Some individuals are indeed more susceptible to developing a narcissistic personality. Narcissism is characterized by self-centeredness (“It's all about me!”), grandiosity (“I'm better than you!”) and vanity (“Look at me!”). It involves multifaceted psychological traits, motives and needs that influence how a person thinks, feels and behaves. Given this complexity, developing this form of extreme self-love is not as simple as inheriting a particular gene or experiencing a specific event. Instead becoming a narcissist likely involves an intricate mix of genetic and psychological or environmental factors.

Currently we know more about the psychological side of the equation. So far researchers have identified two major trajectories that can lead to narcissistic tendencies. The first scenario involves children who receive unconditional positive feedback from a family member, teacher or coach, despite not displaying the attributes deserving of such praise. Social-learning theory, when applied to the development of narcissism, suggests that a person who receives constant admiration, regardless of his or her actual ability, will come to expect such feedback from everyone. Such a child may fail to acquire a realistic self-concept, one that acknowledges both their flaws and their virtues.

The second trajectory involves the opposite scenario. Children who grow up in families that are cold and depriving may also develop narcissistic personalities. Receiving inadequate validation and support can be painful and frustrating. To cope with this dejection, children may protect themselves by repressing negative feelings and replacing them with a distorted, grandiose self-concept. Similar to the first trajectory, the children's self-concept can then become unrealistically inflated and inconsistent with their true skills and accomplishments. To support this view, they may also come to expect constant admiration from others.

These patterns can be hard to change. Narcissists frequently make good first impressions, but they struggle to maintain long-term relationships—both personal and professional. And although researchers have begun to develop psychotherapy-based interventions to curb narcissistic traits, narcissists often will not acknowledge that they need them.

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