Narcissists are complicated people and living with them is difficult at best. They use manipulative tactics to control everyone around them. This doesn’t make for a very loving relationship. Because the narcissist sees the people in their life as mere extensions of their own identity, many people would advise you to run away from them as fast as you can. But what if the narcissist in question is your grandmother?
Narcissists don’t learn from their past mistakes because they can’t admit they’ve made any mistakes. For that reason, if you want to stay in contact with her, you’ll need to set strong boundaries and be vigilant for her manipulative tactics. If you can’t do that, then yes, avoid contact with her.
You might think your narcissistic grandmother will be different with her grandchildren than she was with her own children. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and she can do significant damage to her entire family as a result. That’s why you need to, at a minimum, control all contact with her and enforce strong boundaries. To really do that, you have to understand why she is the way she is, and toward that end, let’s take a deep dive into the narcissistic grandmother and how to handle her.
Why is Avoiding Your Narcissistic Grandmother Your Best Option?
A narcissistic grandmother, like a narcissistic mother, is nothing like the kindly grandmother stereotype. Narcissists have a poorly developed sense of self, and they need other people to provide them with a steady flow of adoration in order to prop up their self-esteem.
They see other people as extensions of their own identity because their need for that external validation is so great. To get their narcissistic supply, as that adoration is called, narcissists manipulate the people around them.
Because they also have convinced themselves that they are powerful and superior, narcissists also enjoy manipulating other people. It validates their beliefs in their own superiority. The manipulation they will use to control the people in their life happens regardless of the relationship with any individual.
That means they will manipulate their grandchildren as readily as their spouse and their own children. While it’s not possible to say what the narcissist is truly feeling about the people in their life, it is possible to say that the narcissist’s behavior causes their loved ones to feel as though the narcissist doesn’t love them.
Moreover, the manipulative tactics the narcissist uses to control people can do significant damage to the family dynamic and the interpersonal relationships between siblings and between children and their parents. The narcissist can do such extreme damage to their own grandchildren that it can even affect their adult relationships.
As is apparent, the narcissist’s behavior is not conducive to a strong, loving family dynamic, and therefore, it’s probably in your best interest to avoid your narcissistic grandmother altogether. If going no contact is not an option, then minimally, you want to go low contact to stop the emotional abuse.
How Does a Narcissistic Grandmother Harm the Family Dynamic?
Just like she did with her own children, a narcissistic grandmother uses several manipulative tactics to control her grandchildren. One of the most destructive tactics she uses is called triangulation.
Triangulation is where you essentially play both ends against the middle. You tell one person one thing and someone else something different entirely. A narcissistic grandmother may tell one of her grandchildren something like, “Your sister says you’re not very nice.” Then she tells your sister that you said she was stupid.
She can do even more damage by telling her grandchildren that their parents said something about them or that their parents favor one child over the other. Her grandchildren don’t know what to believe, and it can be difficult to talk to each other and discover these lies.
Clearly, a narcissistic grandmother lies routinely to manipulate her loved ones. If she is caught doing any of this, she then employs gaslighting where she will claim that you misunderstood what she said or that she was just kidding, and she may add, “Can’t you take a joke?”
It can create an environment where no one knows who they can trust, and of course, the interpersonal relationships between family members suffer as a result. A narcissistic grandmother can undermine relationships between siblings and between children and their parents using these tactics.
Her ultimate goal is to get her grandchildren to favor her over their own parents, and she wants to create an environment where her grandkids are competing for her attention. This makes her feel superior, powerful, and adored.
This is why avoiding her altogether is probably the best option for her grandchildren, but sometimes that’s not a possibility.
What Should You Do if You Can’t Avoid Your Narcissistic Grandmother Completely?
As clinical psychologist Philip Getz puts it, “Go for a minimalistic approach of minimal contact of a type most easy and favored by the grandparents, least toxic for the children, and regular like a Swiss clock for consistency and predictability.” You can go low-contact instead of no contact.
To go low contact, parents need to control when and where grandchildren will have contact with their narcissistic grandmother. If you’re an adult grandchild of the narcissist, you can take control of this yourself.
You want to be the one who determines where, when, and for how long the narcissistic grandmother is in touch with her grandchildren. You also can control activities and what constitutes appropriate conversation topics.
Parents should strictly monitor the engagement between their toxic grandmother and their own children. If the grandmother begins talking about something that is not allowed, they should step in immediately and steer the conversation to something more appropriate.
If you’re an adult grandchild of a narcissistic mother, you can simply leave if she begins to act in a manipulative manner. It’s important that you rigidly enforce any boundaries you set. If you let it go, even just once, the narcissist will take advantage of that and violate that boundary again and again.
Finally, keep the contact consistent. That way everyone involved knows what will happen and when. With consistency, young children will fare better, and adult grandchildren can limit the amount of contact and toxic exposure.
How Should You Talk to Your Children About Their Narcissistic Grandmother?
This is a delicate subject given that young children don’t really understand what’s happening, and they’re not going to understand if you try to tell them their grandmother is narcissistic. That’s why you have to try and engage in positive types of dialogue with them about their grandmother’s behavior.
For example, you can reinforce the importance of staying close their to siblings and that they can ask you about anything that anyone, including their grandmother, tells them. When addressing specific statements their narcissistic grandmother might have made, it’s best to use the kindest language you can.
For example, you might say something like, “Your grandmother has difficulty showing her love, and she is sometimes afraid that you won’t really love her.” You can explain that’s why she sometimes says things that feel hurtful.
Then, you can reassure them that they can tell you anything she says and you will be happy to explain it to them. You can also let them know that if their grandmother tells them something about another family member, they should ask you about it. Let them know that their relationships with siblings and their parents are very important and they should not let anything cause problems.
Obviously, you can’t have these kinds of conversations until they’re old enough to understand what you’re saying. Until then, you will want to closely monitor their contact with their narcissistic grandmother.
As an adult, you can simply set the boundaries with your grandmother by determining when, where, and for how long you will visit her. You should tell her your boundaries as well and what the consequences will be for violations. Then you should enforce them consistently, every time.
A narcissistic grandmother can do just as much damage to a grandchild as she did to her own children if you don’t control her access and actions. Parents need to set strong boundaries and be vigilant for signs of manipulation. As an adult grandchild, you will have to set your own strong boundaries and refuse to put up with any manipulation.
If you are the grandchild of a narcissistic grandmother or the child of one, you need to read this post about how you can set boundaries with that toxic grandparent. It has 19 tips for how you can stop the emotional abuse.
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