It’s difficult to think that anyone could abuse their own children, but of course, many people do. Narcissists are among the worst parents out there. They manipulate and emotionally abuse their children just like they do with other people in their life. They can also be physically abusive to their children. This might make you wonder if they hate their children, and it’s a good question, but the truth is that how they truly feel about other children is more complicated than that.
Narcissists start out idealizing their children and holding them up as proof of the narcissist’s superiority. That doesn’t last, however, as their children inevitably disappoint them because of unrealistically high expectations. This leads to more emotional and sometimes physical abuse.
As the daughter of a narcissistic mother, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a narcissist’s complicated emotional style. From a child’s perspective, they often wonder if their toxic parent even loves them, and if they do, it’s clear that they don’t know how to express that emotion. While it’s not possible to know what anyone truly feels in their heart, it is possible to say that narcissists treat their children in abusive ways. Let’s look at how the emotions a narcissistic parent has for their children result in toxic behaviors.
How Do Narcissists Feel About Their Children Initially?
Narcissists start out idealizing their children. Narcissistic mothers revel in pregnancy because they are the center of attention. After the child is born, they relish in everyone’s desire to see the new baby.
The narcissistic mother gladly accepts the adoration and praise she receives during this time. They brag about their child as the biological product of a superior person. They often claim their child surpasses all early developmental hallmarks.
They smile early, crawl before other children, and even walk before they are supposed to be able to do so. That’s the claim of the narcissist who will often say something like, “Of course, my child is developing rapidly; they are the product of good breeding.”
They are taking credit for their child’s development, even though it’s the child who is actually accomplishing these things. The narcissistic parent doesn’t see it that way, however. They will take credit for it as being a result of their genetic contribution.
This idealization stage typically lasts until life settles into a normal routine and the narcissist is no longer in the spotlight. At that time, the child may become little more than a nuisance, and the narcissistic parent may slack off on their caregiving duties.
Once the child gets older and begins to develop their own personality, this is when the narcissistic parent becomes increasingly critical of their own offspring. This is when the relationship can enter the devaluation stage.
Even a child chosen as the ‘golden child’ will still be subjected to harsh criticism. The narcissistic parent must keep them strictly in line to feel superior. At some point, that child will cross a line and feel the sting of their toxic parent’s emotional abuse.
Narcissists See Their Children as Possessions
Narcissistic parents always see their children as possessions. They genuinely feel that they own them, and as owners, they have the right to order them to do whatever they want or to expect things from them that no one can ever give.
It’s a form of enslavement, really, and the narcissistic parent can sometimes take this to the extreme. Because the narcissist views their children as possessions, they invalidate their feelings.
I remember my mother telling me, “You don’t really feel that way. You’re just overreacting.” She was invalidating my feelings because, as her possession, I was not allowed to have any feelings that she didn’t allow.
This view of children as possessions also leads to the exploitation of their children. They may use them to prevent a spouse from leaving or to absorb the abuse a spouse would have heaped on the narcissist.
Because they see them as possessions, a narcissist will use their children in any way they feel is necessary. They will expect their child to back them up no matter what they say. They will also expect them to lie for them if need be.
It can ultimately cause the child to become codependent. They feel as though they have to make sacrifices to ensure everyone else in their life is comfortable. It’s a destructive pattern called codependency that then bleeds into your adult relationships.
It’s a corrosive pattern of abuse that, as Brittany Bach notes in her master’s thesis in social work, erodes the victim’s self-esteem. She writes, “Many participants described needing external support or validation from others to feel competent or worthy, and some reported feeling as if their entire sense of self was based on how “successful” they felt in terms of their physical appearance, social life, or educational or career achievements.”
Do Narcissists Think Their Children are Proof of Their Own Superiority?
As part of the idealization stage and the idea that children are possessions, the narcissistic parent also sees their children as proof of their own superiority. They are superior children, which proves they have superior parents.
This puts an incredible amount of pressure on the child. The child soon realizes that they must perform to measure up to the unachievable level of satisfaction of a toxic parent.
I remember my mother constantly telling me, “You’re making me look like a bad mother.” She was basing her identity on my behavior, which should never be a child’s responsibility.
She took credit for anything I did that was praised. It was because she was my superior parent and gave me her genes. Of course, she never accepted responsibility for my failures. Those, in her mind, undermined her superiority.
It’s this idea that my behavior is a reflection of her parenting ability that is behind this. If I was good, it was a reflection of her parenting ability, but if I was bad, I was on my own. The feeling of her turning her back on me when I was bad was one of abandonment.
I felt betrayed because she didn’t unconditionally love me. That’s what was missing, her unconditional positive regard, something the humanist psychologist Carl Rogers claimed was necessary for developing a sense of self-worth.
It took me a long time and a lot of personal growth work to move past that sense of betrayal and abandonment. This is the legacy of the narcissistic parent.
Narcissists View Their Children as Extensions of Their Identity
When narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is forming, the individual becoming a narcissist doesn’t develop healthy identity mechanisms. They fail to develop a self-image that can support their own grandiose ideas of self. This video has more information about how narcissism forms.
That’s why they need external validation from the people in their life. This external validation is known as narcissistic supply, and a narcissist can hardly survive without it. But it’s this need that causes them to see other people as simply being extensions of their own identity.
This is particularly true of their own children. They are not only possessions, they are actually a part of the narcissistic parent. They are a part of their identity.
As such, the narcissistic parent believes they can treat their children in any way they please without repercussions. It’s as if anything they do to their children, they are really just doing to themselves.
My mother told me time and again that I was a part of her. She told me that I would never be able to separate myself from her because of that. She was correct in that it did take me a long time to see myself as distinct from her.
I eventually did break free; however, the fact that it took so much personal growth to do so is a testament to how engrained her narcissistic abuse became. It’s difficult for the children of narcissistic parents to see themselves as distinct.
They are not allowed to develop their own separate identity, and they are not allowed to explore independence. That is contrary to what their narcissistic parent wants.
Do Narcissists Really See Their Children as Competition?
It is also true that narcissistic parents often see their children as competition. This can be true in a number of different circumstances. Narcissistic mothers, for example, often see their daughters as younger, more attractive, and better versions of themselves.
This is perhaps no more poignantly illustrated than in the story Snow White. In the original version of that story, the reader learns the wicked witch who gives Snow White the poison apple that puts her into eternal sleep is, in fact, her mother.
Moreover, her mother does this because she sees that she will no longer be the fairest in the land. Snow White is taking that title as she grows into womanhood. While the typical narcissistic mother won’t poison her daughter, she does see her as competition.
The daughter represents a younger, more beautiful, and more capable version of herself, and this sense only increases as the narcissistic mother ages. Getting older means losing her looks and becoming weaker in almost every way.
Likewise, a narcissistic father often competes with his son. He can be constantly critical of his son for fear that he will become better than him physically and perhaps in other areas of life as well. He may, for example, become a better businessman than his father.
Seeing their children become better than them is a blessing and a source of pride for most parents, but for the narcissist, it’s a curse. They become increasingly cruel in their devaluation of their child as a result of seeing them as competition.
They want to undermine their competition, and even though it’s their own child, they will stop at nothing to boost their self-esteem. Even if they have to sabotage their child, they will.
Some Narcissists See Their Children as Replacement Spouses
For the narcissistic parent, a child is a lifetime source of narcissistic supply. They are someone the narcissist expects to love and care for them as they age.
Narcissists learn early on that people will tire of their behavior and frequently leave. Though they don’t attribute this to anything they have done, they know this can happen. They aren’t always surprised when their spouse leaves them.
Occasionally narcissists initiate a discard, but often it’s the spouse who has seen the person they fell in love with become a harshly critical monster. Rather than adjust their behavior, they cycle through people, which is one reason narcissists often return after a breakup.
But, to the narcissist, their child is not someone who can leave them. They see their children as part of them, as a possession, and as someone who will stay with them forever. For that reason, narcissistic parents can sometimes groom their children to act as a kind of replacement spouse.
While they might not have sexual relations with their children, this type of emotional incest can be just as damaging. This is more common between narcissistic mother and their sons, but it’s not unheard of with narcissistic fathers and daughters.
Just as with sexual abuse, emotional incest foists adult responsibilities on children who are not equipped to handle them. It does significant damage, and on top of that, though they are grooming them as replacement spouses, that doesn’t mean the narcissistic parent treats the child any better.
In fact, they often condition them to accept the same kind of abuse that likely drove their actual spouse away. It’s a horribly abusive tactic for a narcissistic parent, and if the child is able to escape, it leaves the same kind of lifelong scars as sexual abuse does.
Why Do Narcissists See Some of Their Children as Scapegoats?
If a narcissist has more than one child, they will often choose one to be a ‘golden child,’ and the other one becomes a scapegoat. They do this for a number of reasons, as you can see in this video. The first is that they love to create drama in the family and encourage competition between their children.
There’s almost nothing that can give a narcissist more satisfaction than two of their children competing for their love. The narcissist believes that by showering one child with love and adoration, the other will fight even harder to win their approval.
It doesn’t work out well for either child. The scapegoat child gets blamed for everything. They are rarely given the love that any child deserves. Instead, they are criticized at every turn. There’s almost nothing they can do that pleases their narcissistic parent.
While it seems like the golden child will have it that much better, the truth is they actually have it worse. The narcissistic parent does shower them with attention and adoration, but it’s at the cost of their identity.
The narcissistic parent doesn’t let the golden child do anything for themselves. Their narcissistic abuser takes over their entire identity. They aren’t allowed to do anything for themselves, and they aren’t even allowed to think for themselves.
They often grow up to be narcissists themselves, or they become completely dependent on their toxic parent. It’s horrible either way. The golden child never matures, and the scapegoat child often escapes the family at an early age.
Moreover, the scapegoat child can suffer from problems with addiction. They never feel like they are enough, and they are always looking for an escape. They sometimes look to substances, but they also will leave home at an early age, which makes them more vulnerable to predators and other manipulators.
If a Narcissist Loves their Child, Why Can’t They Express That?
It’s not possible to say what a narcissist is truly feeling in their heart, but if they feel genuine love for their children, they certainly don’t know how to express that emotion. It’s hard to believe they can actually love their children because they aren’t capable of loving themselves.
In any case, it is clear that their love is conditional. As long as I was behaving how my mother wanted me to behave, she loved me, but when I was bad in her eyes, I was completely evil.
The ability to be angry at someone and still think positive thoughts about them is something known as object constancy. Healthy parents can be angry at their children for something they’ve done while still knowing that they are good human beings and have many good qualities.
The narcissistic parent cannot do this. If you do something wrong, even if you are their child, they lump you into the category of a bad seed. They can’t see that you have any good qualities.
As you can imagine, this sets the child up for a lot of very harsh criticism. The narcissistic parent can be ruthless in their attacks. I remember my mother saying things to me like, “You’re not my child. You’re completely bad, and my child wouldn’t be that way.”
Imagine what it does to a young child hearing this. They might not be able to process that their parent is simply angry with them. I know I felt completely abandoned by my mother. I had to come to terms with the fact that she would not have my back if I displeased her.
Narcissists See Their Children as a Manipulation Tool
Finally, narcissists see their children as manipulation tools. They will use them against their spouse, their parents, and the child’s siblings. Narcissists love to use their children to manipulate other people.
I loved my father’s parents very much. They were kind to me, and they showed me what healthy adults can look like. I can’t count the number of times, however, when I heard my mother threaten them with never seeing me again to get them to do what she wanted.
She didn’t care how I felt or that the punishment she was threatening was way out of line. She wanted something, and she would stop at nothing to get it. But it’s not the only way narcissists use their children.
They will also threaten their spouses with taking away their children, and they will use triangulation to undermine a positive relationship between their children and anyone else.
Triangulation is basically playing both ends against the middle. A narcissistic parent will tell one child one thing and their sibling something else. The narcissist does this to create drama in the family and to undermine the relationship between the siblings.
They will also use triangulation to undermine the relationship a child has with the other parent. Their goal is to create mistrust, and they are frequently successful. The sad thing is that this can undermine what would otherwise be strong lifelong relationships.
Siblings turn against siblings, and they end up hating their other parent. They don’t have to be proven correct for this tactic to work. All they have to do is sow the seeds of doubt, and the rest happens naturally.
In fact, narcissists can even destroy their entire family using this tactic. That’s how devastatingly effective triangulation can be.
Narcissists make terrible parents. Even if they do genuinely love their children, they can’t express it in a healthy way. It also doesn’t change the emotional abuse they subject their children to over the course of their early years. Their love is conditional, and they will manipulate and control their children just like they do other people in their life. This includes creating and using emotional wounds and the triggers that result against their supposedly beloved children.
I have created a 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers to help with that situation. This is a free guide that helps you learn how to recognize and defuse emotional triggers. It can also help you to heal the early wounds that created those triggers. If you can do that, you can stop a narcissist from using those triggers to manipulate and control you. If you would like a copy of this handy guide, go to this page and I’ll send it directly to your inbox. You can start freeing yourself from narcissistic abuse today.
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