Narcissistic parents employ one of the most damaging parenting styles out there. Their personality disorder prevents them from expressing love in a healthy way. Moreover, they are obsessed with preventing anyone, even their own children, from getting too close. They fear that if you get too close, you will not only see their true self, you will reveal it to the rest of the world. Added to this toxic mix is the fact that narcissists are not able to feel empathy in any real sense. They don’t understand how their actions hurt other people.
Because a narcissistic parent can’t understand how their actions affect their children, they often do significant, and sometimes lifelong, damage to their own offspring. They seek to manipulate and control their victims. Their children are subjected to this kind of emotional abuse their entire life. They don’t know that it’s abusive. Instead, they see themselves as somehow flawed because they can’t ever seem to please their narcissistic parent. It isn’t often until it’s too late that they realize the damage their own parent is doing to them.
I had a narcissistic mother, so I know the kind of damage a narcissist can do to their children. I didn’t realize her behavior was abnormal until I was a teenager and a friend of mine pointed out that her mother would never act that way. It was a complete shock to me to learn that not everyone’s mother was like mine. That was the start of a long journey toward healing my emotional wounds. The damage my mother did was substantial, and it took many forms. Let’s look at 13 ways that narcissistic parents damage their own children and the reasons they do so.
Why Do Narcissists Treat Their Children in a Damaging Way?
The nature of narcissistic personality disorder is such that the affected individual cannot focus on anyone other than themselves. It matters little what they might actually feel in their heart for their loved ones; they are simply incapable of expressing those emotions in a healthy way.
This Cluster B personality disorder develops when a child adopts a core belief that they are incapable of doing things for themselves. This may be because they have been abused, or it may be the result of an overly protective parenting style. In either case, the child gets the message they are worthless, and they are filled with shame and self-loathing as a result. In the video below, I will explain more about Cluster B narcissists and some of the other Cluster B personality disorders.
Because of this trauma, they bury what they believe to be a flawed true self and construct a grandiose false self in its place. This false self, however, can’t support the grandiose ideas the child uses to soothe their damaged self-esteem. For that, they need other people, and to get the supply of adoration they need, they must manipulate and control their friends, family, and colleagues, including their own children.
“Children of narcissists learn that love is abuse. The narcissist teaches them that if someone displeases you, it is okay to harm them and call it love.”
— M. Wakefield, Author and Certified Trauma Recovery Coach
While they may love their children deep inside, they can’t focus on their needs. The only thing a narcissistic parent can focus on is their own needs. They must be constantly vigilant for threats to expose their flawed true self, and they have to constantly engage in manipulation to get the narcissistic supply they need to prop up their self-esteem.
As a result of being so singularly focused on their own inner turmoil, narcissists treat their own children in very abusive, damaging ways.
How Do Narcissists Treat Their Children?
Whether through intentional abuse or self-absorbed thoughtlessness, narcissistic parents damage their children, and often, the results will affect the child for the rest of their life. A big part of the problem is that narcissists lack empathy.
They can’t really understand how their actions affect other people. This is due, in part, to the fact that they see other people as simple extensions of their own identity. Other people do, after all, supply the narcissist with ego-boosting props.
Notably, a narcissist’s children are viewed as an extension of their own identity, and they expect them to reflect the grandiose qualities of the narcissist. That’s an impossible standard to meet, and as a result, the narcissist’s children will inevitably disappoint their toxic parent.
The effort to control their children and to extract that all-important narcissistic supply from them is what leads to extremely abusive treatment. Let’s examine more closely these 13 ways that narcissists damage their children.
1. Undercut Their Self-Esteem with Devaluation
When a narcissist’s child inevitably disappoints them, the narcissist will attack them with devaluation, just as they would with anyone else who didn’t live up to their unreasonable expectations.
Their devaluation can be extremely cruel, and for a child who doesn’t understand why they’re being treated in such a harsh way. They don’t know what they’ve done wrong, and in reality, they haven’t done anything wrong.
|Cruel Things a Narcissistic Parent Might Say…|
It’s easy to see how constant devaluation can undermine a child’s self-esteem. Over time, the devaluation of a narcissistic parent can result in the child developing narcissism themselves. If not that, they often become codependent.
They begin neglecting their own best interests in order to try to appease their toxic parent. The sad thing is that’s an unattainable goal.
2. Force Conformity by Punishing Dissent
Narcissists are not open to any kind of criticism. They will see any dissent as an expression of disagreement. They will also twist innocuous statements into some kind of criticism.
They believe their children’s behavior is a reflection of their own parenting ability. As such, the child needs to conform to everything the narcissist represents themselves as being. They want the world to see a parent whose children adore them and would do anything for them.
Even mild criticism or a valid expression of a difference of opinion undermines that goal in the narcissist’s mind. They don’t see an independent child with opinions of their own as an indicator of successful parenting.
They believe a child marching in lockstep with their controlling parent on every topic is something the rest of the world will see as successful parenting. They don’t care if they are undermining their child’s ability to become an independent, functional adult, and in fact, they don’t want that.
They want their child to turn to them for advice on every decision and reflect their ideals. It’s not about equipping their child for adulthood; it’s about projecting a winning image to the rest of the world.
3. Sowing Self-Doubt with Gaslighting
Gaslighting is a manipulation technique whereby a toxic person tries to make you doubt your own perception of reality. From the day they are born, the child of a narcissist is routinely gaslighted.
My mother used this tactic on me all the time. She would tell me I was too sensitive or that what I was claiming happened never occurred. She would tell everyone I knew that I had a tendency toward exaggeration.
“The worst part about gaslighting is that it undermines your self-worth to the point where you’re second-guessing everything.”
— Dana Arcuri, Author, Coach, Emotion & Energy Healer
Her goal was to make me feel like I couldn’t trust my own senses, ideas, or opinions. That’s the goal of the narcissist in your life too. They are trying to manipulate you into doubting yourself on such a profound level that you will never challenge anything they say.
It’s a corrosive technique that threatens your sense of self-worth. Because the narcissistic parent wants to keep their children dependent on them for everything, even their perceptions, they use this type of emotional abuse routinely.
4. Undercutting Normal Emotions by Pathologizing Them
Narcissistic parents often make their children feel as though normal feelings indicate something is wrong with them. They may tell them, for example, that no one feels like that in a situation such as this.
That’s the same thing as telling them that there’s something wrong with the way they experience the world around them. It invalidates their emotional responses and further undermines their self-worth.
The tactic also isolates the child. When a narcissist tells a child they should not be having the feelings they are having, they’re telling them that it’s something for which they should be ashamed.
The child is afraid to tell anyone else how they’re feeling since they’ve been told it’s wrong. They bury those feelings, which only results in further traumatization.
5. Traumatizing Them with Rage and Shame
Shame is one of the most destructive emotions. It erodes your sense of self-worth, and it offers no solutions. It traps you in a sense of smallness, and narcissists use it regularly to manipulate and control their victims.
As researchers in psychology at numerous universities in Indonesia note, “Usually, feelings of shame happen due to a condition where the personal self is devalued…” When a narcissistic parent is constantly devaluing their child, they are filling that child with shame.
“Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough.”
— Brené Brown, Professor and author
Once you perceive yourself as a ‘bad person,’ it can be very difficult to regain a positive sense of self-worth. This often results in lifelong damage that can effectively cripple a narcissist’s child.
It’s exactly the opposite of what you would expect from a parent, but when that parent is a narcissist, it’s commonplace. In fact, it’s a strategy for rendering their child helplessly dependent on the narcissist.
6. Destroy Their Relationships with Triangulation and Comparison
Another strategy narcissists love to use on their children is something called triangulation. Triangulation is when you play both ends against the middle. You tell one child one thing, and another child or the other parent something entirely different.
It erodes trust in that relationship and can destroy it altogether. Moreover, a narcissistic parent loves to pit one child against the other. They will ruthlessly compare them, and of course, you always come up on the losing end of that comparison.
This manipulation tactic is used to isolate the child, so they have no one to turn to in times of need. The narcissist doesn’t want them to be able to go to someone else in their life to get support. They want them to be entirely dependent on the very person who is working to undermine their sense of self-worth.
It often has lifelong consequences for the child, given that it undermines their ability to form long-lasting relationships. They have difficulty trusting others, and they always see themselves as ‘not good enough.’
7. Parentify Them to Serve the Narcissist’s Needs
It often happens that a narcissistic parent will parentify their children. They give them responsibilities that are beyond their years. This forces them to grow up too quickly and can result in problems in adulthood.
This can result in mental problems like depression and anxiety. They also can easily become people-pleasers and fall into a pattern of codependency.
“Many parentified children can grow up with higher levels of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).”
— Amy Launder, Psychotherapist and Writer for the Awareness Center
Codependency is a mental disorder in which a person disregards their own needs in favor of meeting the needs of other people in the family. It’s a common problem in families that have a narcissistic parent.
The child is desperately seeking to keep the peace as they race around, trying to appease the narcissist. It’s a futile effort, however, as the narcissist is never pleased. Instead, the child loses confidence in their ability to manage the situation.
This has a profoundly negative effect on their self-esteem. It also sets them up for continued failure as they grow older. They keep trying to make up for what they were unable to accomplish in their childhood.
8. Foster Entitlement by Saving Them from Consequences
Because narcissists see their children as extensions of their own identity, they are heavily invested in ensuring their success. A failure, no matter how minor, reflects negatively on the narcissistic parent.
The narcissist often cleans up messes the child creates throughout their life, and this makes the child feel as though they can get away with anything.
They come to believe they are entitled to whatever it is they want out of life, and they don’t have to face any consequences for misbehavior. By not letting them fail and learn how to pick up the pieces themselves, the narcissist prevents the child from developing a strong sense of agency.
It undermines the child’s sense that they can make positive changes in their life to improve their situation. Instead, they learn that they need the narcissist to pick up the pieces for them whenever things go awry.
Of course, the narcissistic parent doesn’t want their child to become independent, and that is part of the goal behind this kind of behavior. The other part of the goal is to preserve their image as a parent. In the narcissist’s mind, they can’t let the child fail because it will negatively affect their image.
9. Encourage Anxiety Through Abandonment
The children of narcissists experience emotional abandonment throughout the course of their childhood. My mother would quickly withdraw her love and make it clear to me that she could easily live without me.
The love of a narcissist is always conditioned upon good behavior, and they will emotionally abandon their child when they have misbehaved. Sometimes a narcissist may even physically abandon their child and their whole family if they fear being exposed. This video explains the phenomenon in more detail.
|According to Shirley Davis of the CPTSD Foundation, these are some of the effects of abandonment trauma…|
As you can imagine, abandonment creates significant trauma for the affected child. They find it difficult to feel secure in any situation and are prone to constant worry, chronic anxiety, and low self-esteem.
The effects of abandonment can become so severe that they threaten the child’s life. They suffer frequent physical illnesses, problems with addiction, and are more prone to suicidal ideation.
10. Create Dependency by Stifling Independence
The last thing a narcissist wants is for their children to become independent, healthy adults who will go off to live their own lives. The narcissistic parent wants their children to demonstrate their superiority by showing everyone how much they want to stay around their parent.
The narcissist also doesn’t want to lose the stable source of narcissistic supply that they have been grooming their entire life. In some cases, they may even see their child as a potential replacement spouse in the event their actual spouse should ever leave.
For that reason, the narcissist will hover over everything their child does and take control to ensure they are displaying what the narcissist considers to be an acceptable level of superiority.
This is particularly true for the so-called golden child, and the narcissist’s action put that child at risk of developing narcissistic personality disorder. In that way, it creates a cycle of toxicity.
11. Generating Helplessness Through Neglect
Narcissistic parents also routinely fail to teach their children the basic life skills they need to survive. This is another part of ensuring the children will remain dependent upon the narcissist.
For the narcissist, this makes them feel powerful. Their child needs them to take care of things, and that’s another indicator of their superiority. It feeds their ego to constantly be needed.
Unfortunately for their children, it prevents them from learning how to properly take care of themselves in an adult world. It hinders them from being able to form healthy relationships with other people and pursue their own dreams.
12. Creating Division with Golden Children and Scapegoats
When a narcissistic parent has more than one child, one of them will be chosen as the golden child, and the other one will be the scapegoat. The narcissist hovers over the golden child and controls their every move.
The scapegoat bears the brunt of the narcissist’s harshest criticism. The scapegoat is blamed for virtually everything that goes wrong in the family. They are the quintessential black sheep of the family.
While the scapegoat often suffers from numerous problems like addiction, low self-esteem, and constant anxiety, the golden child fares no better. They are never allowed to do anything for themselves, and that also undermines self-esteem.
The scapegoat frequently leaves home early, while the golden child often becomes a narcissist. Both pay a heavy toll as a result of their narcissistic parent’s personality disorder. Moreover, it creates division between the siblings. They are often unable to form a strong familial relationship.
13. Fostering Dependence with Financial Manipulation
One other way a narcissist severely damages their child is by manipulating their finances. This starts early and continues into adulthood. It is designed to prevent the child from becoming fully independent.
In some cases, a narcissistic parent may fully control their child’s finances, while in others, they may just manipulate their child’s financial decisions. My narcissistic mother would frequently tell me that I was always going to be poor because I didn’t have a ‘head for managing money.’
I must admit that her attempts to undermine my confidence made me fearful when it comes to money matters. It has taken me a long time to feel secure in my financial decisions.
The way a narcissistic parent treats their children creates many emotional wounds. That’s yet another legacy of this toxic parenting style. These wounds create emotional triggers that the narcissistic parent can then use to further control their child. They know that they can push those buttons to get an emotional reaction, which leaves their child much more vulnerable to manipulation.
I know how that feels, and it’s one reason why I created a 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers. This free guide will help you learn to recognize, defuse, and heal those emotional wounds so that your narcissistic parent can’t use them to control you. To get a copy of this handy roadmap, just click on this link, and I’ll send it directly to your inbox.
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