Narcissistic parents are among the worst parents in the world. While they might experience love in their hearts, they are not able to communicate that emotion to anyone in their life, including their own children. Moreover, the nature of their personality disorder is such that they are unable to see their own children as independent beings with their own personalities and needs. Instead, they see them as extensions of their own identity, and they believe them to be a lifetime source of narcissistic supply. They need them to heap praise and adoration on the narcissist in order to prop up their own self-esteem. They will stop at nothing to achieve that goal.
A narcissist will begin by idealizing their children. But, over time, the unrealistic expectations they have for them will cause their children to disappoint them. When that happens, the narcissist will devalue them with harsh criticism. They will also manipulate them as they do with anyone else.
I know very well what it’s like to have a narcissistic parent. My mother is a narcissist, and she utilized every form of manipulation on me that she did with anyone else in her life. Our relationship also went through the typical stages that relationships involving a narcissist go through. My mother would alternate between love-bombing and devaluing me. When she was loving to me, I felt like the most important person in her life, but when she was devaluing me, I felt utterly worthless. It was a chaotic, confusing, surreal life, and it wasn’t until I was a little older that I realized the abuse I had endured. That’s why it’s important to understand the many ways a narcissistic parent will treat their children. Let’s take a look at several common behaviors.
1. Narcissists Start Out Idealizing Their Children
Narcissism has a dramatic effect on relationships, as the following video explains. Relationships with a narcissist, including the ones they have with their children, start out with idealization. The narcissist initially idealizes their child. It stands to reason that if you are a superior person, then it’s likely your children will be too.
The narcissist touts their children as perfect, better than other children, and incredible in every way. They show them off like they would a new car or a treasured possession. They tell everyone who will listen about how wonderful, perfect, intelligent, advanced, or adoring their child is.
As their child gets older, they may tell them how they are from a superior family. They, too, are superior, and as such, they are entitled to be admired and adored by the people around them.
They encourage them to rely heavily on other people to do things for them because they are deserving of being waited on hand and foot. Most of all, however, they encourage their child to rely on them, the narcissist, for their understanding of the world around them.
Because the narcissist wants their child to project this image of perfection that they have ascribed to them, they begin early in the child’s life to control their every move. They do so that they will seem perfect but also so that they will not expose the narcissist’s flaws.
This idealization stage fades as the child grows older and begins to assert independence. The narcissistic parent doesn’t want them to become healthy, independent adults. They want to keep their children dependent on them.
Once the idealization stage wears off, the narcissistic parent begins to criticize their children, a stage known as the devaluation stage. Most children of narcissists are trapped in this stage until they discard the narcissist.
2. Narcissists Have Unrealistically High Expectations for Their Children
Narcissists believe themselves to be superior humans, and they expect the people in their life to reflect that belief. That includes their own children.
A narcissist believes that their child has to be perfect all the time, or it reflects badly on them. In their mind, if they, the narcissist, are truly superior, then their children should be superior as well. They should know right from wrong without the need for instruction.
They should know how to behave in every situation because of their genes, not because someone has taught them what to do. Where training is required, their children should be able to pick up on the lesson almost instantly, and if they don’t, it’s because they’re not paying enough attention.
To most parents, these would seem like ridiculous beliefs, but narcissistic parents aren’t using logic in their interactions with their children. They are desperate for them to show the world what a great parent the narcissist is.
Of course, the narcissist’s child can’t live up to these expectations; no one could. When they fail, the narcissist comes down on them hard. They become incessantly critical and often drive their own children away.
Unfortunately, they also do extreme psychological damage to their children. That damage can present a lifelong struggle, and it can affect every part of their life.
I know that my narcissistic mother left me with lifelong scars. I have worked hard to overcome the abuse she heaped on me, but it is a process, and it takes persistence to make real progress. I have participated in many personal growth workshops and therapy groups to overcome the damage she did.
3. Narcissists See Their Own Children as Extensions of Their Own Identity
Part of the reason narcissists criticize and push their children to project an image of perfection is that they see them as extensions of their own identity. Narcissists rely on other people to boost their self-esteem because they lack the identity mechanisms to do that for themselves.
That causes them to see other people as extensions of their own identity. In a way, they are insofar as they are willing to act in that role. Of course, it’s not a healthy relationship, and in the end, it doesn’t really help the narcissist.
The supply of adoration that a narcissist needs to prop up their self-esteem is known as narcissistic supply. They see their children as potentially lifelong, stable sources of this desperately needed supply.
What’s more, a child is someone a narcissistic parent believes they can gaslight, lie to, and project to mold them into believing what they want them to believe. That sounds cold, but the narcissist lacks empathy, and for that reason, they don’t have an understanding of how their actions affect other people.
It became evident to me that my mother thought of me as an extension of her identity when she told me on one occasion that everything I was doing (as I was trying to heal myself) was making her look like a bad mother.
I suddenly became aware that her image was the only thing that mattered to her. She had no compassion for my emotional wounds, nor would she ever take responsibility for them. She thought of me only as an extension of her identity, and I was making her look like a bad mother.
4. Narcissists Pick a Golden Child and a Scapegoat
Narcissistic parents will play their children against each other. As part of this dysfunctional dynamic, they will pick a favorite child, a golden child, and a scapegoat, someone they will blame for all the family’s problems.
They blame, criticize, and show little, if any, love to the scapegoat, all while doting on the golden child. The golden child gets the best toys and almost all the attention from their narcissistic parent.
In the narcissist’s mind, this will make the scapegoat child try even harder to please them. The manipulation makes them feel powerful, even though it doesn’t work the way they wanted it to. Most of the time, this kind of treatment causes the scapegoat to leave home early.
They feel like they can’t wait to get away from the abusive treatment, but that treatment also leaves scars. Scapegoat children often experience lifelong problems with addiction, as pointed out by the experts at Drug Rehab.
While it may seem as though the golden child would have it so much better, that often isn’t the case. The golden child is at risk of becoming a narcissist. They also often fall into codependency. The narcissist tells them they are better than other people, but they harshly criticize them and control their every move.
That causes them to have severe identity problems. In fact, they can end up with far worse mental health problems than the scapegoat. In either case, it’s not a good outcome.
5. Narcissists Harshly Criticize Their Children
No matter if a child of a narcissist is a golden child or a scapegoat, the narcissist will harshly criticize them. This is because of the high expectations the narcissist places on them. No one could live up to a narcissist’s expectations.
When the bloom is off the rose and the idealization stage ends, the devaluation stage begins. The child of a narcissist feels like they can’t do anything right. I know that is exactly how I felt with my narcissistic mother.
Even if she was pleased with something I did, she couldn’t bring herself to compliment me. She would say something like, “You finally did something right.” That’s not exactly the kind of glowing review that goes to your head.
The reason for the narcissist’s harsh criticism is that when you do something good, they feel like it takes something away from them. Your success equates to their failure, somehow. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s an illustration of just how fragile their self-esteem is.
They also don’t like it when the spotlight is on someone else. They want everyone to always be looking at them. If you do something that garners attention, they feel as though you are drawing attention away from them.
Moreover, if you are praised for something you did, it’s as if you are claiming they are flawed. You are, in their mind, insulting them, sneering at them. Perhaps that’s because that is exactly the kind of thing they do when they are being praised. They are sneering at others and lauding their success.
That’s why narcissists are constantly criticizing their children. The only reason they will sometimes praise them is in those situations where they can somehow claim credit for the success.
6. Narcissists Treat Their Children Like Possessions
Narcissists also fiercely believe their children are their property. They fly into a narcissistic rage if you try to approach them about how they are treating their child. Because they see their children as mere extensions of their own identity, they have no problem seeing them as their property.
They not only don’t see their children as their own person, but they also don’t want them to be independent. They want their children to remain dependent on them for the rest of their life.
They want them to provide them with narcissistic supply for the remainder of their life. They may even see their children as potential replacements for spouses who are more independent and not as reliable.
This is particularly true for narcissistic mothers with their sons. They groom them to be spousal replacements, particularly as they grow older. Growing old is extremely difficult for a narcissist since age undermines their image of perfection.
Their children may be the only stable, loving presence in their lives. Many narcissists rely heavily on them to boost their self-esteem and do other tasks normally performed by a spouse.
Even though there may not be a sexual component to this kind of relationship, it can become similar to a spousal relationship in nearly every other sense. Experts refer to this as emotional incest, and it is as damaging as physical incest.
7. Narcissists Show Off Their Children Like They are Trophies
Because narcissists see their children as their possessions, they often show them off as if they were trophies they had won. They want the world to see their perfect children as reflections of their superior parenting skills.
They shower them with praise to onlookers even as they harshly criticize them behind closed doors. For the children, it’s chaotic and confusing, to say the least. It causes a state of almost constant anxiety for them.
They walk on eggshells around their narcissistic parent. Even when they are being openly praised in public, they are fearful they will say or do something that will bring a harsh reprisal in private.
Narcissistic parents can seem like wonderful parents to onlookers. They will rarely show anger or criticize their children in front of others. Once they are in the privacy of their own home, however, it’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They become the monstrous parent they really are.
What’s even worse is that the offense the child might have committed is not something that can be predicted. A narcissist can twist even the most innocent comment into something insulting. It’s a nightmare for a child, and it leaves a scar.
The child of a narcissist often comes to feel as if they are responsible for their narcissistic parent’s image. That is what they’ve been told, and they can integrate that responsibility as part of their own identity.
This is one of the ways in which narcissists can create other narcissists, but it’s also common for children of narcissists to become codependent. Their needs have never been considered important by their dysfunctional parent, and as a result, they can learn to suppress them in favor of pleasing others and keeping the peace.
8. Narcissists Gaslight Their Children to Keep Them Confused
Narcissists gaslight other people to keep them confused, and this includes their own children. Gaslighting is one of the most insidious, toxic forms of manipulation around. It makes you doubt your own reality and intuition.
I remember my mother gaslighted me so frequently that I honestly thought I was going insane. I thought I must be seeing and hearing things because I would clearly hear her say something, but she would assure me angrily that it never happened.
I knew I had heard her say it, but she kept telling me she didn’t. I was a child, and she was my parent, so it was natural that I would believe her. I had no other choice but to think that I must somehow be hallucinating these things.
It wasn’t until other people began to confirm for me that I had heard what I thought I heard that I finally started to realize my mother was the one with the problem. Still, she would insist that she hadn’t meant what she said in the way I interpreted it.
It wasn’t until much later, after many personal growth workshops, that I began to fully understand the damage done by her gaslighting. I felt as though I couldn’t trust my own intuition, and that did affect the choices I made in my life.
In my mother’s mind, if she could create confusion and doubt, she could better control me, and for a while, it worked. This is how dangerous gaslighting is for the victim. The narcissist, however, sees it as one of the best tools they have for manipulation and control. If you’re being gaslighted by your mother, check out this video which describes some ways to deal with it.
9. Narcissists Use Triangulation to Disrupt Their Child’s Relationships
Another extremely disruptive tactic narcissists use to manipulate and control their children is something called triangulation. This is playing both ends against the middle. They will tell their child one thing and another family member or friend something entirely different.
For example, a narcissistic mother may tell her child, “I would let you, but your father doesn’t want you to have those kinds of opportunities.” Then she tells her husband, “I told her she couldn’t do that, and that is final. If she comes to you, you should tell her the same.”
This undermines trust between the child and the other parent, sibling, or friend. It makes the child suspicious of anyone in their life because of the lies their narcissistic parent is telling them.
It is, perhaps, one of the saddest manipulation tactics the narcissist uses. It destroys what might otherwise be lifelong supportive relationships. Relationships with siblings, the other parent, and friends are ripped apart.
This has the further effect of leaving the abused child feeling isolated. That’s exactly what the narcissistic parent wants since they want their child to need to come to them for support.
10. Narcissists Routinely Lie to Their Children
As has probably become very clear by now, narcissistic parents have no problem lying to their children. They will tell them anything they need to tell them to manipulate and control them. They don’t care how it affects the child as long as they can get their needs met.
I remember the shock and anger I felt when I would catch my mother in a lie. Of course, she would gaslight me and downplay the situation. She would claim I hadn’t heard what she had actually said or that I had somehow distorted what she said.
The truth was she had outright lied to my face. It was shocking, infuriating, and disappointing all at once. I couldn’t believe she would do that, but I knew she had. But no matter how I confronted her with her lies, she would simply deny them or somehow blame them on me.
It’s very difficult for children to develop a sense of morality when they have a parent who behaves like this. They often end up having problems with the law since they have not developed a sense of integrity. They were never taught to do so by moral parents.
Narcissistic parents are among the worst kinds of parents. They are emotionally abusive and can become physically abusive as well. They create devastating emotional wounds that a child has to live with, often for the rest of their life. The damage a narcissistic parent does to their children is often worse than any other kind of abuse because they make a child feel worthless and they undermine their ability to trust their own senses. They often become prey for other dysfunctional relationships as adults.
If you’ve been subjected to narcissistic abuse, you can heal. The first step in that direction is to learn to recognize, defuse, and even heal your emotional triggers. Emotional triggers result from emotional wounds created in childhood. My 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers can help you to identify, defuse, and heal those wounds. That can stop a narcissist from continuing to use them to abuse you, and from there, you move on to other healing growth. If you would like a copy of this free guide, just click here and I’ll send it directly to your inbox. You can get started on your healing journey today!
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