In a classical Greek myth, the handsome youth Narcissus became so transfixed by his own image that his feet grew rooted to the land near the stream in which he saw his own beauty reflected. The nymph, Echo, who loved Narcissus, could only repeat words Narcissus spoke. Thus, Freud created the term narcissism to denote self-love, viewing it as a natural component of the human psyche.

Later psychoanalytic theory labelled narcissism, in its extreme form, as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, (N.P.D), diagnosing it in individuals so consumed by self-absorption as to be deemed incapable of responding to the needs, rights and feelings of others. N.P.D is often sited by both psychologists and criminologists as the source of a plethora of antisocial behaviors and violent crimes.

Some psychoanalysts hold that this disorder is rooted in a dysfunction during the formation of the parent-child bond, beginning in infancy. Self-esteem is the foundation from which the personality evolves towards healthy adulthood. Deprivation of nurturing during these crucial, developmental years can create a precarious basis for character formation.

Although the parental relationship continues to be significant, once the child enters school, becoming socialized into a peer group, other factors are brought to bear. Academic performance and social acceptance help to shape the self-concept of the growing child, as he/she grows towards puberty. While no-one escapes negative input, the child with a strong emotional core will find the fortitude to withstand its power. Where, however, a tendency towards N.P.D is present, the sufferer finds it impossible to withstand these forces, ultimately losing the capacity to develop the empathy essential to all balanced relationships.

Although the above-mentioned sources may foster development of N.P.D, there are also chemical imbalances which predispose some towards incubation of this disorder. In medical terms, if persons A B and C are exposed to the germs generated by one sneeze, A might contract pneumonia, B the common cold, while C will experience no ill effects. Thus, children reared in the same family, having similar academic and social milieus, may develop in diverse ways. 

Unfortunately, due to the nearly insurmountable difficulties in unearthing the causes of N.P.D, it is only the symptoms which, for the most part, can be analyzed and treated. In all likelihood, we will be required to wait until medical science is able to study the brain structures of those suffering from this disorder, for its causes to be comprehended and treated.

Serial killer Ted Bundy refused the request that he authorize examination of his brain structure and chemistry after his execution. While enforcing the death penalty, the American legal system honored this choice. Thus, medical science was denied an opportunity to examine the brain of a malignant narcissist.

As our society becomes compelled to witness an ever-increasing prevalence of the symptoms of N.P.D, we seek a reason for this phenomenon. It is tempting to target such factors as emotional neglect by one or more parents, the breakdown of the nuclear family, the absentee parent or working lone parent.

While not invalidating these factors, perhaps we need to take a profounder view of other pertinent influences upon personality development. Have we, by almost imperceptible degrees, learned to allow destructive influences to pervade every aspect of child development? Children, throughout their growing years, see an increasing number of atrocities justified, wrongdoing condoned, and violence in entertainment accepted.

Inevitably, children who develop N.P.D will become the types of adults who bring about an escalation in bullying, sadism, burglary, fraud, rape and murder. If, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins has said, "the child is father to the man", then more caution is needed to ensure that today's boys and girls become future men and women in whom respect for the ideas, feelings, rights and dignities of all living things have been inculcated.