A recent study sheds light on the complex relationship between parental narcissism and its impact on child psychological functioning. The research, published in Psychological Reports, examines the various facets of narcissism and their effects on parenting behaviors and child well-being. The findings reveals that certain aspects of parental narcissism can indirectly influence child internalizing and externalizing symptoms through specific parenting practices.
Narcissism, a multifaceted personality trait, has gained attention in recent years due to its potential negative effects on interpersonal relationships. While previous research has explored how narcissism affects romantic relationships, this study focuses on its impact within parent-child relationships, an area with limited research.
“We were particularly interested in conducting this research because of the lack of previous research on this topic,” said study author Kyle Rawn, a doctoral candidate in developmental psychology at the University of Kentucky. “For example, there is some previous research on how parent levels of narcissism may affect offspring levels of narcissism, however, we were interested in how other offspring outcomes may be impacted. Moreover, it seems that parent narcissism is becoming an increasingly important topic in the broader scheme of things.”
Narcissism encompasses various facets, including grandiosity, entitlement/exploitation, and leadership/authority. Understanding how these facets relate to parenting behaviors and child psychological functioning is essential for a more comprehensive understanding of this complex dynamic.
Grandiosity is a central component of narcissism and involves an inflated sense of self-importance and superiority. Individuals with high levels of grandiosity tend to see themselves as exceptional, unique, and more important than others.
Entitlement and exploitation are closely related facets of narcissism that involve a sense of deserving special treatment and a willingness to manipulate or use others to achieve one’s goals. Individuals with these traits often prioritize their own interests over the well-being of others, leading to strained relationships and feelings of exploitation in those around them.
Leadership/authority is a facet of narcissism that focuses on a desire for control, influence, and leadership roles. Unlike grandiosity and entitlement/exploitation, this facet of narcissism can have both positive and negative implications, depending on how it is expressed.
The study involved 457 U.S. parents with children aged six to 18. Researchers recruited participants through Amazon Mechanical Turk, ensuring they were residing in the U.S. and had a child within the specified age range. Only one parent per family participated, and they were compensated for their participation. To ensure data validity, several measures were taken, including the removal of responses completed too quickly and the inclusion of attention check questions.
The researchers used various assessments to collect data. Parental narcissism was evaluated using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), which measures facets of grandiosity, entitlement/exploitation, and leadership/authority. Parenting behaviors were assessed using the Parenting Behaviors and Dimensions Questionnaire (PBDQ), which measured emotional warmth, punitive discipline, autonomy support, permissive discipline, and democratic discipline. The study also considered covariates such as parent depression, parent and child sex, parent age, child age, parent racial/ethnic identity, and subjective family socioeconomic status.
Child socio-emotional well-being was gauged through the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), which evaluated internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Internalizing symptoms refer to emotional and psychological difficulties that are primarily directed inward, affecting an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. These symptoms are typically characterized by excessive internal distress, anxiety, depression, or mood-related issues. Externalizing symptoms, on the other hand, refer to behavioral problems and difficulties that are directed outward, affecting an individual’s actions and interactions with the external world. These symptoms are often characterized by impulsive or aggressive behaviors and difficulties in self-control and self-regulation.
The researchers found that while there were no direct associations between any facet of parental grandiose narcissism and child internalizing or externalizing symptoms, parental narcissism did appear to indirectly influence parenting behaviors. Specifically, higher levels of parent grandiosity and entitlement/exploitation were associated with greater use of negative parenting tactics, including punitive and permissive discipline. In turn, these negative parenting tactics were linked to higher child internalizing and externalizing behaviors.
Parental grandiosity and entitlement/exploitation also correlated with less positive parenting, including emotional warmth, autonomy support, and democratic discipline. However, positive parenting was not significantly associated with child well-being.
Interestingly, the facet of leadership/authority within parental narcissism exhibited different patterns. It was not associated with negative parenting behaviors and, in fact, was related to higher positive parenting. Additionally, positive parenting did not significantly impact child well-being.
“In terms of takeaways from the paper – for parents, it would the knowledge of what parenting practices to use,” Rawn told PsyPost. “Specifically, those that are more positive (e.g., emotional warmth, autonomy support, and use of democratic discipline) rather than those that are more negative (e.g., punitive or permissive discipline).”
“For professionals (i.e., clinicians, family therapists, etc.) – it would be that parental narcissism is more than just something to care about for the parent; this preliminary evidence is showing that it can extend to offspring and their socio-emotional adjustment as well.”
While this study provides valuable insights, it has its limitations. The data relied solely on parental reports, potentially introducing bias. Additionally, the cross-sectional nature of the study prevents drawing causal conclusions. Longitudinal research would be beneficial to understand the dynamic nature of these relationships over time.
“Despite study limitations, results replicate previous research suggesting that different facets of a broader grandiose narcissism construct may support the idea of ‘adaptive’ and ‘maladaptive’ components of grandiose narcissism,” the researchers concluded. “Further, results extend previous research by identifying how these components are associated with positive and negative aspects of parenting, translating into child adjustment difficulties.”
The study, “Parent Grandiose Narcissism and Child Socio-Emotional Well Being: The Role of Parenting“, was authored by Kyle P. Rawn, Peggy S. Keller, and Thomas A. Widiger.