How to Avoid Raising a Narcissist or Sociopath

Let’s talk about narcissism and sociopaths. Specifically, how to avoid raising a narcissist or sociopath. I thought I’d combine the two and help teach you how to avoid raising a narcissist or sociopath.

How to avoid raising a narcissist or sociopath

You don’t want to deal with narcissists or sociopaths anywhere; you certainly don’t want your child to have that kind of problem. Narcissism and sociopathy are descriptive titles of personality disorders. The larger group is personality disorders. Personality disorders are defined as not monsters and horrible people that you hear in the media, but we define personality problem as somebody who has difficulty with intimate relationships.
I know it makes no sense. Personality disorder does not mean you have a bad
personality; in fact, sociopaths often have lovely personalities; it’s part of their trick, part of the manipulation. The definition means you have not just the typical trouble with intimate relationships that we all have but the extreme problems. Such as, you can’t maintain long-standing intimate relationships.

What goes into maintaining long-standing intimate relationships?

That way, you can maintain long-term relationships, and you don’t have a personality disorder and therefore are not by definition a narcissist or a sociopath. How to how to raise a child who does not have a personality disorder, means you have to understand what goes behind that. Understanding what the foundation is of maintaining intimate relationships. The key here is to have a good sense in capabilities to give and take, you can give and take. Another way of putting that is to have a good capacity to control yourself and to put up boundaries with the other person.

Notice, I didn’t say control yourself and control others.

A big problem parents have is controlling themselves and putting up boundaries, which helps a child control themselves. Also, the capacity to change your parenting style as the child grows up. So many parents are using the same techniques for punishment and discipline when the child’s a teenager as when the child was three. Makes no sense, right? But it happens all the time.
Three areas to focus on:
  1. Controlling yourself
  2. Putting up a boundary with a child
  3. Changing your parenting techniques

Controlling yourself (taking care of yourself).

There are lots of things that children do that they need to do, to have healthy self-esteem, to feel autonomous, to feel grown-up, to feel separate from their parents. These things can drive parents crazy because it’s not what we would do. That’s where you have to be really careful. If they’re doing something that’s not hurting them or somebody else, it’s best to let it go. It’s best to control the reaction you’re having, the feeling you’re having and let them have it. This is important when keeping in mind how to avoid raising a narcissist.

A quick example:

How the child dresses, how the child wears their hair, what hobbies or activities they like to do in their spare time, what name they want to be called. These are their choices, that is not hurting them or anybody else. The tricky thing is if you have some sadness or irritation over their decision, you can easily fool yourself into thinking that it’s dangerous for them, therefore feeling the need to step in (this is where the delusional part of being a parent comes in, and you end up having a problem).
A great example is a child who does their homework, how they do it, when they do it, How many parents struggle with this? You’ve kidded yourself by thinking if they get a D, that’s hurting them, and they won’t get into college, and then they’ll fail out of their lives, and they’ll be miserable. Opposed to controlling your anxiety about them not doing good on their homework. Because it’s not hurting them, you can go through the catastrophe chain in your head but that rarely ever happens.
They can fail out of a class, or fail a couple of class grades, they can do badly for several years and then turn it around, and do okay in life. They can flunk out of college and do okay in life. You have to be able to really discern what’s hurting a child and what’s hurting you.

My own example of this from my own life

Hopefully, my son will not freak out about this. It’s been well known in our neighborhood; my son changed his name at seven years old. I gave him his first name, he chose at seven to go by his middle name, which I also gave him but that was related to my grandfather who was rather a stodgy person, and I did not think of my son as a stodgy person.
I just couldn’t put that name with him, so I had a problem with it. It was almost like a little grieving, I no longer had my Johnny, and I now had an Arthur. It was like I no longer had my baby boy with this name. I had to check in with a lot of people, including my psych mentor, other friends whose children changed their names, other friends who have changed their names, this is way more common than I ever imagined. They all told me it’s no big deal, it’s not a problem, it’s my problem. I had to suck it up. I had to take care of my own grief, my own anxiety about it and let him have it. He still goes by that name today, and it’s been fine, it’s no big deal. You can’t fool yourself; you might have to check with somebody else if you’re having a strong reaction to something your child is doing.
A child dresses different, they do their hair in a funny way, maybe they’ve dyed it,  or pierced something, and parents get all in a tizzy about it. But this is where you have to hold it. That’s where you’re giving your child their own autonomy, their own space, their own separation. This is so important.

Putting up a boundary with a child

Of course, there are times when children do things that are truly dangerous for them or going to hurt them or somebody else. Such as breaking the law or mishandling equipment like a car. These are dangerous things where you do have to put up a boundary.
Another dangerous example that people don’t usually think about is when they depend on you too much. Like the child who stays home because they don’t get a job. You have to put a boundary, “I’m only willing to support you financially until X date.” A lot of parents have trouble; they feel guilty about putting up a boundary because they think it’s being mean or the child is truly enraged and are saying hurtful things. You have to understand what is dangerous for the child, that you need to put that boundary up and you won’t tolerate so that they can change that. That’s the putting up boundaries, that’s the taking control back, not letting them run you over. There’s some give-and-take.

Changing the parenting technique

It’s interesting because we grew up in one type of parenting style, and now Society has changed all that. I empathize with all you parents out there who can’t do the stuff that our parents did to us; we can’t do that anymore and for a good reason. Hitting a child is always a bad idea; the reason is that it’s overstimulating.
If somebody hits you, they’ve entered your private space. It’s an assault, and it’s illegal. If a child hits somebody when they grow up, they are going to be sued. You get into this quandary, “I can hit you, but you can’t hit anybody.” I’ve had parents who have hit kids for getting in trouble for hitting kids in class. It stirs them up more than you realize and it’s hard for a child to hold on to that being overstimulated like that. It’s hard for an adult to handle that overstimulation, but it’s disruptive to a child’s development. So please don’t hit. I know a lot of us grew up that way and lots of people kid themselves, by saying, “well that made me a better person.” Most likely not, but even if it did, not a good idea.
Here’s the key, when a child is small, they cannot speak, or they can’t get their ideas in their head out. They also can’t take your ideas; children don’t understand abstract concepts such as general safety. They can’t understand it, so you’re limited, you’re limited to things like taking away privileges, restricting their activities, taking things away. You are narrowing their focus down; that way they can see, if they do this, they lose that. They can put those two simple ideas together, but as a child ages, they start getting into middle school and certainly by high school, they can reason. You want them to reason; you want them to learn how to reason. These are the keys to how to avoid raising a narcissist.

Your child’s first long-term intimate relationship is with you.

You have to be doing this well, so they learn how to do it well. They’re going to take what they learn from you and apply it to the other relationships in their life when they get older. When the child is at a reasoning age, you have to start talking to them; taking things away and timeouts are pointless, it’s totally useless for them. You want natural consequences to take their toll as much as possible. This is a critical part of how to avoid raising a narcissist.
If they don’t study for their tests, they get to go to school and fail, that’s the consequence. You don’t have to add anything to that; you don’t have to do anything with that except talk to them. Ask them, what is going on, that they’re not studying for their test? They may not be able to respond, but you start getting the wheels turning, and you ask more questions. They’re going to internalize that asking themselves questions such as, “why am I failing?” They’ll start thinking about it; you don’t have to pummel them. Ask them questions such as, “Is this the type of student you want to be? Do you think this is going to impact your future? What good or bad can come out of this, how did your teacher react, what are some other options? Talk to your child and ask questions, to get them thinking.
They may decide they’re perfectly fine with getting B’s and maybe you’re okay with them getting B’s. But if they’re smart and they can get B’s pretty easily, and you’re not happy with them sitting around the house doing nothing, well then you start talking about that. If they’re not going to do their homework, and you don’t want them to sit around. Figure out what they can do that might help their resume and get into college? Maybe they’ll want to start a new sport or get extra lessons, or volunteer works. That’s called compromise; you want to start compromising with the child. Not with the dangerous things, if they’re drinking and driving, you take the car away for a little while and talk. That’s not a compromise; you want to understand what they’re thinking. You want to know how can they handle things differently next time.
Think about it; when they’re married, the spouse isn’t going to take their phone away if they lose their job. You want your child to talk and work it out, that’s an adult to adult relationship. You got to start having that type of relationship before the child is an adult; that way, when they’re an adult, they can do it right.

That’s the difference

Narcissists don’t do that give-and-take. Healthy people can have all kinds of competent people around them, and people with their own ideas and known values and they’re comfortable. But a narcissist has to have everybody “below them” to feel whole. They can’t do the give-and-take.
You have to start doing that when your kid can reason. Parents who take a phone away for two months even though that has nothing to do with them being late for their curfew two weeks in a row. That’s not going to translate to the adult world. Right? The boss is going to come and say, “What the hell, why are you late all the time? What is going on with you?” You want your child to be able to give and take, and it starts with you. This is not a blame the parent’s story, I don’t want to blame my parents, and it’s not about that.
The fact remains that you are an integral part of your child’s life. You’re the only part of a child’s life for a long time, and then you’re an integral part of that life as they grow up. You have a massive influence on that; it’s also not to scare you it’s to give you hope. So you can see and go through these changes or ask for help to do so. How to avoid raising a narcissist or sociopath is: teach give and take, control yourself, put up boundaries against them, and change your approach as they change and as they grow.

Who is Dr. Laura Dabney?

I’m a relationship psychiatrist, and I typically help executive men with their relationship problems, but as I’ve explained here, my passion has become helping those of you who are too afraid to pick up the phone and call me with any emotional problem. So I’m coming to you with my welcome mat to let you know how I do things and what I tell my patients every day, that way you can learn from them and me.
For more go to www.drldabney.com or www.lauradabney.com.
Or if you would like to find out how we can help you, click here to schedule a 15-minute consultation.