21st October 2021
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Godbless Akaighe

As a Doctoral Researcher in the area of ‘Dark Personality Traits’ and having had the opportunity to serve as a ‘Child Pastor’ for 20 years, I combine theoretical understanding and practical experience of child psychology to discuss the childhood roots of narcissism.

Narcissism is defined as a personality trait or disorder that everything a person does, or think is all about himself, characterised by excessive self-love, grandiose sense of pride, self-entitlement, aggrandisement and feeling of superiority over others. At best, it is a sub-clinical or non-pathological trait and at worst a clinical or pathological disorder.

Without going too deeply into definitions, let me state clearly that every individual fundamentally has a narcissistic disposition what can be described as self-love, which is called primary narcissism. After all, we cannot hate ourselves. The Bible enjoins us to “love your neighbour, as yourself” (Mark 12:31). So, self-love is not essentially a bad thing.

The narcissism discussed in this context is secondary or destructive what can be referred to as excessive self-absorption and self-love. This is largely developed from childhood into adulthood. Research shows that narcissistic individuals are selfish, and self-promoting. They lack empathy and disregard the well-being of other people which consequently cause harm to others.

Society has a lot of individuals who can be described as ‘disturbed personalities’ and they could be found in leadership positions because of their love for power, admiration and control. Nowadays, these kinds of individuals are getting more prevalent in our society. 2 Timothy 2: 13 in the Bible says “……. in the last days, men shall be lovers of themselves”, displaying their selfishness, greed, sense of entitlement and excessive admiration. These individuals both men and women continuously pervert justice and promote or abate corruption in the society because of their inherent narcissistic trait/disorder and dysfunctional personality. We can trace this narcissism to their childhood experiences.

The childhood roots of narcissism

There are three schools of thoughts on the childhood roots of narcissism:

1. Narcissists were psychologically wounded during their childhood. They did not receive enough attention or mirroring. They were abandoned or rejected by their parents. They grow into adulthood searching for an idealised parent or substitute that they couldn’t find. In fairness to some individuals, they lost their parents early in their childhood and had no one to mirror, leaving them to become self-absorbed and to direct their love inwards.

2. Narcissists were overly attended to in childhood in a fashion that led to psychological enmeshment, that is, the child was used to act out the parents own narcissistic needs. This is true in many cases (without generalisation) of ‘last born, an only child, and parents who waited so long to have a child’.

3. The child was spoiled in childhood, receiving too many positive regards and treated with inordinate leniency. This means over-pampered child who was not disciplined appropriately. This emboldens the child to become self-entitled and grandiose later in life.

Family as the bedrock of the society

There is a common saying that a stable family is the bedrock of society as socialisation begins in the family. It is time to take a closer look at the family unit of the society and how we have raised our children, who today are leaders (e.g., political, business, spiritual), change agents, celebrities, and even just citizens and followers. Many children were raised in dysfunctional homes (e.g., polygamous homes, broken homes, abusive parents, alcoholic parents), and exposed to violence, hatred and hostility in the home front.

Society is currently ravaged by extremists, terrorists, kidnappers, corrupt politicians, violent people, rapists, domestic abusers, abusive supervisors and employees, self-serving leaders in many spheres and narcissistic individuals both vulnerable and grandiose. Let’s take a closer look at our families, parent and children alike; how it all started in terms of personality development, and what kind of values were developed and passed down to our children. Hopefully, we can take steps to redress our actions and change our narcissistic and destructive behaviour from the family unit of society.

In conclusion, we need more parents/guardians, children teachers, child psychologists, educators and good mentors who are self-aware and reflective thinkers to engage our children and young ones in behaviour moulding and modification. Hopefully, we can produce selfless, civil and ideal citizens and have a better society.

There is the need to apply appropriate discipline in raising children without violence, looking out for abandoned and rejected children in our society. For example those on the streets, churches, mosques, communities and provide the necessary support to them in terms of mentoring and community care. There is an African proverb that says, “it takes a village to raise a child” and this is particularly true even in modern day societies. We shouldn’t be carried away with unnecessary civilisation and industrialisation to the extent that we abandon good family values and the community spirit of empathy, care, discipline, respect and brotherly or sisterly care for other people, especially the young and vulnerable ones in our society.

COVID-19 and Post-COVID-19 is a great time for self-reflection and healing from emotional wounds as we hope that the earth has had time to heal from the pollution and excessiveness of human beings.

Godbless Akaigbe

Godbless Akaighe is a currently a Doctoral Researcher at the Institute of Work Psychology (IWP), Sheffield University Management School, United Kingdom. He is a Behaviourist, Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPM) and Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN). Prior to joining the University of Sheffield, He worked at the University of Lagos and at Lagos Business School-Pan Atlantic University.