The word ‘narcissism’ is becoming quite a household term these days and at times it can be used as an explanation for anything from selfishness to a temper outburst. Indeed there is a broad spectrum of ways that narcissism can manifest along a continuum from healthy to malignant. Healthy narcissism means having a realistic self esteem, while malignant narcissism refers to extreme self-centeredness with a very fragile, insecure sense of self and an inability to form healthy relationships. This kind of malignant narcissism has a particularly devastating effect when it is present in a parenting situation. This article will explore some of the traits of a narcissistic parent; how these traits affect their children; and how to overcome these effects.
What are the traits of a narcissistic parent?
When a parent is narcissistic everything is always about them, and they use their children to fulfil their own dreams and desires. An example of this would be the father who insists that his son become a doctor, regardless of whether the son’s interests and abilities coincide with this career choice.
Jealousy and possessiveness:
The narcissistic parent hopes and aims to keep their offspring under their thumb forever. So as soon as the child begins to show maturity or individuation, making his or her own choices and preferences known, the parent can become incensed and indignant, taking it as a personal affront and a threat.
Lack of empathy:
Narcissists have a serious inability to take into account the thoughts and feeling of others, including their children. To them the only thing that matters is their own views and perceptions. Children who experience this kind of invalidation over time often develop a false mask to accommodate the parent, or they distance themselves from their parent, while some may try to fight back.
Dependency and codependency:
Narcissistic parents often foster a co-dependent relationship with their children to the extent that they expect the child to take care of them for the rest of their lives. This often involves great expense and personal sacrifice on the part of the child, of which the narcissist may seem completely oblivious.
The narcissistic parent is a master at manipulation through punishment, threats and withholding love in order to force compliance. They will often place false guilt on a child, as well as blaming, shaming, and exerting unreasonable pressure to perform. Negative comparisons (“why can’t you be as good as your sibling?”) and emotional coercion (“if you are a good son or daughter you will do this or that for me”) are also common tactics.
Scapegoating and favouritism:
When there is more than one child in the family, the narcissistic parent will often target one of them as the “golden child” who is groomed to pander to the needs and ego of the narcissist. Then what happens is that one of the other children becomes the ‘scapegoat’ who gets blamed for everything. In this way siblings are pitted against each other, causing further havoc and chaos in this already disturbed home.
The parent who is a narcissist may choose to pursue his or her own interests rather than facing the everyday demands of being a parent. They can also be workaholics. This neglectful attitude leaves the child mostly with the other parent or alone and largely fending for themselves.
How are children affected when they are raised by a narcissistic parent?
They are not loved for who they are:
The selfishness of the narcissistic parent does not allow them to see the child as they are, loveable, precious and valued in their own right. Instead they are only appreciated to the extent that they meet and pander to the needs of the parent.
Siblings are pitted against one another:
A certain amount of sibling rivalry is normal in any family, but where there is a narcissistic parent involved this rivalry reaches dangerous levels. This is often a deliberate triangulation tactic of the narcissist to serve their own selfish needs.
The child’s needs are ignored, suppressed or ridiculed:
When the child of a narcissistic parent tries to express their own needs and desires which may differ from the parent’s they are often put down and shamed, being made to feel that their thoughts, feelings and opinions are invalid and worthless.
The child can feel like a partner rather than a child:
In some situations the narcissistic parent will vent and confide in the child, and the child is expected to comfort and meet the parent’s emotional needs. This reversal of roles places the child in the awkward position of feeling more like a partner or confidant than a child.
The child struggles to identify their own wants, needs and goals:
When the child becomes so used to meeting the narcissistic parent’s needs, deferring to all their decisions and always agreeing with their plans and opinions, they can reach the point of no longer being aware of their own thoughts and feelings. When they are asked to give an opinion or express a desire, they may be hesitant, fearful and undecided, weighing up what is the ‘right’ answer that is expected of them.
How can you overcome the effects of narcissistic parenting?
Information and understanding brings healing:
Find out as much as you can about narcissism, and begin to understand what happened to you if you were raised by a narcissistic parent. Let the truth sink in and take comfort in knowing that many others have felt the same pain. You are not alone.
A grieving process is necessary:
If one or both of your parents were narcissistic you will need to grieve the loss of the parent you never had. Grieve the fact that you did not receive the nurturing love that you needed as a child. When you can accept your losses and let go of any fantasies that the narcissist may one day truly love you, then you can be ready to move on with your life.
Boundaries need to be established:
In your recovery from the effects of having been parented by a narcissist it is important that you establish your own boundaries which will distinguish you from your parents. They will likely not take this well, but if you want to be free you will need to persevere through the tantrums and manipulation, until you are free to be who you were meant to be. Set a limit on the time you spend with toxic people, and surround yourself with healthy friends who will love and accept you as you are.
The meaning of true love must be learned:
As you move away from the unhealthy influence of your narcissistic parent you will likely experience healing taking place over time. Then you will be able to appreciate and learn that you are indeed loveable – that you do not have to be constantly performing or achieving something in order to prove your worth. You are loveable simply because you are a precious and valuable human soul.