How kids can be protected from narcissistic parents
Narcissism has been given a bad rap over the centuries, from the time when Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in the water. But despite its notorious reputation, it is ignored.
Many people would argue that narcissism, in moderation, is good, and that we could all benefit from a healthy dose of it. But how you maintain that job or budding romance will, of course, be influenced by that same narcissism, and be warned that too much of it will probably hinder your success in either field.
However, narcissism, when manifested as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), can lead to an “overinflated view of one’s self worth.”
A person with NPD is constantly searching for validation from others’ admiration and cannot handle any negative feedback, whether it is constructive criticism or malicious comments. Ironically, this is often used to cover up a highly fragile and vulnerable sense of self, a peculiar sensitivity, which can be a challenge for people who have to live with those exhibiting NPD.
While adults have the option of maintaining a relationship with persons with NPD or not, it’s not the case with children who are born to narcissistic parents—at least not until they reach adulthood.
But it’s true a narcissistic parent is one who feels threatened by a child’s growing independence and, thus, may do all he/she can to keep the child under control. It can also be, that in their attempts to validate themselves as parents, they will give validation only to a child’s accomplishments.
Conversely, the narcissistic parent may also turn out to be the No. 1 critic of a child, belittling the child to be under the parent’s shadow.
But it’s also important to distinguish between simple over-parenting and complex narcissistic parenting.
Perhaps, for many, it’s not a full-blown disorder but it’s always best to learn more to be aware of one’s actions. I never imagined such a subject would be so popular, but it appears to be so, as countless books have been written about the subject.
For starters, here’s a list of traits identified by Preston Ni, author of “How to Successfully Handle Narcissists” and “A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self” and contributor to www.psychologytoday.com:
1) Uses/lives through one’s child
While many of us are guilty of passing on our dreams to our children, I believe that, for most, there is a line we will not cross, especially when it becomes clear that our dreams may not be what’s best for the child. In which case, most parents will bow to what should be done for the child, regardless of whether it’s what they would have wanted for themselves. But not in the case of the narcissistic parent, for whom an expectation is purely for the parent’s fulfillment.
2) Putting a child down in order to maintain superiority
The process of marginalization is one in which a parent makes a concerted effort to trivialize a child’s abilities and accomplishments, whether through judgment, criticism, comparison or not acknowledging their potential—so that they can remain in a position of superiority and power over a child with little or no self-confidence.
To the narcissistic parent, everyone is beneath him/her or simply a tool to be used for one’s own benefit, including the child. However, a closer look will reveal that this superiority stems from “superficial, egotistical and material trappings” which have nothing to do with actual human virtues that truly set a person apart.
4) Superficial image
Perhaps a natural extension of a superiority complex is the compulsion to display a perfect image to reinforce notions of superiority. This is further validated through admiration the narcissistic parent gets from others. Part of the image may include perfect children who may feel that their worth only comes from what they can give to the narcissistic parent or how they can contribute to their parent’s image as they are raised to be an extension of their parent.
This may come in the form of emotional blackmail, guilt trips, shaming, comparing, pressure and other mind games—all of which boil down to the message that a parent’s love is conditional and can be withheld, should the child not come up to par or do as tasked.
6) Inflexible and touchy
A desire to control a person on every level leaves little room for deviation from a parent’s expectation. No matter how small the deviation or action may be, to a narcissist, it will be a sign of inability to control the child and, thus, elicit anger and words far stronger than necessary.
7) Lack of empathy
Perhaps the biggest reason for narcissistic parenting is the inability to consider anyone else’s feelings and thoughts as equally important as one’s own. A child who grows up with a parent who consistently displays this type of antipathy will hopefully learn to stand up and fight on his/her own. Some may prefer to leave as soon as they can. However, others might fall victim to the vicious cycle of narcissism and end up with either no self-esteem or an overinflated sense of it and become narcissistic adults themselves—whether to cover up low self-esteem or as a result of a false sense of superiority.
Children should take care of their parents in their older years, but this is a duty children should take upon themselves. In the case of a narcissistic parent, he or she will take initiative to ensure this happens whether through manipulation or by creating a need for the child to remain dependent on them even in his/her adult life.
9) Jealousy and possessiveness
A controlling parent will immediately sense any threat to his/her power with the arrival of a significant person in the child’s life, be it a romantic partner or a true friend who sees through the charade.
10) Neglect/Not parented
A child may simply be left alone as a result of a parent’s self-absorption and selfishness. In other instances, rather than parenting a child, the child may be used as a partner in the sense that the child has to take on the responsibility of validating the parent or keeping him/her happy, resulting in a lost childhood.
A parent with the child’s best intentions will always strive to build up a child and take pride in his or her independence and growth. In contrast, one whose priority is one’s own wellbeing may resort to destructive habits to maintain one’s position of control, resulting in children vulnerable to low self-esteem problems such as bullying, addictions and many others.