I just read a very well written post on Psychforums (written by a self-proclaimed empath) suggesting that NPD could be a product of confirmation bias. In simpler terms, a happy, normal person became that way because from an early age, they perceived their caregivers as good and kind, and the world as a friendly, welcoming place. In contrast, a narcissist became a narcissist because they perceived, from an early age, that the world was full of pain and terror, people were hostile and untrustworthy, and life in general sucks.
People give back what they they get.
Confirmation bias also explains why most narcissists hang onto their narcissism the way a shipwrecked person hangs onto a block of wood to keep from drowning.
According to Wikipedia,
Confirmation bias, also called myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses while giving disproportionately less attention to information that contradicts it. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).
So, here is that post:
I wonder if NPD might largely be a product of confirmation bias. I guess a less pretentious way of saying that would be that people tend to hear what they want to hear or what they expect to hear.
I was raised in a supportive environment by truly loving people. I was very lucky; like, winning-lottery-number lucky. I first experienced the world as a benevolent place, and so I now tend to approach it with love and warmth and openness. (I hate how sugary that sounds, but I have to accept that it’s true — it’s who I am.) I trust people. I believe they’re basically kind and well-intentioned and that their flaws don’t make them less beautiful. Generally, I feel safe and good and happy to be around them.
But meanwhile, if you’re a narcissist, you first experienced people as sources of abuse, neglect, manipulation. You are born into this cold, threatening world, and the people tasked with protecting you from it are capricious, deceitful, cunning, selfish. That’s bad enough, but what’s far crueller is that there’s a world of happy-looking people out there, and none of them — not one — seems to give a $#%^ about what is happening to you. No one comes to help. Everyone totally buys into your parents’ facade of being just the best parents ever. So you learn the importance of facades. You learn it again, later, when — as a consequence of your nightmare of a childhood — you start getting into trouble. This time it’s cops or doctors teaching you the lesson, but it’s the same: the inability to maintain a facade of normalcy can cost you everything.
(######6 Christ. As an aside, if anyone is wondering what having empathy feels like, it feels like wanting to throw up/cry/punch walls while writing the above paragraph.)
But right, okay: confirmation bias. Since my emotional experience of the world is positive, I tend to seek out and remember things that confirm and validate that worldview. I.e. in relationships I tend to remember the good things people do and forget the bad, and I tend to believe that the kind/honest/giving aspects of people’s personalities are “who they really are.” And I guess narcissists do pretty much the opposite: they dismiss the good stuff you do, but the bad stuff stays so front-and-center it’s as though you’re doing it fresh, day after day, every time they remember it. When they ultimately find out you have flaws, they take this as evidence that they were always right: people are basically evil & untrustworthy & disappointing.
I’m not saying narcissists are necessarily wrong. There’s ample evidence that people really are monstrous (just open a newspaper). I’m also not saying my tendency to be compassionate/forgiving makes me some kind of saint, because I’m pretty sure some of it is ego protection. Seriously, you can smash me over the head a dozen times with a blunt instrument and I will still stupidly, doggedly believe you didn’t mean it or it was an accident or you were just hurt so it’s okay. I believe that in part because I need to believe that. If I allow that some people simply view others with hate or callow indifference or cold, calculating self-interest, then I have to revise the whole framework on which my understanding of the world and my place in it is built. And I really don’t want to do that. That $#%^ is so core and so central it feels like changing it would destroy everything.
But it would be so much worse for someone with NPD trying to revise their worldview in order to “get better.” Because in my case I’d be moving from a place of trust to a place of distrust, which some animal part of me knows how to do: you get hurt and so you withdraw, harden, your eyes get cold. It’s not fun but it feels familiar and safe. Whereas I guess a narcissist would have to do exactly the opposite. Move from a place of distrust to a place of trust. Which…how would you even do that? How would you surrender the only thing that ever made you feel protected or safe or stable? That would be so terrifying I can’t even imagine it. And what would ever inspire you to do it? Except for trust that there really are kind, well-meaning, loving people out there, which trust a narcissist, by definition, does not have?