Narcissistic Parents

Frequently Asked Question # 5

Narcissistic parents treat their children as extensions, or mere instruments of gratification. They disrespect the child’s emerging boundaries and are, thus, abusive.

Narcissistic parents control and emotionally blackmail their offspring and instil in them guilt, shame and codependence.

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Question:

What are the effects that narcissistic parents have on their offspring?

Answer:

At the risk of over-simplification: narcissism tends to breed narcissism - but only a minority of the children of narcissistic parents become narcissists. This may be due to a genetic predisposition or to different life circumstances (like not being the firstborn). But MOST narcissists have one or more narcissistic parents or caregivers.

The narcissistic parent regards his or her child as a multi-faceted Source of Narcissistic Supply. The child is considered and treated as an extension of the narcissist. It is through the child that the narcissist seeks to settle "open scores" with the world. The child is supposed to realise the unfulfilled dreams, wishes, and fantasies of the narcissistic parent.

This "life by proxy" can develop in two ways: the narcissist can either merge with his child or be ambivalent about him. The ambivalence is the result of a conflict between the narcissist's wish to attain his narcissistic goals through the child and his pathological (destructive) envy of the child and his accomplishments.

To ameliorate the unease bred by this emotional ambivalence, the narcissistic parent resorts to a myriad of control mechanisms. These can be grouped into: guilt-driven ("I sacrificed my life for you"), codependent ("I need you, I cannot cope without you"), goal-driven ("We have a common goal which we can and must achieve"), shared psychosis or emotional incest ("You and I are united against the whole world, or at least against your monstrous, no-good father ...", "You are my one and only true love and passion") and explicit ("If you do not adhere to my principles, beliefs, ideology, religion, values, if you do not obey my instructions, I will punish you").

As Lidija Rangelovska observed, the narcissistic parent often regards himself or herself as a martyr and uses her/his alleged “suffering” as a currency, a mode of communication, an explanatory and organizing principle, which endows the lives of the parent and of his nearest and dearest with meaning, direction, message, and mission. Being introduced into the narcissist’s drama is a privilege, an honor, an initiation, and the true hallmark of intimacy.

The guilt trip induced by the narcissistic parent is not time-limited because it is not linked to a specific action of the “perpetrator”; it is intended to elicit never-ending “compensation”; and is not designed to bring on a restoration of the relationship, or a rehabilitation of the “offender.” It is a tool of control and an instrument of manipulation: the “culprit” is meant to feel guilty for merely existing and for as long as s/he exists.

This exercise of control helps to sustain the illusion that the child is a part of the narcissist. But maintaining the illusion calls for extraordinary levels of control (on the part of the parent) and obedience (on the part of the child). The relationship is typically symbiotic and emotionally turbulent.

The child fulfils another important narcissistic function – the provision of Narcissistic Supply. There is no denying the implied (though imaginary) immortality in having a child. The early (natural) dependence of the child on his caregivers, serves to assuage their fear of abandonment.

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The narcissist tries to perpetuate this dependence, using the aforementioned control mechanisms. The child is the ultimate Secondary Narcissistic Source of Supply. He is always present, he admires the narcissist, he witnesses the narcissist's moments of triumph and grandeur.

Owing to his wish to be loved he can be extorted into constant giving. To the narcissist, a child is a dream come true, but only in the most egotistical sense. When the child is perceived as "reneging" on his main obligation (to provide his narcissistic parent with a constant supply of attention) – the parent's emotional reaction is harsh and revealing.

It is when the narcissistic parent is disenchanted with his child that we see the true nature of this pathological relationship. The child is totally objectified. The narcissist reacts to a breach in this unwritten contract with wells of aggression and aggressive transformations: contempt, rage, emotional and psychological abuse, and even physical violence. He tries to annihilate the real "disobedient" child and substitute it with the subservient, edifying, former version.

Interview granted to Samantha Cleaver for YourTango.com

Q. What are some common ways that a mother's narcissism can affect her daughter's relationships?

A. Depends on how narcissistic the mother is. Narcissistic parents fail to recognize and accept the personal autonomy and boundaries of their offspring. They treat them as instruments of gratification or extensions of themselves. Their love is conditioned on the "performance" of their children and on how well they cater to the needs, wishes, and priorities of the parent.

Consequently, narcissistic parents oscillate between clingy emotional blackmail when they seek the child's attention, adulation, and compliance (known as "narcissistic supply") and steely devaluation and silent treatment when they wish to punish the child for refusing to toe the line.

Such inconstancy and unpredictability render the child insecure and codependent. When in relationships as adults, these children feel that they have to "earn" each and every morsel of love; that they will be instantly and facilely abandoned if they "underperform"; that their primary role is to "take care" of their spouse, mate, partner, or friend; and that they are less important, less endowed, less skilled, and less deserving than their significant others.

Q. What are the top concerns when daughters of narcissistic mothers start relationships? When their relationships move
forward? When their relationships end?

A. Children of narcissistic parents are ill-adapted; their personality is rigid and they are prone to deploy psychological defense mechanisms. Consequently, they display the same behaviors throughout the relationship, from start to finish and irrespective of changing circumstances.

As adults, offspring of narcissists tend to perpetuate the pathological primary relationship (with their narcissistic parents). They depend on other people for their emotional gratification and the performance of Ego or daily functions. They are needy,  demanding, and submissive. They fear abandonment, cling and display immature behaviours in their effort to maintain the "relationship" with their companion or mate upon whom they depend. No matter what abuse is inflicted upon them – they remain in the relationship. By eagerly becoming victims, codependents seek to control their abusers.

Some of them end up as inverted narcissists.

Also called "covert narcissist", this is a co-dependent who depends exclusively on narcissists (narcissist-co-dependent). If you are living with a narcissist, have a relationship with one, if you are married to one, if you are working with a narcissist, etc. – it does NOT mean that you are an inverted narcissist.

To "qualify" as an inverted narcissist, you must CRAVE to be in a relationship with a narcissist, regardless of any abuse inflicted on you by him/her. You must ACTIVELY seek relationships with narcissists and ONLY with narcissists, no matter what your (bitter and traumatic) past experience has been. You must feel EMPTY and UNHAPPY in relationships with ANY OTHER kind of person. Only then, and if you satisfy the other diagnostic criteria of a Dependent Personality Disorder, can you be safely labelled an "inverted narcissist".

A small minority end up being counterdependent and narcissistic, emulating and imitating their parents traits and conduct. The emotions of these children of narcissists emotions and needs are buried under "scar tissue" which had formed, coalesced, and hardened during years of one form of abuse or another. Grandiosity, a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and overweening haughtiness usually hide gnawing insecurity and a fluctuating sense of self-worth.

Counterdependents are contumacious (reject and despise authority), fiercely independent, controlling, self-centered, and aggressive. They fear intimacy and are locked into cycles of hesitant approach followed by avoidance of commitment. They are "lone wolves" and bad team players.

Counterdependence is a reaction formation. The counterdependent dreads his own weaknesses. He seeks to overcome them by projecting an image of omnipotence, omniscience, success, self-sufficiency, and superiority.

Q. How do narcissistic mothers interfere (or get involved) with their daughters’ love/dating lives? How does this compare to typical mothers?

A. The narcissistic mother is a control freak and does not easily relinquish good and reliable sources of "narcissistic supply" (admiration, adulation, attention of any kind). It is the role of her children to replenish this supply, the children owe it to her. To make sure that the child does not develop boundaries, and does not become independent, or autonomous, the narcissistic parent micromanages the child's life and encourages dependent and infantile behaviors in her offspring.

Such a parent bribes the child (by offering free lodging or financial support or "help" with daily tasks) or emotionally blackmails the child (by constantly demanding help and imposing chores, claiming to be ill or disabled) or even threatens the child (for instance: to disinherit her if she does not comply with the parent's wishes). The narcissistic mother also does her best to scare away anyone who may upset this symbiotic relationship or otherwise threaten the delicate, unspoken contract. She sabotages any budding relationship her child develops with lies, deceit, and scorn.

Q. Are there any statistics that you know of that would shed light on how many people are dealing with either narcissism or a parent with narcissism?

A. According to the DSM IV-TR, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is diagnosed in between 2% and 16% of the population in clinical settings (between 0.5-1% of the general population). The DSM-IV-TR proceeds to tell us that most narcissists (50-75% of all patients) are men.

"The lifetime prevalence rate of NPD is approximately 0.5-1 percent; however, the estimated prevalence in clinical settings is approximately 2-16 percent. Almost 75 percent of individuals diagnosed with NPD are male (APA, DSM IV-TR 2000)."

From the Abstract of Psychotherapeutic Assessment and Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorder By Robert C. Schwartz,Ph.D., DAPA and Shannon D. Smith, Ph.D., DAPA (American Psychotherapy Association, Article #3004 Annals July/August 2002)


Also Read

The Narcissist and His Family

Beware the Children

Leveraging the Children

Tell Your Children the Truth

What is Abuse (series)

Abuse in the Family (series)

Parenthood - The Irrational Vocation

The Genetic Underpinnings of Narcissism


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