The traits we often see in people Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are important to note, especially when these individuals are parents. As you might imagine, they are unable to put a child’s needs first, nor are they capable of unconditional love. Some of the symptoms you may see in a person with NPD are: a grandiose sense of self importance (may be shown as an exaggeration of abilities and talents, expectation that
he or she will be seen as superior to all others); obsession with him or herself; selfish or self-motivated goals; intolerant of criticism; fantasies of unbound power, success, intelligence, love, and beauty; a belief that he or she is unique and special above all others; requires extreme admiration for everything; sense of entitlement with unreasonable expectations for special treatment; willingness to take advantage of others to get need met; zero empathy; envious of others or convinced others are envious of him or her; as well as arrogant or condescending behavior.
People with NPD who have children open their children up to a WORLD of damage and child abuse. Generally, Narcissistic Parents are possessively close to their children when they are small – their children are a source of self-esteem. When their children grow to become more independent, the narcissistic parent may feel jealous or envious of the child. While there are many ways in which a Narcissistic Parent abuses his or her child, there are times that a Narcissistic Parent is kind. This makes the abuse harder to handle for children of Narcissistic Parents – the child knows that the underlying tension means that one wrong move means that things will go
wrong, and the Narcissistic Parent may fly into a Narcissistic Rage.
Children of Narcissistic Parents must adhere to the agenda of the the Narcissistic Parent for their lives to be stable. Asserting their feelings, their rights, or their thoughts can lead to much bigger problems. These children of Narcissistic Parents learn that their feelings are invalid, unimportant, and inconsequential. They often stifle all feelings to keep the peace in the house.
When a Narcissistic Parent is kind, the child learns that this kindness comes with an agenda, with strings attached. Generally, the strings include guilt or a feeling of being beholden to their Narcissistic Parent, “If I do this for you, you OWE me,” is a common behavior of Narcissistic Parents. The child is exposed to conditional – or love that requires criteria – love.
Some terms to be aware of, in regard to the Narcissist’s relationship with a child:
Narcissistic Attachment: is the belief that the child of a narcissist exists only for the benefit of the parent, such as a particular status.
Parentification: is the expectation that a child must care for his/her parent, siblings, and household as a surrogate parent. This causes the child to lose out on any type of normal childhood.
Infantilization: using brainwashing tactics to ensure a child stays young and dependent upon the Narcissistic Parent.
Triangulation: a tactic used by narcissistic parents to change the balance of power in a family system. For example, rather than allowing two siblings to work together, the Narcissistic Parent tries to turn the siblings against each other. The Narcissistic Parent insists that he or she be the go-between. This controls the way the information flows, the way it is interpreted, and adds nuances to the conversation. It’s also a way to feed
Narcissistic Supply: is a term used to designate the manner in which narcissists require, feed on attention. The best sorts of attention are approval, adoration, and admiration, but other sources of attention – like fear – are acceptable to a Narcissist. Children, small children, of narcissists are used as an ongoing source of this attention.
Gaslighting: a way in which Narcissistic Parents (and other abusers) use lies— intentional or not— to make their child question his or her own reality. A child may end up feeling as though he or she is crazy. An example would be, insisting that the sky is actually green, until the child believes it. Gaslighting is one of the most insidious forms of emotional and psychological abuse.
Narcissistic Rage: Narcissists despise any challenge or insult, and when that happens, a Narcissist can fly into a rage – spewing insults and becoming physical and aggressive with their children.
Types of Narcissistic Parents
Narcissistic Parents fall into two different categories: Engulfing Parents and Ignoring Parents. Both of these types of Narcissistic Parents are
incredibly damaging to their children.
- Engulfing Parents: Narcissistic Parents who see no boundaries between themselves and their children. Children are seen as extension of the parent— not as another person. For babies and toddlers, this is okay— small children don’t often see themselves as separate from their parents anyway. An engulfing parent uses tactics like Parentification, Infantilization, and Triangulation to keep the child close. This type of narcissistic parent will ignore all boundaries as a child ages, seeing no problem asking overly personal questions, reading the child’s emails
and personal communications.
- Ignoring Parents: Narcissistic Parents who don’t actually care much about their children. Unlike Engulfing Parents, an Ignoring Parent sees a very real boundary between themselves and their child, and has no interest in their child. This can be extremely confusing and bewildering as the child grows to feel unloved, uncared for, hindering future relationships for this child. Often, an Ignoring Parent doesn’t even bother helping a child with physical cleanliness, teaching hygiene, or helping with school work.
Traits of Narcissistic Parents
While these traits may not match all Narcissistic Parents, what follows are some common traits of Narcissistic Parents:
- A Narcissistic Parent has difficulty understanding the emotions of empathy and how to create meaningful connections. As the personal needs of Narcissistic Parents dominate, these parents have little room for the needs of anyone else. It makes it almost impossible for these Narcissistic Parents to relate to the feelings and meet the physical and emotional needs of their children.
- A Narcissistic Parent owns the successes of his or her children. In a Narcissistic Parents mind, he or she has been sacrificing everything for his or her child – the child must retaliate by performing at or above expectations. These childhood achievements are then owned by the Narcissistic Parent as their own, “he’s a great soccer player – it’s my genetics. I was always athletic, too.”
- Narcissistic Parents must be in control. No matter what. A Narcissistic Parent controls his or her children by dictating how these children should feel, should act, and the decisions to be made. This can lead to adult children of Narcissistic Parents being unsure of what they, themselves, like and want out of life. These Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents never learn to be autonomous and make his or her own decisions.
- Narcissistic Parents emotionally blackmail their children. A Narcissistic Parent often is indulgent, kind, and sweet if a child is behaving in the way their Narcissistic Parent wants. However, the moment a child is disobedient, a Narcissistic Parent becomes enraged and cruel. This show of “I love you, go away,” creates insecurity and dependency among children of Narcissistic Parents.
How Do Narcissistic Parents Control Their Children?
There are a few ways that a Narcissistic Parent controls his or her young children. These control mechanisms include:
- 1) Codependent Control: “I need you. I can’t live without you.” This prevents children of Narcissistic Parents from having any autonomy, from living their own lives.
2) Guilt-Driven Control: “I’ve given my life for you. I’ve sacrificed it all.” This method of control creates a feeling of obligation in children; that they “owe” their Narcissistic make their parents happy.
3) Love Withdrawal Control: “You’re worthy of my love ONLY BECAUSE you behave the way I expect you to.” So long as their children are behaving properly, a Narcissistic Parent will be loving. That love disappears the moment a child doesn’t meet expectations.
4) Goal-Oriented Control: “We have to work together to achieve a goal.” These goals are generally the goals, dreams, and fantasies of a Narcissistic Parent. A Narcissistic Parent lives vicariously through his or her children.
5) Explicit Control: “Obey me or I’ll punish you.” Children of Narcissistic Parents must do as they’re told or risk shame, guilt, anger, or even physical abuse.
6) Emotional Incest Control: “You’re my one true love, The One, the most important person to me.” An opposite-sex parent makes his or her child fulfill the unmet needs of the Narcissistic Parent.
What Happens To The Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents?
Growing up with all emotional needs unmet, becoming a “mini-adult,” being the product of so much emotional abuse takes a tremendous toll on a child of a Narcissistic Parent. If the Narcissistic Parent does not stop the abuse or the child does not receive adequate help, one of two scenarios happens to adult children of Narcissistic Parents: 1) The child grows to have narcissistic traits, and becomes a Narcissistic Parent to his/
her own children. This perpetuates the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse; or,
2) The child becomes a “covert” or “inverted” narcissist who remains codependent and may actually seek out abusive relationships with other narcissists.
What can YOU do to Support your child with a Narcissistic Co-Parent?
- Express Unconditional Love as often as possible. “I love you you no matter what—There is nothing you can do or not do, that can make me stop loving you. I want you to do your best… but I will love you even if you fail the test, or lose your cool, or don’t make the team, or anything else.”
- Express the values or wisdom that drive your life. For instance, if you value Honesty, let the kids know why that is important for trust… (it matters in order to feel safe and make good friends, etc.) If you have learned about Forgiveness or Helping Others and those are important values, let the kids know how you learned it, and why it is important
for your family to honor those values now. And so on… with any values that guide respectful living in your family. Live by example, but also keep reinforcing the words, actions, and expectations around those values.
- Try to acknowledge your kids’ positive behaviors and attitudes as much as possible. “That was great the way you —… I love the way you —… You can really make me laugh when you—” Emotional connection is the currency needed for kids’ feelings of belonging, acceptance, and confidence. You are in a situation that other people may be draining your emotional bank account with your kids! So make a lot more deposits… Affirmations, unconditional love, and your time with kids— are all GOLD. Also, pointing out their individual thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors helps them start to define who they are, and that it is okay to have boundaries defining yourself, and protecting yourself.
These things are not allowed in the relationship with the Narcissistic Parent, so you will have to work extra hard to counteract the messages received in the other household. Often dysfunctional patterns are in full force in extended family or current romantic relationships as well, further supporting the Narcissistic Parent’s demands/ needs. Help your kids identify healthy boundaries, feelings, and sense of individual identity.
Eventually, you will have to help them decide what behaviors and relationships are healthy, and what to do when boundaries are not respected.
Hopefully, we can work through specific challenges as they arise, but this is an overview of possible things to look for and ways to respond.
Call or text if you need clarification or support.
You’ve got this!