It’s a truism that all children grow up loving their parents—and yearning for that love to be returned—even if the parents are abusive, neglectful, or as we discuss in this case, narcissists.
Being raised by narcissists is a difficult pathway to adulthood, and it can leave lasting scars and unprocessed harm. Narcissistic parents are concerned with their own needs and desires, rather than the welfare of their children. Many children blame themselves for their parents’ inappropriate actions. Additionally, many children of narcissists suffer for a long time from narcissistic victim syndrome as a result of that abuse.
When they aren’t overbearing, they are often negligent and inattentive. Their behavior is often unpredictable and their emotions are generally unstable. This prevents a child from fully developing in a healthy way, psychologically and sometimes even physically.
Read on for a description of the narcissistic parent, as well as the damage they cause and how children of narcissistic parents can eventually heal, and then check out this post for advice on how to live with narcissistic parents.
When Self-Centeredness Rules the Roost
Narcissistic parents more often consider their children as mere extensions of their own aggrandized, egocentric personalities. The child isn’t an individual in their own right. Instead, they are the property of the parent, praised when they act on behalf of the parent and berated when they attempt to be themselves.
In addition to harboring high expectations from their children—because it will make them look good—the narcissistic parent will demean and belittle them when they fall short of those expectations. The parent must be superior to the child, and if the child shows potential or develops strong skills, the narcissistic parent will likely react with petty jealousy.
Narcissists, in general, are hyper-concerned about appearances and will present a false image in public. Narcissistic parents like to flaunt their material possessions—this includes their children—in a way that suggests they are better than others. They must be wealthier, more successful, more attractive, and extra special. If their children don’t play along, they will be isolated or neglected.
At the Mercy of Self-Interested Parents
Narcissistic parents are also incredibly manipulative, and since the child has no other choice but to respond to the directives of the parents, they are caught up in a web of emotional coercion. Parents will threaten to withhold support unless the child does what they ask. They blame the child for anything that goes wrong within the family unit and will bully them to perform better.
While the child is caught up in this toxic whirlwind, thinking themselves at fault for the dysfunction, the parents often act out, throwing temper tantrums and changing their moods unpredictably. This unpredictability is often a means to gain control of the child. The child will ultimately do anything to soothe the parent in their misplaced guilt and understandable fear.
Again, narcissists, in general, lack a sense of empathy or compassion. This is true even with regard to their own children. Thus, they cannot identify with the child’s reactions, their emotions, or their difficulties. Children of narcissistic parents often feel extremely isolated as their feelings are left invalidated.
Internalizing Parental Behavior
All of this bad behavior from the parents obviously leaves its mark on the child. These scars can last well into adulthood, once the child is free of the narcissistic parents. The abusive behavior becomes internalized, and children of narcissistic parents often have a hard time defining who they are. They are lost amid the toxic landscape of their childhood.
Children of narcissistic parents are often guilty and indecisive, and they blame themselves for anything that goes wrong in their lives—even when a circumstance is beyond their control. They often form bonds with other narcissists, replaying what occurred throughout their upbringing. Or, they have trouble forming honest connections at all, the victims of so much deception from their parents.
However, these children often grow up to express great strength, if they have picked up some helpful coping skills along the way. Children of narcissistic parents show impressive resilience. They have learned how to confront and handle unpredictable situations, so they are quite good at tackling new tasks and navigating unfamiliar scenarios.
Helping Yourself Heal
If you or someone you love has been the victim of narcissistic parenting, then there are some concrete actions you can take in order to move forward. First of all, acknowledging that you had a toxic childhood and that it wasn’t your fault is the most important initial step. Study up on narcissism to know that you aren’t delusional—and that you aren’t alone.
Should you discover that you have a lot of anger, resentment, fear, or sadness, then you might consider consulting a professional or support group (or other resource) to help you wade your way through these powerful emotions. In order to heal fully, you will often need to relinquish your anger, grieve for what you lost in your chaotic childhood, so you can finally define yourself.
This will give you opportunities to grow, emotionally and psychologically, and to become more secure in yourself and your abilities. Learning to accept the past, and its consequences, will help you let go of it. Accepting that your parents were and are narcissists will give you the strength to decide how to communicate with them—or not—in the present. You make the terms now.
Being raised by narcissistic parents is difficult at best, chaotic and abusive at worst. Learning to identify and accept that your childhood was marred by narcissism is a first step towards healing. Your own relationships and individuality have been inevitably harmed by that toxic environment.
But there is always a chance to get better and to feel stronger. They no longer wield emotional control over you—if you refuse to let them. Practice the resilience that all of us who have dealt with narcissistic loved ones must develop.
After learning more about what narcissists are like as parents, you might wonder if they even know they’re hurting you. The article “Do Narcissistic Mothers Know They Are Hurting You?” can help to answer that question.
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