Narcissism runs on a spectrum, from healthy narcissism to malignant narcissism, with a lot of gray in between. Narcissistic people suffer tremendously from their childhood trauma and this pain is too much for them to carry, so they pretend it’s not there or they keep lashing out on other people to ease their own pain. Narcissism doesn’t have to be absolute. It can show up in little ways and often under the guise of doing “what’s best” for your children. It tends to play out inter-generationally, with narcissistic parents producing either narcissistic or codependent children. Parents who are narcissistic share many traits with parents who have Borderline Personality Disorder. The traits of these two disorders overlap quite a bit. The difference between BPD and NPD is how they use manipulation. BPD is trying to prevent abandonment and NPD is trying to maintain the image of perfection.
Narcissistic trails in parenthood
Narcissistic parent can be defined as someone who lives through their children and is possessive towards them. Typically, the narcissistic parent perceives the independence of a child as a threat. As long as you don’t represent a threat to your narcissistic parent, and are making them proud, they are OK towards you, or continue to ignore you. But the moment you become difficult or don’t meet their expectations, you become a problem. It is very hard for them to let their possession go. This typically shows when you get serious romantic partner. Your new girlfriend is viewed as a major threat. “My mum criticized my girlfriend to me when she wasn’t around. She was showing her disapproval through little things, like never included her name on any Christmas cart that she wrote.” In the eyes of some narcissistic parents, no romantic partner is ever good enough for their offspring.
- “When you support her or don’t oppose her, she has this charming personality that’s very hard to resist. But when you oppose her, you can expect her to throw in every trick she has to make your life miserable.”
Within the realm of narcissistic parenting, personal boundaries are often disregarded with the goal of molding and manipulating the child to satisfy the parents’ expectations. They would go through your private belongings, without a thought, sometimes even using what they found against you. Asking nosy questions without noticing that you are feeling uncomfortable is also very common. You don’t have any truly private space even in the bathroom. Narcissistic parent crosses boundaries in many ways. Verbal and/or physical violent is common in their home.
- “My mum has given away my property without my consent, sometimes even in front of me. Not to mention she expressed (her) opinions instead of me and make an appointments for me without even consulting me. “
- “I told my mum she cannot bring her friends to my party but she showed up with them anyway. I couldn’t send them away because she told them they were invited. So, I either have to give in, or be the bad guy to these poor dupes on my doorstep.”
- “I came home from school when I was 15 or so, and found all my drawers dumped out on my bed, and my mother sitting in my desk chair, holding my diary. She was livid. Apparently, I hadn’t put my socks in the drawer right, so she decided to check all my drawers and closet. Seeing that none of my clothing was put away to her standards, she dumped it all out and in the process found and read my diary. That was a bad day. I wore long sleeves for weeks, and had to wear a sweat suit in gym to hide what she did to me.”
Lack of Empathy
Narcissistic parent is incapable to be mindful of the child’s own thoughts and feelings, and validate them as real and important. Only what the parent thinks and feels matters. Some of the most common issues in narcissistic parenting are due to the lack of appropriate, responsible nurturing which ultimately contributes to a child’s dysfunctional patterns. Consequently children feel little or no emotional attachment to their parent.
- “My mum minimizes, discounts or ignores my opinions and experiences. Even when I talk about the subject that I am an expert on, she choose to demine the information. She never listens to a word that I say.”
- My mother sees herself as a loving person. Nothing could be more far away from the truth in reality. She is incredibly cold-hearted, rude, ignorant, and callous with an inability to show compassion.
Narcissistic parent use manipulation to mold you the way they want you to be. The most common tactic used by the narcissist are:
- Ignoring: They can ignore you for days or weeks when you are not doing the things they want you to do. “When I didn’t do well in school my mum didn’t talk to me until I corrected my mark.” There is also one subtype of Narcissistic parent called “Ignoring Narcissists”. This parents have very little interest in their children. They take notice only when it is necessary. Usually when they need to portrait the perfect family picture or when they need to make sure that their child is taking the path that was chosen for him. “My mum showed interest in me only when it has something to do with school. The moment I tried to talk to her about something else she didn’t really listened.”
- Withholding love: Love is given as a conditional reward, rather than the natural expression of healthy parenting. On the other hand, the withholding of love is used as threat and punishment.
- Threatening: Narcissistic parent often use your personal information you told them a while against you when you don’t want to follow their direction. Child quickly learns not to share anything with their parents and hides everything from them.
- Guilt and shame: Narcissistic parent make you feel guilty and ashamed of yourself if you want to do something different from what they expected. “Ow, you are going to take the trip and I have to stay at home with your dad, how thoughtful of you” or ˝Because you can’t play the piano well, mummy looks like a fool˝.
- Being in the middle: Narcissistic parent uses their child to manipulate others-most likely their partner. Children are often expected to deal with adult issues and are put in the middle of disputes. This forces the child to make difficult decisions. Putting the child in the position where he needs to choose between one parent instead of the other leaves profound trauma. “How can I take my father’s side when my mother needs me more?”
All of this manipulation tactics are preventing you to develop into a healthy individual with strong and clear identity.
Their rage is based on fear. Anything that is threatening to expose their inner feelings of unworthiness needs to be destroyed. “My mom just flipped out when I said I am getting tired of pretending in front of my relatives that I am still studying to be a doctor. She started hitting me and screaming unclear sentences. I didn’t dare to tell my relatives the truth after that.”
Everything is about them
Narcissistic parent take all of the air in the room. Their profound need for attention and praise subverts everyone else’s needs. They turn others to be their listener. They don’t notice their boredom, exhaustion and desire to speak too. They love to show others how “special” they are (grandiosity). They enjoy publically parading what they consider their superior dispositions, be it material possessions, physical appearance, projects and accomplishments, background and membership, contacts in high places, and/or trophy spouse and offspring. They go out of their way to seek ego-boosting attention and flattery.
- “My mother creates odd occasions at which she can be the center of attention, such as memorials for someone close to her who died long ago, or major celebrations of small personal milestones. She loves to entertain so she can be the life of her own party.”
- “At the dinner table me, my sisters and my father were talking. My mother suddenly slipped from her chair and collapsed onto the floor, apparently unconscious. Shocked and concerned, we rushed to her side and picked up the phone to call 911, at which time she regained consciousness. The same scenario played out a few more times at the dinner table. If the conversation shifted away from her she would dramatically drop to the floor. We started to ignore her and talked over it. She continued to fall sometimes. She’d lie there for a bit and then pretend to wake up in confusion.”
Maintaining the appearances
They like to present a perfect family image to outsiders. They go to great lengths to ensure that others perceived your family as a loving, successful and enviable. Children are normally aware of this play, but kept silent for fear of wrath from their parent.
- “I’m in therapy to deal with the effects of being raised by a narcissistic parent. I didn’t even realize until I was pretty well into adulthood that’s what it was. I thought it was me. I thought something was wrong with me. Everyone loves my mom. Everyone talks about how amazing she is, how charming, how much she sacrifices for her family, so I figured that if I was miserable at home it certainly couldn’t have been because of her. The truth is, everyone thinks so highly of her because she has carefully crafted that image and manipulated and lied to maintain it. She has used other people to make herself look better, and hurt others in the process. That’s the truth.”
- “The thing about narcissists that is the absolute worst is that no one else knows what’s going on. They have fooled everyone else because they are master manipulators. Everyone else in my family and extended peer group thinks my mother is this amazing, strong, dedicated woman who has raised two severely challenging children. What’s funny is, as much as I can’t stand my brother, we are a lot alike and have suffered a lot of the same traumas at the hands of my mother. We are both incredibly sensitive souls who have been abused and luckily, I found my way out of it. I moved 3000 miles away from her. My brother was not so fortunate, and depends on her to survive.”
- She cares excessively about what people think. “What will the neighbors think”, is a sentence that I’ve heard countless times. If you actually have a genuine problem, don’t expect her to care about you, but about how it will appear to others. Keeping up appearances is key, regardless of whether you’re suffering or not.”
Everything is personal
Narcissistic parents take their children’s every feeling or action personally. These parents are easily angered when a child doesn’t agree with them or mirror them. They expect the child to be happy when she is and miserable when she is. If the child is happy when the parent is sad, it is taken as a sign of disloyalty and insensitivity. They are so sensitive to praise and admiration as fuel that it makes them overly sensitive to criticism. So children learn to tiptoe around these emotional minefields, trying not to trigger that anger, or worse, have their parents withdraw love. The child of narcissist parent is never seen as he truly is. Of course, there are moments when child objects to his parent, but even then he feels bad, wrong, and confused.
- She also makes up ridiculous lies about trivial mistakes. Just to give one example: she once repaired a shirt, but put the button on the wrong side. I pointed this out to her — I wasn’t angry or anything, I thought it was funny, and she made up absolutely silly excuses like: “it just shot through”. She can never do something wrong and thus she will never apologize. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say “sorry”.
Some narcissistic parents are threatened by their child’s potential, promise, and success, as they challenge the parent’s self-esteem. Consequently, they might make a concerted effort to put the child down, so the parent remains superior. They are nit-picking their child, they are judgmental and critical towards him, they constantly compare him to someone better and reject his success and accomplishments. Whenever someone complimented your achievements, your parent would jump in and shift the attention to themselves. “Yes, she gets it from me. I was always athletic as a child.”
- “When I got married a few years later, she told me that my wedding was “not for the bride, but actually for her mother”. I made her my Matron of Honor and chose her favorite color for the bridesmaid’s dresses. She bought a dress the same color as mine.”
Grandiosity and Superiority
Many narcissistic parents have a falsely inflated self-image, with a conceited sense about who they are and what they do. Some children of narcissistic parents become the same: “We’re better than they are.” This sense of grandiose entitlement, however, is almost exclusively based on superficial, egotistical, and material trappings. They feel more important because of materialistic things or status they have in the society.
Narcissistic person is strongly dependent on others. The dependency can be emotional, physical, or financial. They are trying to make you dependent on them (possessiveness, manipulation), so they can control you. One common tactic to do that is to infantilize you. This can be as direct as making you feel incompetent every time you try something new, or it can be as subtle as always stepping in and offering to do something you can clearly do for themselves. Unfortunately, this behavior rarely stops even after you become an adult. In fact, it can sometimes become worse as the narcissistic parent fears their children’s growing independence and the end of their narcissistic supply.
On the other hand some parents expect their children to take care of them for the rest of their lives.
- “My mom expects me to support her financially on an on-going basis. She says that she can’t live without me.
- “Walking into my office, (I managed the number 3 top Allstate office out of 900 agents) not respecting my employees and still undermining me on how I need to go back to school and finish my degree or I will never make it in life. She homeschooled me and deliberately kept me from finishing school in order to keep me locked in her web of abuse. She took me out of school when I was 11 because she was about to have another baby and “homeschooling was a great option!” She had me working two full-time jobs at 16 and I barely had a 9th grade education when I ran away at 17.”
- “I grew up a text book co-dependent, always looking outside of myself for validation. Since I was solely focused on my mother, I did not develop my own identity – it was given to me by her. My identity was based on my role. I had an “underdeveloped self esteem (no boundaries) combined with an inappropriate caring for others (invading a boundary), and an inappropriate reliance on another’s response (invading a boundary), in a negatively reinforcing loop.”
Narcissistic parent berated, demeaned and harassed you on a constant basis. She often latched onto an insecurity of yours and used it to humiliate you. “My mom made fun of my birth mark on my face all the time.” Many of her putdowns are simply by comparison. She’ll talk about how wonderful someone else is or what a wonderful job they did on something you’ve also done. The contrast is left up to you. She’ll spoil your pleasure in something by simply congratulating you for it in an angry, envious voice that conveys how unhappy she is. If you complain about mistreatment by someone else, she will take that person’s side even if she doesn’t know them at all. It is impossible to confront someone over their tone of voice, their demeanor or the way they look at you, but once your narcissistic mother has you trained, she can promise terrible punishment without a word. Being constantly put down or told that you are in a wrong rubs off on you and lowers your self-esteem.
- “When I was getting more independent 16+ according to my mum all my friends were bad influences, my boyfriend was horrible, my choices of clothing was also too grandma for my age. When I started working she needed a wanted a contract phone so I got one for her. She ran up the bill which I had to pay for over £400.”
Golden child doesn’t shine so bright
Narcissistic parent often choose the favorite child or so called golden child. A golden child can’t do anything wrong, is the smartest and the best at everything they do. This is what the narcissistic parent believes and will enforce in their child. The other child (scapegoat) is seen as the black sheep, and the cause of all issues. Everything the scapegoat does is wrong, not as good as it should be, and they always have to take the blame. The scapegoat stands for everything that is not perfect in the family. The roles of golden child and scapegoat can also switch frequently. Consequently all communication between siblings is superficial and driven by duty, or they may never talk to each other at all.
The narcissist also uses favoritism and gossip to poison her children’s’ relationships. While she may never praise you to your face, she will do that in front of your siblings. The end result is a family in which almost all communication goes through the narcissistic mother. Golden child can become narcissist himself but not necessarily. They can see the favoritism and feel guilty for it.
- “It didn’t make any sense, my brothers were wonderful humans. They are much more talented than I am. I had very strong feelings of guilt. I watched the people I loved receive the rage. I felt like I should have been able to fix things. My mother would tell me to go to my room and be very, very quiet while she was taking her frustration out on them.”
- “My brother was and is the Golden Child. He could do no wrong, he was the perfect baby, the perfect child, and when he wrecked 3 cars in a row while in High School, none of those accidents were his fault. I, on the other hand, was a disappointment. I “cried all the time when I was a baby”, my mother had to cut her college education short because I “cried at the daycare that she put me in”, I was “always losing things”, and she couldn’t have a pet “because the cat scratched me.”
- “He was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and given two years to live. He has been depressed about this, but not for the reasons you might think. When he cried the most was when he was telling me how sad he was that he wasn’t going to be around for my sister, as she didn’t have a boyfriend yet and she needed to be trained on how to be attractive to other men. He then went on to blame me for not teaching her how to get a boyfriend as I’m her older sister. He especially put me down for not convincing her to get plastic surgery for her face.”
In case you want to deepen your understanding of your relationship with your parents, please take a look at my online workshop “Mending our childhood wounds and patterns” HERE.
This workshop will help you with understanding the patterns, roles and attachment you are having in your family dynamic and will shine the light on your behaviors and wounds you are carrying with you. It will also teach you how to deal with your emotions that will evoke through this self-discovery.