There are some grounds to assume that a cognitive
dissonance is involved in feeling that children are more a satisfaction than a
nuisance. Why do people bother with parenting? It is time consuming,
exhausting, strains otherwise pleasurable and tranquil relationships to
their limits. Still, humanity keeps at it: breeding.
It is the easiest to resort to Nature. After all, all living species
breed and most of them parent. We are, all taken into consideration,
animals and, therefore, subject to the same instinctive behaviour patterns.
There is no point in looking for a reason: survival itself (whether of
the gene pool or, on a higher level, of the species) is at stake.
Breeding is a transport mechanism: handing the precious cargo of genetics
down generations of "organic containers".
But this is a reductionist view, which both ignores epistemological and
emotional realities and is tautological, thereby explaining something
in terms of itself. Calling something by a different name or describing
the mechanisms involved in minute detail does not an explanation make.
First hypothesis: we bring children to the world in order to
"circumvent" death. We attain immortality (genetically and psychologically
though in both cases it is imaginary) by propagating our genetic material
through the medium of our offspring.
This is a highly dubious claim. Any analysis, however shallow, will
reveal its weaknesses. Our genetic material gets diluted beyond
reconstruction with time. It constitutes 50% of the first generation, 25% of the
second and so on. If this were the paramount concern incest should
have been the norm, being a behaviour better able to preserve a specific
set of genes (especially today, when genetic screening can effectively
guard against the birth of defective babies). Moreover, progeny is a
dubious way of perpetuating one's self. No one remembers one's great
great grandfathers. One's memory is better preserved by intellectual feats
or architectural monuments. The latter are much better conduits than
children and grandchildren.
Still, this indoctrinated misconception is so strong that a baby boom
characterizes post war periods. Having been existentially threatened,
people multiply in the vain belief that they thus best protect their
genetic heritage and fixate their memory.
In the better-educated, higher income, low infant mortality part of the
world the number of children has decreased dramatically but those
who still bring them to the world do so partly because they believe in
these factually erroneous assumptions.
Second hypothesis: we bring children to the world in order to preserve
the cohesiveness of the family nucleus. This claim can more plausibly
be reversed: the cohesiveness of the social cell of the family
encourages bringing children to the world. In both cases, if true, we would have
expected more children to be born into stable families (ante or post
facto) than into abnormal or dysfunctional ones. The facts absolutely
contradict this expectation: more children are born to single parent
families (between one third and one half of them) and to other "abnormal"
(non-traditional) families than to the mother-father classic
configuration. Dysfunctional families have more children than any other type of
family arrangement. Children are an abject failure at preserving family
cohesiveness. It would seem that the number of children, or even their
very existence, is not correlated to the stability of the family. Under
special circumstances, (Narcissistic parents, working mothers) they may
even be a destabilizing factor.
Hypothesis number three: children are mostly born unwanted. They are
the results of accidents and mishaps, wrong fertility planning, wrong
decisions and misguided turns of events. The more sex people engage in and
the less preventive measures they adopt the greater the likelihood of
having a child. While this might be factually true (family planning is
all but defunct in most parts of the world), it neglects the simple
fact that people want children and love them. Children are still economic
assets in many parts of the world. They plough fields and do menial
jobs very effectively. This still does not begin to explain the attachment
between parents and their offspring and the grief experienced by
parents when children die or are sick. It seems that people derive enormous
emotional fulfilment from being parents. This is true even when the
children were unwanted in the first place or are the results of lacking
planning and sexual accidents. That children ARE the results of sexual
ignorance, bad timing, the vigorousness of the sexual drive (higher
frequency of sexual encounters) can be proven using birth statistics among
teenagers, the less educated and the young (ages 20 to 30).
People derive great happiness, fulfilment and satisfaction from their
children. Is not this, in itself, a sufficient explanation? The pleasure
principle seems to be at work: people have children because it gives
them great pleasure. Children are sources of emotional sustenance. As
parents grow old, they become sources of economic support, as well.
Unfortunately, these assertions are not sustained by the facts. Increasing
mobility breaks families apart at an early stage. Children become ever
more dependent on the economic reserves of their parents (during their
studies and the formation of a new family). It is not uncommon today for
a child to live with and off his parents until the age of 30.
Increasing individualism leaves parents to cope with the empty nest syndrome.
Communication between parents and children has rarefied in the 20th
It is possible to think of children as habit forming (see: "The Habit
of Identity"). In this hypothesis, parents especially mothers form a
habit. Nine months of pregnancy and a host of social reactions
condition the parents. They get used to the presence of an "abstract" baby. It
is a case of a getting used to a concept. This is not very convincing.
Entertaining a notion, a concept, a thought, an idea, a mental image,
or a symbol very rarely leads to the formation of a habit. Moreover, the
living baby is very different to its pre-natal image. It cries, it
soils, it smells, it severely disrupts the lives of its parents. It is much
easier to reject it then to transform it to a habit. Moreover, a child
is a bad emotional investment. So many things can and do go wrong with
it as it grows. So many expectations and dreams are frustrated. The
child leaves home and rarely reciprocates. The emotional "returns" on an
investment in a child are rarely commensurate with the magnitude of the
This is not to say that people do NOT derive pleasure and fulfilment
from their offspring. This is undeniable. Yet, it is neither in the
economic nor in the mature emotional arenas. To have children seems to be a
purely Narcissistic drive, a part of the pursuit of Narcissistic
For further elaboration, please refer to: "Malignant Self Love
Narcissism Revisited" and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) sections.
We are all Narcissists, to a greater or lesser degree. A Narcissist is
a person who projects a (false) image to the people around him. He then
proceeds to define himself by this very image reflected back at him.
Thus, he regards people as mere instruments, helpful in his Sisyphean
attempt at self-definition. Their attention is crucial because it augments
his weak ego and defines its boundaries. The Narcissist feeds off their
admiration, adoration and approval and these help him to maintain a
grandiose (fantastic and delusional) sense of self. As the personality
matures, Narcissism is replaced with the ability to empathize and to love.
The energy (libido) initially directed at loving one's (false) self is
redirected at more multidimensional, less idealized "targets": others.
This edifice of maturity seems to crumble at the sight of one's
offspring. The baby evokes in the parent the most primordial drives, a
regression to infancy, protective, animalistic instincts, the desire to merge
with the newborn and a sense of terror generated by such a desire (a
fear of vanishing and of being assimilated). The parent relives his
infancy and childhood through the agency of the baby. The newborn provides
the parent with endless, unconditional and unbounded Narcissistic
supply. This is euphemistically known as love but it is really a form of
symbiotic dependence, at least in the beginning of the relationship. Such
narcissistic supply is addictive even to the more balanced, more
mature, more psychodynamically stable of parents.
It enhances the parent's self-confidence, self esteem and buttresses
his self image. It fast becomes indispensable, especially in the
emotionally vulnerable position in which the parent finds himself. This
vulnerability is a result of the reawakening and reconstruction of all the
conflicts and unsolved complexes that the parent had with his own parents.
If explanation is true, the following should also hold true:
The higher the self confidence, the self esteem, the self worth, the
clearer and more realistic the self image of the potential parent the
less children he will have (the Principle of the Conservation of the Ego
The more sources of readily available Narcissistic supply the less
children are needed (the substitutability of Narcissistic sources of
Sure enough, both predictions are validated by reality. The higher the
education and the income of adults the fewer children they tend to
have. People with a higher education and with a greater income are more
likely to have a more established sense of self worth. Children become
counter-productive: not only is their Narcissistic input (supply)
unnecessary, they can also hinder further progress.
Having children is not a survival or genetically oriented imperative.
Had this been the case, the number of children would have risen together
with free income. Yet, exactly the reverse is happening: the more
children people can economically afford the fewer they have. The more
educated they are (=the more they know about the world and about
themselves), the less they seek to procreate. The more advanced the civilization,
the more efforts it invests into preventing the birth of children:
contraceptives, family planning, abortions. These all are typical of
affluent, well educated societies.
And the more Narcissistic supply can be derived from other sources
the less do people resort to making children and to other procreative
activities (such as sex). Freud described the mechanism of sublimation:
the sex drive, the Eros (libido), can be "converted", "sublimated" into
other activities. All the sublimatory channels and activities are
Narcissistic in character: politics, art. They all provide what children do:
narcissistic supply. They make children redundant. It is not by
coincidence that people famous for their creativity tend to have less children
than the average (most of them, none at all). They are Narcissistically
self sufficient, they do not need children.
This seems to be the key to our determination to have children:
To experience the unconditional love that we received from our mothers,
this intoxicating feeling of being loved without caveats, for what we
are, with no limits, reservations, or calculations. This is the most
powerful, crystallized source of Narcissistic supply. It nourishes our
self-love, self worth and self-confidence. It infuses us with feelings of
omnipotence and omniscience. In these, and other respects, it is a
return to infancy.
Is there a "typical" relationship between the Narcissist and his
We are all members of a few families in our lifetime: the one that we
are born to and the one(s) that we create. We all transfer hurts,
attitudes, fears, hopes and desires a whole emotional baggage from the
former to the latter. The narcissist is no exception.
The narcissist has a dichotomous view of humanity: humans are either
Sources of Narcissistic Supply (and, then, idealised and over-valued) or
do not fulfil this function (and, therefore, are valueless, devalued).
The narcissist gets all the love that he needs from himself. From the
outside he needs approval, affirmation, admiration, adoration, attention
in other words, externalised Ego boundary functions. He does not
require nor does he seek his parents' or his siblings' love, or to be
loved by his children. He casts them as the audience in the theatre of
his inflated grandiosity. He wishes to impress them, shock them,
threaten them, infuse them with awe, inspire them, attract their attention,
subjugate them, or manipulate them. He emulates and simulates an entire
range of emotions and employs every means to achieve these effects. He
lies (narcissists are pathological liars their very self is a false
one). He plays the pitiful, or, its opposite, the resilient and reliable.
He stuns and shines with outstanding intellectual, or physical (or
anything else appreciated by the members of the family) capacities and
achievements. When confronted with (young) siblings or with his own
children, the narcissist is likely to undergo three reactive phases:
At first, he perceives his offspring as a threat to his Narcissistic
Supply Sources (his turf, the Pathological Narcissistic Space). He does
his best to belittle them, hurt (also physically) and humiliate them and
then, when these reactions prove ineffective or counter productive, he
retreats into an imaginary world of omnipotence. A period of emotional
absence and detachment ensues. The narcissist indulges himself in
daydreaming, delusions of grandeur, planning of future coups, nostalgia and
hurt (the Lost Paradise Syndrome). The narcissist reacts this way to
the birth of his children or to the introduction of new centres of
attention to the family cell (even a new pet!).
Whatever the narcissist perceives to be his competition for scarce
Narcissistic Supply is relegated to the role of the enemy. Where no
legitimacy exists for the uninhibited expression of the aggression and
hostility aroused by this predicament the narcissist prefers to stay away.
He disconnects, detaches himself emotionally, becomes cold and
disinterested, directs transformed anger at his mate or at his parents (the more
Other narcissists see the opportunity in the mishap. They seek to
manipulate their parents (or their mate) by "taking over" the newcomer.
Such narcissists monopolise their siblings or their new-born children.
This way, indirectly, the narcissist basks in the attention directed at
the infant. An example: by being closely identified with his offspring,
a narcissistic father secures the grateful admiration of the mother
("What an outstanding father he is"). He also assumes part of or all the
credit for babys/siblings achievements. This is a process of
annexation and assimilation of the other, a strategy that the narcissist makes
use of in most of his relationships.
As the baby/sibling grows older, the narcissist begins to see their
potential to be edifying, reliable and satisfactory Sources of
Narcissistic Supply. His attitude, then, is completely transformed. The former
threats have now become promising potentials. He cultivates those whom he
trusts to be the most rewarding. He encourages them to idolise him, to
adore him, to be awed by him, to admire his deeds and capabilities, to
learn to blindly trust and obey him, in short to surrender to his
charisma and to become submerged in his folies-de-grandeur. These roles
allocated to them explicitly and demandingly or implicitly and
perniciously by the narcissist are best fulfilled by ones whose mind is not
fully formed and independent. The older the siblings or offspring, the
more they become critical, even judgmental, of the narcissist. They are
better able to put into context and perspective his actions, to question
his motives, to anticipate his moves. They refuse to continue to play
the mindless pawns in his chess game. They hold grudges against him for
what he has done to them in the past, when they were less capable of
resistance. They can gauge his true stature, talents and achievements
which, usually, lag far behind the claims that he makes.
This brings the narcissist a full cycle back to the first phase. Again,
he perceives his Siblings or sons/daughters as threats. He quickly
becomes disillusioned, in one of the spastic devaluation reactions typical
of his appraisal of humans around him. He loses all interest, becomes
emotionally remote, absent and cold, rejects any effort to communicate
with him, citing life pressures and the preciousness and scarceness of
his time. He feels burdened, cornered, besieged, suffocated, and
claustrophobic. He wants to get away, to abandon his commitments to people who
have become totally useless (or even damaging) to him. He does not
understand why he has to support them, to suffer their company and he
believes himself to have been trapped. He rebels either
passively-aggressively (by refusing to act or intentionally sabotaging the relationships)
or actively (by being overly critical, aggressive, unpleasant, verbally
and psychologically abusive and so on). Slowly to justify his acts to
himself he gets immersed in conspiracy theories with clear paranoid
hues. To his mind, the members of the family conspire against him, seek
to belittle or humiliate or subordinate him, do not understand him,
stymie his growth. The narcissist usually finally gets what he wants and
the family that he has created disintegrates to his great sorrow (due to
the loss of the Narcissistic Space) but also to his great relief and
surprise (how could they have let go someone as unique as he?).
This is the cycle: the narcissist feels threatened by arrival of new
family members assimilation of siblings or offspring obtaining
Narcissistic Supply from them overvaluation of these new sources by the
narcissist as sources grow older and independent, they adopt anti
narcissistic behaviours the narcissist devalues them the narcissist feels
stifled and trapped the narcissist becomes paranoid the narcissist
rebels and the family disintegrates. This cycle characterises not only
the family life of the narcissist. It is to be found in other realms of
his life (his career, for instance). At work, the narcissist,
initially, feels threatened (no one knows him, he is a nobody). Then, he
develops a circle of admirers, cronies and friends which he "nurtures and
cultivates" in order to obtain Narcissistic Supply from them. He overvalues
them (they are the brightest, the most loyal, with the biggest chances
to climb the corporate ladder and other superlatives).
But following some anti-narcissistic behaviours on their part (a
critical remark, a disagreement, a refusal, however polite, all constitute
such behaviours) the narcissist devalues all these previously
over-valued individuals. Now they are stupid, lack ambition, skills and talents,
common (the worst expletive in the narcissist's vocabulary), with an
unspectacular career ahead of them. The narcissist feels that he is
misallocating his resources (for instance, his time). He feels besieged and
suffocated. He rebels and erupts in a serious of self-defeating and
self-destructive behaviours, which lead to the disintegration of his life.
Doomed to build and ruin, attach and detach, appreciate and depreciate,
the narcissist is predictable in his Death Wish. What sets him apart
from other suicidal types is that his wish is granted to him in small,
tormenting doses throughout his anguished life.
Sam Vaknin is the author of "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism
Revisited" and "After the Rain - How the West Lost the East".
He is a columnist in "Central Europe Review", United Press
International (UPI) and ebookweb.org and the editor of mental health and Central
East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and
Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of
His web site: http://samvak.tripod.com
Submitted by: Sam Vaknin *
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