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Are Narcissists Born or Made - Everything You Need To Know

Types of Narcissism | By: Katie Lister

April 04, 2024

Are narcissists born or made? Is narcissism genetic? What causes narcissism? Does upbringing contribute to narcissism? Is narcissism treatable? You have come to the right place if you have these and related questions.

Hi, my name is Katie Lister. I am a practicing Registered Nurse and the founder of Growth Gals. I lead personal development groups and coach women on how to live their best lives authentically. Growth Gals provides a safe space for women to connect with like-minded individuals, learn, and offer support to one another.

At GG, we have created a safe space for women to come together and talk about different issues specific to women that affecting their everyday lives, including narcissism and relationships. In this article, I will give you all the information you need to answer the question, ‘are narcissists born or made?’.

Table of Contents

Katie Lister

Katie Lister

Written by Katie Lister, RN, BScN. An experienced Registered Nurse, Group Facilitator, Life Coach, and Community Leader. Read Katie's Full Author Bio

What Causes Narcissism?

Narcissism is a mental health condition characterized by an over inflated sense of self-importance, selfishness, lack of empathy, and insensitivity. Once in a while, everyone can display narcissistic behavior, but when these behaviors are extreme, the traits may be attributed to narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Individuals living with NPD have an excessive need for admiration and praise and an exaggerated sense of self-importance. They also lack emotional intelligence and the ability to care or understand how others feel. Behind this bravado, however, people with narcissistic tendencies are often unsure of their self-worth and are highly sensitive to criticism.

There are two major narcissism types: grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. For a proper diagnosis, the American Psychiatric Association lists several traits under the DSM-5. A person is said to have NPD when they exhibit more than five of the listed traits.

Overt or grandiose narcissism:

Overt narcissists have the following traits:

  • Arrogance
  • They are self-centered
  • Have excessive self-entitlement (expect special treatment)
  • Love to brag
  • Feel superior and belittle or demean others
  • Lack empathy and don’t care about the well-being of others
  • Need constant praise and admiration
  • They use manipulation tactics like gaslighting

Vulnerable or covert narcissism

Covert narcissists have the following traits:

  • Passive aggressive
  • Sensitive to criticism
  • Need constant validation and praise
  • Skilled at manipulation tactics
  • Feel better than others but outwardly seem introverted
  • Anxious

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While it is still not clear what causes NPD, researchers have linked it to several factors:


Research suggests it is possible to inherit some NPD personality traits like grandiosity and entitlement. While a parent with NPD cannot pass it on to their children, them having NPD diagnosis increases the risk of their children developing the disorder. Some people may also be genetically predisposed to the condition and exposure to environmental factors can cause the development of NPD.


Studies have linked different parental styles to narcissistic personality disorder in adults. Some parenting practices while well-intentioned may cause higher narcissism levels. Some of these practices include:

  • Helicopter or overprotective parenting
  • Leniency or setting few boundaries
  • Adverse childhood experiences like abuse, maltreatment, rejection, or lack of support from caregivers
  • Over-praising a child, thus promoting unrealistic expectations or perfectionism
  • Learned behavior by watching narcissistic parents


Childhood experiences, including bullying and maltreatment, can increase the risk of developing NPD in early adulthood. Excessive criticism from parents and authority figures can also increase the likelihood of developing NPD.

Research says that overprotection correlates with grandiose and covert narcissism in young adults. The study linked grandiosity and vulnerable narcissism to too much praise from caregivers and setting too few boundaries.


Recent studies indicate that biological factors play a role in NPD development. Some people with NPD show higher oxidative stress levels. Brain scans done on people with NPD show that they have reduced gray matter in the parts of the brain associated with empathy. 

Physical attributes such as athletic abilities, physical attractiveness, and strength are also associated with higher levels of narcissism.

Is Narcissism Genetic? 

Some researchers believe that narcissism is partially genetic, but the research is inconclusive and, at times, conflicting. NPD can run in a family because the parents are most likely to create similar conditions that place their children at risk of developing NPD.

Narcissistic parents who lack concern or awareness for their child’s needs will most likely neglect the child. Such parents exploit, have violent outbursts, and excessively criticize the child, leading to low self-confidence and sense of self-worth in the children.

Other research shows narcissism has genetic factors, but the environment influences the grandiose type. In contrast, the vulnerable type has more genetic causes. People with this disorder have higher oxidative stress levels in their bloodstream, which may be why they struggle with shame and low self-esteem.

Oxidative stress refers to an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals in the body. This imbalance stresses the body as it must metabolize excess oxidative chemicals distributed throughout the body and brain.

Relationship Between Upbringing and Narcissism 

Upbringing can contribute to creating female and male narcissists. Mental health experts suggest that parents or caregivers may inadvertently sow the seed of narcissism in childhood. Well-meaning caregivers can raise a narcissist with their parenting style. These children may become narcissists in three main ways:


The parents over-indulge them because of superficial qualities like looks and talents, teaching them that these qualities give them their worth. A parent can also over-indulge a child by allowing temper tantrums without the child facing any consequences.

The caregivers do not teach the child to regulate their emotions. Instead, they teach them that being an empath is a weakness and that they are stronger and better than others.


When parents under-indulge a child, it may undermine their self-worth and esteem, planting deep insecurity, which is one of the top symptoms of a person living with a narcissistic personality disorder.

Parents who praise their child’s achievements but diminish their feelings risk raising a narcissist. Children raised by emotionally distant or neglectful parents may develop narcissism since they crave attention.

Negative experiences

Children who suffer narcissistic abuse from their parents run a higher risk of mental health issues such as NPD or borderline personality disorder (BPD). Emotional or physical abuse may come from home or external environments like daycares or schools. Other adverse experiences that may contribute include rejection and lack of support.

Is my boyfriend a narcissist? This article has all the answers.

Environmental factors and narcissism

Environmental factors that contribute to narcissism may include parenting and culture. Some of the factors that can contribute to narcissism include:

Cultural factors

Some studies suggest that narcissism is higher in cultures that emphasize individualism (individualistic cultures) than in cultures that emphasize the collective group’s best interests (collectivistic cultures). Individualistic cultures encourage a focus on self, personal achievements, and needs.

These individuals are more likely to display narcissistic behaviors such as self-importance, entitlement, and a need for praise and admiration. People from collectivistic cultures are less likely to develop narcissistic personality traits because their culture encourages prioritization of other people’s needs.

Social media

Social media platforms have contributed to narcissistic behavior. These platforms provide constant validation and admiration through likes, comments, and followers, which reinforces narcissistic tendencies.

Individuals who spend a lot of time on social media are more likely to display narcissistic behavior, such as self-promotion, exhibitionism, and a desire for admiration.

Can You Treat Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder? 

NPD is a lifelong disorder that you can only treat and manage, but cannot be cured. Treatment can help in managing the symptoms and the impact NPD has on one’s self-esteem, relationships, and work. People living with NPD may, more often than not, refuse treatment because they lack self-awareness and believe they do not have a problem. A loved one or a family member may try to convince them to see a wellness professional, but ultimately, the decision lies with the ailing individual.

A mental health professional manages NPD via:


The main goals of talk therapy include:

  • Examination of negative behaviors and traits
  • Identifying how these traits affect others
  • Development of new and healthy ways to cope  
  • Identification and practice of helpful behaviors
  • Development of interpersonal skills
  • Learning to take other people’s needs into consideration

The various types of therapy include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP)
  • Schema therapy
  • Mentalization-based therapy (MBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Metacognitive interpersonal therapy
  • Supportive psychotherapy


While medication may not directly target narcissistic traits, it can aid in treating related symptoms that may be contributing to the narcissistic behavior. Treating narcissism while the person is exhibiting other mental health symptoms can be challenging. Therefore, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can provide relief for those with underlying conditions such as anxiety, depression, or paranoia, making therapy less overwhelming.

In cases where individuals have other mental health issues like bipolar disorder, a healthcare professional might recommend medication for these other conditions.

Are Narcissists Born or Made? How Growth Gals Can Help

Our aim at Growth Gals is to inspire women to reach their full potential. We also strive to create positive change by giving women the resources to discover their true selves and expand their knowledge base on various issues, including emotional intelligence and mental health topics such as narcissism. 

Growth Gals helps women overcome obstacles and make informed decisions by talking about issues affecting women. We also help them connect with others with similar values and experiences. Subscribe to the Growth Gals newsletter to access helpful guides and more resources that can help you better understand narcissism, You also get to learn more about this topic as we answer the question “Are narcissists born or made?”

Are Narcissists Born or Made? Conclusion

Although research is inconclusive, narcissistic personality traits may be genetic. An individual can develop narcissism in different ways, including based on their upbringing and exposure to varying environmental factors. The only way to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse is by taking time to learn and understand narcissism. This article provides information that can help you progress in your learning journey.

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