Probably the worst possible scenario involving narcissism is to be raised by a narcissistic parent. You can’t get away from the narcissist in this case until you’re old enough to leave home, and by that time, you’ve already endured a lot of narcissistic abuse. Many children of narcissists never realize that they had an abusive parent because they have been told their entire lives that the problem is with them.
If you’re able to recognize that it’s your narcissistic parent who has a mental problem, it’s helpful to have a strategy for dealing with the abuse they heap on you.
The best way you can respond to your narcissistic parent is to set strong boundaries and enforce consequences when they are violated if you’re an adult. If you’re a minor child, the best way to respond is by taking good care of yourself and remembering you are not to blame.
Read on to discover the extent of the damage a narcissistic parent can do to their children and how you can protect and heal yourself from the damage your narcissistic parent caused in your life.
How Do Narcissistic Parents Abuse their Children?
Having a narcissistic parent can be one of the most damaging relationships you’ll ever experience. Part of the problem is that before a child realizes that how their parent behaves is not normal, they’ve already suffered extremely damaging abuse.
Narcissistic parents are not able to feel empathy for their own children nor are they able to help their children build their own sense of self as parents are supposed to do. They are only concerned about their own needs, and even for their children, they cannot give other people what they need.
As with any other relationship a narcissist has, the narcissistic parent sees their own children as mere extensions of themself. They don’t recognize or respect the personal boundaries of their child, and they become overly involved in their life.
One of the reasons they do this is that they believe that how the child behaves is a reflection of their parenting ability. They want to be seen and praised as great parents, but they don’t do anything that merits that status. Instead, they focus on controlling their child so they won’t reveal the truth about the narcissistic abuse they are suffering.
Narcissistic parents also might focus on helping other people as a way to show how great they are, and in these cases, they often neglect their own children. Either way, their children frequently feel neglected and unloved. They also are frequently unable to develop a sense of self and may become narcissistic themselves.
How Do You Know If Your Parent is a Narcissist?
Narcissistic parents are only interested in themselves. They are not able to focus on or provide for the needs of other people, including their children. They usually want to be in the limelight or will manipulate other people into complimenting them.
While they may compliment their children to other people, they rarely acknowledge your achievements to you. Any problems their child has, they blame on the other parent or anyone else other than themselves.
They are also overly concerned about appearances, and as such, they will do anything to make it seem like all is well in their family to outsiders, but they may be harsh and very abusive in private. They will devalue, criticize, and gaslight anyone close to them, and they will also use triangulation as a means to create a rift between their child and other family members.
The narcissistic parent will also use guilt to make you feel bad for not attending to their needs immediately or sufficiently. They will also make sure you know just how much they do for you, but they will never acknowledge anything you’ve done for them.
Finally, they can be ruthless, and they will make you feel bad about yourself. They don’t want their children to have confidence in themselves since they might leave the narcissistic parent. That’s catastrophic for them because it not only robs them of a source of narcissistic supply, it also makes them seem like a bad parent.
What Can the Adult Child of a Narcissist Do to Protect Themselves?
When you have realized that you have a narcissistic parent, the first thing you need to do is accept that you won’t be able to change them. The only person who can change a narcissist is the narcissist themself. There won’t be anything you can say or do that will make them see how they’ve treated you or that they are to blame for any problems.
Once you accept that, you need to shift your focus to protecting yourself from further abuse. There are several ways to respond to them, but the least helpful way to respond is to show any emotion whatsoever. That simply gives them ammunition to use in future interactions.
There’s a technique called the ‘grey rock’ technique where the idea is to make yourself uninteresting to the narcissist by not reacting in any emotional or even interesting way. Don’t share happy things with them or things that bother you. Respond instead in a way that is boring, and they will likely focus their attention elsewhere.
While the grey rock technique can work for a while or in some circumstances, it’s more difficult to use that technique as the minor child of a narcissist. They have a vested interest in your behavior and will not respect any of your personal boundaries.
As an adult child of a narcissist, you can set strong boundaries and strictly enforce them, and that’s the best thing you can do for your own mental health. You can also choose to go no-contact if your narcissistic parent is simply not respecting your boundaries. In fact, retired psychologist Edward Tierney says, “Go no contact if they won´t stop their nonsense, and you dread seeing them, or fear the next thing they will say.”
What Can a Minor Child of a Narcissist Do to Protect Themselves?
If you’re a minor child, the most important thing to do is to practice frequent, effective self-care techniques to develop your sense of self and your self-esteem. Distance yourself as much as possible from your narcissistic parent, but recognize that you may not be able to do much in that regard.
When they do interact with you, don’t react emotionally to anything they do. There is nothing you can say or do that will make them see your side of things. Practice positive affirmations several times each day, confide in a friend or family member who can help you process the narcissistic abuse, and make sure to engage in healthy habits to maintain your physical health.
Take advantage of time away from your narcissistic parent. Those times will likely be few and far between, but let yourself relish those opportunities. If you are interested in extracurricular activities, taking part in those can give you time away from your narcissistic parent and help you build confidence and healthy relationships.
If, at any time, the relationship with your narcissistic parent becomes physically abusive, tell someone immediately. It’s enough you may have to endure emotional abuse, but don’t be afraid to tell someone if you’re being physically abused so that you can stop that from continuing. You don’t have to endure that.
Remember that the problem is not with you, it’s with your narcissistic parent. It’s also important to understand that they are not reacting to you personally. They are not capable of showing love in the way that every child deserves. They have a mental disorder, and it has nothing to do with anything you have done or not done. This one’s on them.
Having a narcissistic parent is one of the most damaging situations imaginable. Toxic parents can work in insidious ways to undermine your self-esteem and control you through manipulation. If you have recognized that you have a narcissistic parent, you’ve likely already endured years of emotional and possibly physical abuse.
There are many things you can do to respond to their abuse, but the most effective responses are those that deny them the ability to affect you emotionally and violate your boundaries. If you’re an adult, this may mean going no-contact, and if you’re a minor, this means practicing good self-care techniques and distancing yourself as much as possible from the abuse.
Narcissistic abuse is not about you, it’s all about their mental disorder that prevents them from loving you the way every parent should love a child.
If you’ve found this useful, you might also be interested in this post about teenage angst and how to deal with toxic parents.
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