The Healthy Family Connections Podcast
Episode 171 · Duration: 00:19:58
Does My Son Have Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
What do you do when your 16-year-old son turns your house upside down with drama and emotion, displays defiance, is argumentative, aggressive, loud, has provoking behaviors, and fits the description of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?
Today we’re hearing from Marianne from Ontario, Canada. Marianne writes:
I purchased your course and my husband and I will be starting it over the Christmas break during our vacation. Looking forward to seeing how it can benefit us. Here is our situation. When reading different articles on the internet, the description of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is my son to a tee. He’s only 16 and I’ve read that clinicians won’t diagnose before age 18 because typically teenagers do display these traits but grow out of them as they mature. How do I know if this is a teenage problem where he needs some coaching and good parenting to assist him versus a serious problem of NPD?
When describing my son, does he do drugs… NO. He doesn’t even smoke or vape. Does he steal or engage in criminal behavior? No. He holds a job and is very responsible for it. He’s not a “BAD” kid in any of those ways. However, he has a way of turning our house upside down with drama and emotion. He displays defiance, is argumentative, aggressive, loud, and has provoking behaviors. Even the dog growls at him when he’s around.
Below is a list of traits that were in one article and, I have to say, describe my son pretty accurately.
- Persistent bullying behaviors such as making fun of, threatening, degrading, or scapegoating people (including parents and other adults)
- Persistent need to win no matter who is hurt
- Persistent lying to benefit oneself (will lie about lying, turn lies into someone else’s fault, deflect accountability by attacking messengers who point out lies)
- Egotistical view of extraordinary self-worth
- Preoccupation with getting own needs met over other people’s
- Entitled attitudes, which lead to acting as if they deserve special treatment and to get whatever they want, no matter the circumstances
- Aggressive responses to being criticized, wronged, or upset
- Repetitively blaming others for bad outcomes
- And being much more competitive than cooperative.
My question is: Is there a way to identify if my teen could potentially have Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Is there any way to turn it around?
Healthy Personalities and Personality Disorders
Thanks for your question, Marianne. Before I discuss Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), let’s think of what a healthy personality is. For starters, we all have different personality profiles and we all inherit a propensity to a wide variety of temperaments. We all grow up in specifically unique circumstances, cultures, and other environmental factors. Yet, healthy individuals live life in harmony with the pursuit of their goals and in alliance with their values. So our goals are where we’re going, and our values are the guideposts for how we get there. None of us do this perfectly, but we’re on a learning curve and continue to learn and grow throughout our lives and get stronger in our ability to be true to our goals and values.
With a personality disorder, value development takes a back seat to simply getting what one wants. There are many styles or categories of personality disorders but with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, protecting and feeding the ego is primary and to a large extent, protecting and feeding the ego takes precedence over values, and the need to feed the ego strongly influences goals.
Now with children, some will be more relationship-oriented than others and some kids are more independent. Some are shy and clingy and others more aggressive and competitive.
What we as parents want to do is help our children, and eventually, adolescents, grow their strengths, whatever they are, and minimize their weaknesses. For the shy quiet child, we want them to learn to more confidently express themselves and present and advocate for their needs while feeling good about and growing the inherent strengths in their quiet thoughtfulness. For the extroverted, competitive kid, encourage their natural inclination while helping them modify their competitiveness, see and care about other’s feelings, and perhaps use their strengths to help them build their leadership skills.With children, some will be more relationship-oriented and some more independent. Some are shy and clingy and others more aggressive and competitive. As parents, we want to help our children grow their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.Click To Tweet
By the way, quiet introverted types can be leaders as well. Think Steve Wozniak and Eleanor Roosevelt, for instance.
A Change In Temperaments
Now, Marianne, it seems with your son, that his strengths, a strong outgoing personality, competitive skills, goal setting, verbal skills have not been modified to allow kindness, empathy, patience, and other skills to shine through. These skills represent important values we need to demonstrate and if he doesn’t learn them, he could be in trouble.
Why hasn’t he learned them? I’m not sure, but he’s in a chronic Control Battle and he won’t learn those skills or values while fighting his parents. Instead, he’s growing his fighting skills rather than what you want him to learn, kindness, vulnerability, and empathy for others.
Life and cognitive maturation are likely to make a difference here. And it sounds like the lion’s share of his unacceptable behavior takes place at home, where he won’t be rejected like he would be with roommates when he goes to college or moves out. Yet, the behaviors are not near acceptable, they’re not healthy for him or for the family. And of course, there is the risk that without addressing some of his developmental issues now, they could become entrenched for later on and he could qualify for an NPD diagnosis. Right now, given the family environment and the fact that he’s in adolescence to about age 24, let’s stay optimistic and positive.
Now, what to do? First of all, please ask yourselves where your temperaments may have clashed or mismatched. Perhaps you and his Dad are both very kind and maybe conflict avoidant. In that case, you may not have created the structure your son needed and then perhaps been critical of his behavior after the fact rather than setting effective limits with his behavior.
It could also have been that you or his Dad has a similar temperament: strong and competitive, and it clashed with your son.
In either of these cases, or a different one, a Control Battle developed where you were trying to get your son to change his behavior, and he fought those efforts and that has become a long-standing pattern and it sounds like now, your son has honed his argumentative demanding, controlling skills to the point of being abusive.
Helping Your Teen Grow In A Healthier Way
You say your son turns your house upside down with drama and emotion. He displays defiance, is argumentative, aggressive, loud, and has provoking behaviors. All this must come in the face of your not giving him what he wants or simply setting limits with him. For instance, he wants to go out,. and you don’t want him to so he displays all the behaviors you describe when you tell him he can’t use the car. Or, he comes home from work at 11:00 PM when you all are in bed, and at 1:00 AM he starts banging around in the kitchen and you tell him he can’t do that because it wakes up the house, and there you go: drama. “I’m just feeding myself, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not my fault if you’re light sleepers. You just lay awake waiting to criticize me.” Obviously, I’m making these scenarios up but I’m sure something like this is going on.
Marianne you’ve listened to enough podcasts to know I often use The Talk as a way to shift out of the Control Battle dynamic yet right now, your son would blow up The Talk and it would be just another opportunity for drama.
We eventually do want to have a version of The Talk, but we have to get there first. So here is another way to go.
First of all, you need to decide that as parents, you are not going to argue, fight, or debate anything with him. If he’s doing something unacceptable, you simply tell him that it’s unacceptable. Then, whether he continues with the behavior or not, you simply have said what you need to say. If he wants to draw you into a fight such as demanding the use of the car, you can simply say, “Son, it should be very clear what our answer is. We love you and care about you too much to fight with you. You can use the car at a more appropriate time and when your attitude is more respectful.” Or something to that effect. Marianne, you’re setting the stage for a few things here:
- You’re not going to engage in arguing with him
- You love him and care about him
- And he needs a respectful attitude to get privileges.
Pretty cool right? Now, after the next display of unacceptable behavior, you quietly remove essential privileges. Now, what are those for a 16-year-old? That’s a little tough since you can’t take away screen time or his Legos or some such thing. But I’m sure there are ways you are supporting him such as with cell phone data, use of a car, internet service after a certain hour when you and the other kids no longer need it. If your son escalates and rages to a dangerous level where it seems like violence is a possibility or it simply is too much, you can ask him if he can calm himself down or if you need to call for assistance. Then if necessary, call the police. Don’t threaten by saying “If you don’t calm down I’ll call the police.” Why? You got it! Because then calling the police is just part of the fight or the Control Battle and we don’t want that. Better to call before something terrible happens, so no one gets hurt or charged with a crime, and it is a way to say, “We are setting limits.” That’s actually the 4th new element you’ve added into your changing the dynamic and ending the Control Battle package.
Now sooner or later, he is going to want to know when he can have the privileges you’ve revoked back. Your answer will be, "Excellent question. It’s in large part up to you, and first, we will need to have a conversation about under what circumstances we offer privileges, and under what circumstances, we don’t." Then when he seems reasonable to engage in such a conversation with you, take him up on it.
- You start with apologizing for not having been clear with him sooner and letting things get so far out of control.
- Acknowledge his many gifts and positive behaviors and achievements.
- Let him know that there are behaviors you need to see and others that are simply not allowable.
I’m sure he’ll have many thoughts about what you do wrong, ways you are unfair, things you do that are worse than what he does, etc. Your response will be simply, "Thank you for pointing that out. I’ll work on it." The bottom line, however, is that he needs to make a commitment to changing his way of communicating in the family. His siblings need him to be kind and supportive, and it’s not healthy for him to be at odds with everyone, and it’s unhealthy for you as parents to be in chronic conflict.
Now keep in mind that it isn’t going to work for him to appear to have lost. We need to present the idea of change as him demonstrating his maturity and leadership; behavior more aligned with his age and how you want to think of him. Arguing and fighting seems more like a young teenager than a young adult and you want to think of him in more young adult terms.Present the idea of change as him demonstrating his maturity and leadership; behavior more aligned with his age. Arguing and fighting seems more like a young teenager than a young adult and you want to think of him in young adult terms. Click To Tweet
Marianne, I do think counseling would be important to help you as parents, your son, and any siblings. They are living in an emotional war zone and they could use some help, too. The son we’re talking about here is not introspective, and if we get him into therapy, perhaps as a condition of receiving privileges, he will need a therapist who can be very active with him and challenge him to deal with the issues in his family and in his life by learning and applying healthy emotional management and interpersonal skills.
Thank you for your question, Marianne. And a special thank you for purchasing my course. I’m sure that it and this podcast will get you off to a great start.
Parents, therapists, and those who work with teenagers and families: let’s not worry too much about diagnoses on the one hand, but let's definitely address behaviors that can take our kids in the wrong direction. As parents, we want to focus on our kid’s strengths and help them shore up their areas of relative weakness. But when we find ourselves or our clients in the jaws of a control battle, these 4 principles will help us get back on track.
- Don’t engage in arguing
- Tell them and show them that you love them and care about them
- Require that they have a respectful attitude in order to get privileges
- Set limits
Marianne and her husband are off to a great start in purchasing my course. They've made a plan to go through it over the holiday season and that's just great. If you're looking to do the same, you can access my course, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle, for an inexpensive price here.
I also have a free gift for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially, emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.
In the meantime, have a safe and happy holiday. Let’s all mask up, socially distance, and reduce all the risks we can.
Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.
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