The Narcissist's Dead Parents
Frequently Asked Questions # 54
Naturally, the narcissist has a mixed reaction to the passing away of his parents. It is composed of elation and a sense of overwhelming freedom mixed with grief.
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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How do narcissists react to the death of their parents?
The narcissist has a complicated relationship with his parents (mainly with his mother, but, at times, also with his father). As Primary Objects, the narcissist's parents are often a source of frustration which leads to repressed or to self-directed aggression. They traumatise the narcissist during his infancy and childhood and thwart his healthy development well into his late adolescence.
Often, they are narcissists themselves. Always, they behave capriciously, reward and punish the narcissist arbitrarily, abandon him or smother him with ill-regulated emotions. They instil in him a demanding, rigid, idealistic and sadistic Superego. Their voices continue to echo in him as an adult and to adjudicate, convict and punish him in a myriad ways.
Thus, in most important respects, the narcissist's parents never die. They live on to torment him, to persecute and prosecute him. Their criticism, verbal and other forms of abuse and berating go on long after their physical demise. Their objectification of the narcissist lasts longer than any corporeal reality.
Naturally, the narcissist has a mixed reaction to the passing away of his parents. It is composed of elation and a sense of overwhelming freedom mixed with grief. The narcissist is attached to his parents in much the same way as a hostage gets "attached" to his captors (the Stockholm syndrome), the tormented to his tormentors, the prisoner to his wardens. When this bondage ceases, the narcissist feels both lost and released, saddened and euphoric, empowered and drained.
Additionally, the narcissist's parents are typically Secondary Narcissistic Supply Sources (SNSSs). They fulfil the roles of Accumulation of Narcissistic Supply (evidencing the narcissist's grand moments, they function as "live history") and Regulation of Narcissistic Supply (they provide the narcissist with Narcissistic Supply on a regular and reliable basis). Their death represents the loss of the narcissist's best and most veteran sources and, therefore, constitutes a devastating blow to the narcissist's mental composure.
This article appears in my book "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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But beneath these evident losses lies a more disturbing reality. The narcissist has unfinished business with his parents. All of us do – but his is more fundamental. Unresolved conflicts, traumas, fears and hurts seethe and the resulting pressure deforms the narcissist's personality.
The death of his parents denies the narcissist the closure he so craves and needs. It seals his inability to come to terms with the very sources of his invalidity, with the very poisonous roots of his disorder. These are grave and disconcerting news, indeed. Moreover, the death of his parents virtually secures a continuation of the acrimonious debate between the narcissist's Superego and the other structures of his personality.
Unable to contrast the ideal parents in his mind with the real (less than ideal) ones, unable to communicate with them, unable to defend himself, to accuse, even to pity them – the narcissist finds himself trapped in a time capsule, forever reenacting his childhood and its injustice and abandonment.
The narcissist needs his parents alive mostly in order to get back at them, to accuse and punish them for what they have done to him. This attempt at reciprocity ("settling the scores") represents to him justice and order, it introduces sense and logic into an otherwise totally chaotic mental landscape. It is a triumph of right over wrong, weak over strong, law and order over chaos and capriciousness.
The demise of his parents is perceived by him to be a cosmic joke at his expense. He feels "stuck" for the rest of his life with the consequences of events and behaviour not of his own doing or fault. The villains evade responsibility by leaving the stage, ignoring the script and the director's (the narcissist's) orders.
The narcissist goes through a final big cycle of helpless rage when his parents die. He then feels, once again, belittled, ashamed and guilty, worthy of condemnation and punishment (for being angry at his parents as well as elated at their death). It is when his parents pass away that the narcissist becomes a child again. And, like the first time round, it is not a pleasant or savoury experience.
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