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Narcissistic Parents

By Samantha De Bono

Only the child of a narcissistic parent knows what it is like to be on the receiving end of the cold shoulder for days on end for no apparent reason, or for some tiny misdemeanour.

The children of narcissistic parents tend to feel anxious a great deal, as they learn to push aside their own wants, needs and desires to please the narcissistic parent.

The narcissistic parent is unpredictable and confusing to the child and because the child doesn't understand the manipulation techniques of the parent, the child ends up feeling shame and guilt which is often turned inward.  The child then builds an external locus of evaluation as the narcissistic parent confirms that "you are only good enough if I say you are" and "if you don't feel loved, then you haven't tried hard enough to earn it.".

The child of a narcissistic parent will have grown up believing that their feelings of inadequacy must be their own fault, that they must be doing something wrong.  It is possible that only now, as you are reading this years later, that you will have began to see that your parent was a narcissist and that you were a child on the receiving end of that parents' dreadful behaviour.

If you were brought up by a narcissistic parent, you will know that they were "great"  when the outside world could see them. Behind closed doors they would drop the act. You will remember the unreasonable expectations they had of you regardless of your age.

Because a narcissist has an overblown ego and relatively low self esteem, their need for praise from others is crucial to maintain their self worth.  They rarely have true intimate relationships as they focus more on superficial relationships that can assist them in their quest to look bigger and better to the outside world.

So the children of narcissistic parents bear the brunt of a mother or father who is emotionally removed from them.  The chances are that a narcissistic parent only had children as a ready-made "you belong to me" type of relationship, not through any desire to nurture and raise a healthy, autonomous human being. No! a narcissistic parent enjoys only the good bits of what that child can bring, ie. good looks, good grades, great sportsman, great actor etc. to boost the parents' ego.  As an added bonus for the narcissist, the child will go on and on trying to win the approval and validation of that parent, because only then will that child bathe in the warm glow of acceptance that they come to mistakenly believe was love. What they were actually experiencing was control - the ultimate prize for any narcissist.

As the child of a narcissistic parent, you have probably now worked out that you were and still are there to serve your narcissistic parent.

What it's like being the adult child of a narcissistic parent:

The childhood relationship with the narcissistic parent would have been a difficult, painful and confusing one, love was never unconditional, so the feeling of not being good enough was fostered.

The adult child will now tend towards drama in their lives.  Often their own relationships will be fraught with crisis, as they choose one bad relationship after another with people who are emotionally unavailable, critical and admonishing, just like the narcissistic parent was and probably still is even today.

Healing from the effects of a narcissistic parent takes time and is usually only successful when the adult child of a narcissistic parent seeks psychotherapy, or something happens in their life that is a catalyst for change.  Only then can the adult child start to engage in meaningful relationships.  However, it is likely that the adult child of a narcissistic parent will struggle with intimacy without truly recognising their part in the struggles they have in intimate relationships.

It is interesting to watch the reaction of a narcissistic parent when their adult child begins to see the light, when the adult child starts to recognise that their parent is toxic.

Often, with the help of a therapist or friend, the adult child of a narcissistic parent starts a process of distancing themselves from the hold the narcissistic parent has over them.  At this point, the narcissistic parent goes into panic which tends to come across in anger towards the adult child and towards the individual who has induced the change in their usually submissive, compliant and needy adult child.

The narcissistic parent will try to take back control of the adult child, by discrediting their support network and because the adult child has had years and years of this psychological and emotional conditioning, they will feel confused and uncertain as to whether they are doing the right thing, by putting their own needs and happiness before the demands of the narcissistic parent.  This will hopefully demonstrate to the adult child that the narcissistic parent cares nothing for the needs of their child, but cares only about their own need for control.

If you are reading this blog and wondering whether you have suffered through your childhood and adulthood with a narcissistic parent, it might be worth talking to a therapist to help you make sense of this complex relationship and to assist you in moving towards happier, healthier relationships in your life today and the future.

Samantha De Bono


07588 931401