can be passed from parents to children through their genes, there’s a possibility that predispositions towards personality traits, including narcissism, can be inherited. 

It’s like getting handed down a family recipe; you might inherit certain ingredients from your parents that make you more likely to develop narcissistic tendencies. 

However, it’s important to remember that having a genetic predisposition doesn’t guarantee a child will become narcissistic. 

Environmental factors, life experiences, and personal choices interact with these genetic tendencies to shape an individual’s personality.

If you need help with anything related to narcissistic abuse, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse today.

4) Lack of Emotional Support and Validation

Children who grow up in environments where emotional support and validation are scarce may develop narcissistic traits as a coping mechanism.4 

When a child’s emotional needs are consistently ignored or invalidated, they might learn to prioritize their own needs above all else as a survival strategy. 

This lack of emotional nurturing can lead to the development of a fragile self-esteem that relies heavily on external validation and achievements for self-worth. 

In an attempt to compensate for the lack of genuine emotional connection and support, these children may adopt narcissistic behaviors, such as seeking admiration from others, displaying grandiosity, or being overly concerned with their image.

This approach serves as a way to shield themselves from feelings of vulnerability and inadequacy stemming from their unmet emotional needs during childhood.

5) Unhealthy Levels of Competition within the Family Dynamic

In some families, an overly competitive environment can foster the development of narcissistic traits in children.5

When siblings are constantly compared to one another, or when there’s a clear favoritism based on achievements or characteristics, children may start to equate love and acceptance with being the best. 

A narcissistic mother comparing their child to their sister.

This dynamic can lead to a constant struggle for superiority as each child tries to outdo the others to gain parental approval. 

Over time, this need to be the best can evolve into a broader narcissistic behavior pattern, where the child seeks to dominate and be seen as superior in all areas of life, not just within the family. 

This competitive drive, born from the family environment, pushes them to seek validation through achievements and recognition, disregarding the feelings and well-being of others in the process.

6) The Child Experiences Trauma or Neglect

Children who experience trauma or neglect might develop narcissistic traits as a defensive response.6

Facing situations where they feel powerless or unseen, such as through emotional neglect or traumatic events, children may construct a narcissistic facade as a way to feel in control and protect themselves from further hurt. 

This facade often includes traits like grandiosity, a lack of empathy, and a heightened sense of entitlement, which serve as armor against vulnerability. 

By adopting a narcissistic persona, they create a protective barrier between themselves and the world, ensuring that they are never seen as weak or victimized again. 

However, this strategy prevents the formation of genuine, empathetic connections with others, reinforcing narcissistic behavior as they grow.

If you are ready to be more than a victim of narcissistic abuse, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse today.


Thank you so much for reading.

I hope this article has helped deepen your understanding of how narcissism can be passed down.

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

Have you observed patterns or behaviors in your own family that reflect some of the dynamics discussed here? 

How have these observations affected your perspective on narcissism and its origins?

What steps, if any, have you taken or plan to take to break any unhealthy cycles within your own family or relationships?

Or perhaps you’re looking for more guidance on how to address and heal from these influences in your life or that of someone close to you.

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below.

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About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.

Unfilteredd has strict sourcing guidelines and only uses high-quality sources to support the facts within our content. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, actionable, inclusive, and trustworthy by reading our editorial process.

  1. Eleesha Lockett. (2024. February, 21). How to Help Children of Narcissistic Parents. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/children-of-narcissistic-parents ↩︎
  2. Newport Institute. (2022. November, 1). How Having a Narcissistic Parent Impacts Young Adult Mental Health. Newport Institute. https://www.newportinstitute.com/resources/mental-health/narcissistic-parent/ ↩︎
  3. Dr. Rasna Kaur Neelam. (2023. September, 11). Is Narcissism Genetic? The Role of Genetics in Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Charlie Health. https://www.charliehealth.com/post/is-narcissism-genetic-the-role-of-genetics-in-narcissistic-personality-disorder# ↩︎
  4. Jonice Webb. (2023. August, 15). Narcissism and Emotional Neglect: The Surprising Connection. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/childhood-emotional-neglect/202306/narcissism-and-emotional-neglect-the-surprising-connection ↩︎
  5. Luchner, Andrew & Houston, John & Walker, Christina & Houston, M.. (2011). “Exploring the relationship between two forms of narcissism and competitiveness.” Personality and Individual Differences. 51. 779-782. 10.1016/j.paid.2011.06.033. ↩︎
  6. Xiaotao Wang, Lizhen Yu, Jia Li, “Relationships between childhood maltreatment, attachment security, and features of narcissism: A network analysis,” Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 200, 2023. ↩︎

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