It seems to me there is an epidemic right now in American society of narcissitic males in my age group. I have heard from many women dealing with this, and it is very sad how this is affecting families. (If you are unsure what this is, try this article; it is a personality disorder that begins very early in life, cannot be diagnosed until adulthood, and is very difficult to treat). Somehow, though, I started making the leap from narcissism to – well, what makes a good human being? How do I want my son or daughter to act in a relationship when they have their own families? These traits, of course, are not exactly opposite narcissism another since narcissism is a psychological order and I am talking in generalities about raising children who can function in relationships.
However, I think much of this boils down to integrity. I have seen so many relationships ripped apart by not just self-centeredness (which is different from narcissism) but by a complete lack of integrity; public lives are not at all the same as what is going on in private; the partner and family are not first. I think what is most difficult about this is the model it sets for children; children generally know something is going on when things don’t match up.
So in order to teach integrity, one must live in integrity. What does this mean?
I think it means several things:
Merging your personal and private lives. Don’t act in such a way or be into things in your private life that you would be completely embarrassed and upset if your children found out. Be consistent across the arenas and roles of your life. That is part of having a moral character. Having a conscious and understanding of what you are doing when it is vastly different from one role to another helps you correct this and stop.
Believe in people, help people, build people up. If you live in a family with other people, it is not just about you. Self-centeredness is not a good trait on the job or in the family. We expect adolescents to be self-centered, not forty-year-olds. Be equitable and fair in how you deal with people and teach your children to do the same.
Be accountable – apologize first, admit when you are wrong, try to make amends. Love people enough to build bridges with those you can (and I am not talking about toxic relationships here. For these people, I think it is important for our children to see us as we model boundaries). Hold your children accountable in how they treat you, other members of the family, themselves, and in relationships outside the home. Accountability in relationships and respect in relationships go hand in hand.
Follow through – If your word means anything, you will follow through on what you say and what you believe and your children will do the same.
Be honest and loyal, and teach your children not just how to not be a bully, but how to empathize with people and feel what they are feeling. Part of integrity requires emotional intelligence, and again, thinking about others and being a good communicator. Relationships sometimes dissolve, not over bullying, but over one party not being able to read the other and respond to that. Teaching children how to deal with conflict in a productive manner is so important.
Believe in the positive; look for the helpers and any good things in the tragedies of the world.