Countering Denial and Narcissism
What Parents Can Do . . .
How do we help children grow up to have self-acceptance and self-respect but less narcissism?
How do we help children learn to perceive bias and emotional investment and to offset dissonance and denial?
Denialism starts early
Parents pass down dogmatic ignorance, as well as ancient bigotries and superstition. Children absorb the views of their caregivers, incorporating parental prejudice into their basic attitudes and approach to the world. Parental bias helps to instill “tribalism,” the common tendency to view another group as inferior or less worthy than one’s own group.
Teaching a child to believe that a doctrine, any doctrine, represents the literal and absolute truth, is a way to undermine that child’s capacity to honestly question their premises. These children tend to become adults who seek simplistic, concrete answers and who feel uncomfortable with paradox or open-ended ideas.
Parents who respect and appreciate ethnic and cultural differences help orient their children toward cross-cultural openness, instilling a lasting inoculation against xenophobia, bigotry, and nationalism.
Parents have to be able to face difficult issues in honest and effective ways so they can be healthy role models for their kids. People brought up in authoritarian or narcissistic households are less likely to provide this healthy modeling for their own children and the cycle of denial continues.
Psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues discovered that children learn better when they are not overly praised for their natural or special talents, but rather, supported for their commitment to learning and for improvement made through actual efforts.
Dozens of studies have shown harmful effects when children are constantly told that they are naturally exceptional because of how innately talented and smart they are:
Parents or teachers should not identify a child’s worth or capacity with their performance, but with the fact that they are willing to persist.
It is more helpful to praise a child for continuing to try even after making a mistake, and to recognize when they have worked hard on something. “Hooray! You really stuck with it, and that makes a difference. You are really getting better at it…Your hard work shows.”
To feel that one can make progress and develop skills of competency is what underlies honest perspective and confidence based on reality.
As we can see in American Idol auditions, there are many people who cannot gauge their own abilities. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a symptom of having inadequate Metacognitive skills. This is especially common when children have never received honest formative feedback.
Praise for the wrong things can hurt, but children still need enormous amounts of interaction, affection, support and encouragement, and listening.