Is NPD Genetically Caused?
Here is why I'm skeptical, though I think genetics has some influence on things like suseptibility to narcissistic injury and may play a role in the story.
First, studies of identical twins, raised both apart and together, have indicated hereditary influence on personality traits. Traits. Not whole personalities. It's unscientific to confuse the two. Confusing things with what they ain't is a propaganda trick, not Scientific Method.
I really hate abuse of statistics. Like when people say, "Research shows that 65% of personality is inherited."
No. The percentages researchers came up with were a creature of their instruments (evaluations and questionnaires), not a measure of how alike the twins actually were. For example, if most of your questions are aimed at eliciting evidence of narcissism, you are going to find a high percentage of correlation due to just that one trait. But what percentage of the package of that person's total personality is that? Perhaps minuscule.
No ones claims to have an instrument that measures the whole spectrum of human personality, so that it can be used in such a study to determine "how alike" the personalities of identical twins really are.
What's more, the trait of narcissism exists to some extent in everyone and is a far different thing than NPD.
Now here is the website of the main proponent of the hypothesis that narcissism is genetically caused.
I shall explain what I find lacking here - EVIDENCE. VALID SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE. By the way, I'm no geneticist, but I have a Bachelor of Science degree in biology with graduate credit in advanced genetics. So, I'm not exactly clueless here.
This "theory" is vague. What exactly does it assert? What it SUGGESTS and HINTS AT is obvious, but what does it actually assert? That is impossible to nail down. There is a mile of wiggle room in it. This vagueness is unscientific.
Check it out. It never comes right out and plainly says what it implies - that NPD and malignant narcissism are genetically caused. In fact, it defines malignant narcissism as coming to the attention of a mental healthcare professional.
A very, very strange way to define a disease = as getting the attention of a physician. (I love unintended humor.)
Right at the top, this site claims the "theory" (actually no more than a hypothesis) is "Based on Mendelian genetics."
Okay, where? Show me the Mendelian genetics.
I know that humans aren't as easy to deal with as garden peas, but if you're going to claim that your hypothesis is based on Mendelian genetics, I want to see the numbers.
Where are the studies? Studies of people reliably diagnosed and their families.
What does Dr. Benis get? Fifty-percent of every statistically valid sampling of the children of N's having NPD? I'll take 1 in 4 for a recessive trait. Show me them numbers, please. Why aren't there any numbers?
Hey, it could be a blended trait among multiple genes and alleles, resulting in more complex mathematical probabilities. It's been too long since my graduate course in advanced genetics to remember all the common patterns, but I will take any definite ratio you prove exists as evidence for the claim. I don't care. Just show me that the ratio of offspring who have the disorder is always the SAME in every statistically valid sampling.
That's what Brother Mendel did: he kept noticing that exactly 3/4 of the offspring of certain garden-pea-plant crosses always came out a certain way for some traits and that exactly 1/4 of the offspring for other crosses always came out the same way for other traits. He correctly reasoned that these traits must therefore be inherited. Otherwise the ratios wouldn't be constant from garden to garden, generation to generation.
Since we knew nothing about chromosomes at the time, three cheers for him. That was an awesome bit of science.
So, where are Dr. Benis' numbers? Gregor Mendel produced them for us. Everyone else who has established a genetic cause for something has produced the proof in those telling numbers that always come out in the ratio that echos the laws of probability. So, where are Benis' numbers?
What does that site gives us instead? The section on Royal Genealogy. This is no substitute for scientifically valid data on real people - this "personality typing" (a euphemism for "diagnosing") of the CARICATURES of long dead people.
Now, I'm guessing that you don't need graduate credit in genetics to know what's wrong with that. Especially what's wrong with using the royal family of Europe.
For one thing, these people were horribly inbred and, as a result, carry a large "genetic load" of genetic abnormalities (usually as recessive alleles that don't express themselvs except in children when both parents are carriers). They lead to such things as insanity and hemophilia. (Which is why Europe's royals don't intermarry anymore.) If you want to study something caused by the lack of one known enzyme, like hemophilia, they make a great test group. But not for something as cloudy as this. It would be impossible to sort out what genetic abnormality was causing what.
And looking for narcissism among royals? One might as well look for the color blue in the sky.
A royal may be as humble as Prince Hamlet, but his scripted performance is total narcissism. I mean, that's why he's called "my lord" and "your highness" and "your grace" and "your majesty" you know. He's supposed to act the part. You would have to know him personally as an intimate friend or family member to know the real him. Royals are trained from birth to ritually narcissistic behavior. They're SUPPOSED to be stuffy. Supposed to be imperious. Indeed, they WERE imperiors/emperors of their empires.
And of course royals will tend to actually be narcissistic as well. Just because of who they are and the way they are raised and treated.
But narcissism isn't NPD. Where is the distinction between situational acquired narcissm and malignant narcissism? Benis makes none.
A narcissistic personality isn't a narcissistically disordered one. What's more, a royal's narcissism will usually be elevated self esteem (situational acquired narcissism), not NPD, which is low self esteem in denial and acting haughty to dissimulate. They are very, very different things. One is malignant, the other is not.
And who diagnosed -'er, I mean "typed" all these generations of royals? From what examination? Of what evidence? Benis is diagnosing people way back to the 13th century. He knows that much about those hundreds of once famous people? Give me a break.
His hypothesis is just a proposed model, period. Pure thought on the matter. Not a shred of evidence is cited in support of it.
His model may be right about some things, or even many things, but there is no way to know that. And no sound reason to believe it. In fact, there is reason for scepticism, because Benis just glosses over the caveats and objections to his hypothesis, as if doing that deals with the questions they raise. What's more, he first published this model in 1990. So, if he's so sure of this, why are there still no legitimate studies to supply any evidence to back it up?
I am a firm believer in leaning toward the most likely explanation for things, not the most unlikely one. Unfortunately, studies show that most people prefer the most unlikely one.
And political correctness has no time for any explanation that puts any responsibility for himself on the narcissist. Who has a higher opinion of him then? The bleeding hearts who regard him as a machine? Or me? I regard him as a person with the power to choose for himself whether he will abuse someone or not, whether he will face facts or not. The bleeding hearts are always misplacing their sympathy. It all goes to the narcissist. They don't "understand" the victim's anger: instead they preach at the victim to "understand" the narcissist's rage. I bet such folks really like this genetic hypothesis. It must be popular in that crowd.
Genotype may well contribute to a susceptibility or predisposition to NPD. Childhood narcissistic abuse may be an important factor. And it goes against reason to disregard the obvious - CHOICE - as a cause of the way a person with NPD habitually thinks and conducts himself.
We need evidence to know whether, and to what extent if any, genetics is a factor. We need evidence to know whether, and to what extent if any, childhood abuse is a factor. But we need nothing but common sense to know that choice is operating in people who behave quite normally in the presence of witnesses and only act crazy behind closed doors in the dark.
narcissistic personality disorder