Freud first introduced the concept of parental ‘overvaluation’. ‘Overvaluation’ is a clinical term used by psychologists and it can be defined as parental behavior that encourages the child to believe s/he is more entitled than others, superior to them, and entitled to privileges denied to others.
Such parents will frequently over praise their children, overclaim their intelligence and knowledge, regard them as gifted in absence of objective evidence and of being worthy of special treatment to which others are not entitled.
Narcissistic parents are particularly prone to clinically overvalue their children and will often boast of their child’s putative ‘gifts’ believing that this will elevate his/her (i.e. the narcissistic parent’s) status in society and, of course, narcissists desperately crave status and admiration from those with whom they interact.
Narcissism in young people is growing in western culture and research conducted by that early socialization of the child by parents who clinically overvalue him/her is a significant contributory factor.
Because individual differences in narcissism emerge between the ages of 7 and 12 years, this was the age group from which 565 children were selected for the study.
Based upon reports from the children and their parents, for each child in the study the researchers measured:
- the child’s level of narcissism
- the child’s level of self-esteem
- the level of each parent’s ‘overvaluation’ of their child
- the level of each parent’s warmth displayed towards their child
This data was collected in order to test two theories:
- Social learning theory (which claims childhood narcissism is produced by the parental overvaluation of the child)
- Psychoanalytic theory (which claims that childhood narcissism is produced by the lack of parental warmth displayed towards the child).
The results of the study supported social learning theory i.e. the child’s level of narcissism was positively correlated with the degree of parental overvaluation of the child. The researchers stated that this finding seems to suggest that children internalize (absorb into themselves) their parents’ grandiose view of them.
The results did not support the psychoanalytic theory (see 2 above).
However, the results also showed that the child’s SELF-ESTEEM (as distinct from their level of narcissism) was positively correlated with the level of parental warmth displayed towards the child, NOT with the level of the parent’s overvaluation of their child.
The researchers point out that narcissism in society contributes to increased violence and aggression so research such as theirs is important as it helps in the understanding of how the development of narcissistic symptoms in the young might be reduced.