Perceived Parenting Style and Narcissism among Emerging Adults


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).

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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 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).

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Perceived Parenting Style and Narcissism among Emerging Adults. (2021, Oct 29). Retrieved from