In many ways, we all begin our lives as narcissists. As infants, we think we’re the center of the universe. Not only do we think the world revolves around us but we also tend to think things in the external world are merely extensions of ourselves. Narcissism is part of our makeup from early on. Of course, narcissism is more than this early and natural egocentricity. But it’s not uncommon for all children to struggle with all the other features of narcissism such as attitudes of entitlement, a lack of empathy for others, an unrealistic sense of our personal power, etc. as they’re learning about themselves and the world around them. While narcissism is natural to us from early on, arguably one of the most important tasks of character developent is learning to overcome it. Stepping outside of our inner world, moving past our immediate and selfish desires, and appropriately regarding our place in the larger scheme of things – that’s largely what sound character formation is all about. Too bad so many of us these days enter adulthood without having overcome our childish narcissism.
In my book Character Disturbance, I describe “10 commandments” of sound character formation – lessons that have to be successfully learned and mastered for a person to function in a socially responsible manner. I’ve also written several articles on the topic (see the series of posts beginning with: Building Character: The 10 Commandments of Socialization). But in the coming weeks, I’d like to take a much closer look at the process of socialization (see also: Socialization is a Process) and what has to happen for a person to overcome their natural early narcissism and enter adult life with the kind of character that will enable them to form healthy relationships and function responsibly.
The clinical case study reviews I had completed prior to publishing my first book In Sheep’s Clothing, suggested to me that certain occurrences and circumstances that are actually quite common in early development are the prime reasons some folks develop an imbalanced and unhealthy sense of self-worth. At the time, there was no empirical support for my suspicions. But over the past decade, research evidence has been mounting supporting many of my contentions about how a person’s ego becomes inflated. So in the coming series of articles I’ll be be incorporating this supporting data into an in-depth discussion of how a person develops healthy self-esteem and forms a healthy self-image. We’ll be looking not only at what’s necessary to successfully overcome narcissism as we grow and learn but also at what learning failures folks typically experience when they enter adulthood too narcissistic to love and work in a mature, responsible way.
Character Matters will be a live program Sunday at 7 pm Eastern (6 pm Central), so I can take your phone calls.