What Happens When A Narcissist Has A Baby?
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Narcissists simply do not make good parents. They are too focused on their own needs to ever be able to devote themselves to raising a healthy child. They are hyper-focused on their own image, however, and that means they often want to have a child to be viewed as perfect in every way. Perfect people, after all, have loving spouses and children and happy, stable homes. This is not possible with a narcissistic parent. They simply don’t have a stable self-identity, and as such, they cannot focus even on the needs of their baby. This can have disastrous effects.
Narcissistic parents may initially revel in the attention people tend to pay to all new parents. Their baby, however, cannot supply them with the steady flow of adoration they require to sustain their grandiose false self-image. That leads to a kind of emotional disconnection that is dysfunctional.
The earliest memories I have of my narcissistic mother are of being afraid of her. Even as early as three or four years of age, I understood that my mother was not a source of warmth, affection, or security. While she might have loved the attention she initially gained when I was born, I soon became nothing more than a drag on her self-concept. I had to grow up very quickly to deal with this emotional abandonment, but no matter what I did, I could never please her. Her behavior is typical of many narcissistic parents after they have a baby, and it’s an important topic given that narcissistic parents’ behavior affects their children for the rest of their lives. Let’s take a look at just what happens when a narcissist has a baby.
Narcissistic Parents Initially Revel in the Attention
When a narcissist is pregnant, and when they have a new baby, they initially revel in the attention that comes with that new child. Their parents, other family members, friends, and colleagues all shower them with attention.
They love this kind of attention. They are squarely in the spotlight, and that is exactly where they like to be. They want to show everyone how superior their baby is and what a great parent they are. They will have people over to see the new baby, and they will make a big show of sharing their experiences as a new parent.
For a while, they feel a kind of bliss, and they idealize their baby, but unfortunately, this stage doesn’t last long. The requirements of a new baby are just too much for the narcissist. They don’t have the ability to focus on anyone else other than themselves.
A baby is completely dependent on their parents for caregiving, but the narcissist has a limited attention span. They can only focus on someone other than themselves for so long.
This is when the emotional disconnect begins, and it’s not lost on the baby. As researchers in psychology at the University of Maryland note, “…beginning in the first year of life, mentally healthy individuals develop a “secure base script” that provides a causal-temporal prototype of the ways in which attachment-related events typically unfold (e.g., “When I am hurt, I go to my mother and receive comfort”).”
But the children of narcissists don’t develop that secure base script because their narcissistic parent is not able to comfort them and, in fact, is emotionally distant. That sets them up for mental problems of their own as adults.
Why Do Some Narcissistic Parents Lose Interest in Their Baby?
Losing interest in their baby is one of two possible outcomes for a narcissistic parent. They just can’t provide the child with the consistent focus that new babies require. Once the attention they receive as a new parent begins to die down, the narcissist starts to lose interest.
Their baby is not capable of giving them the narcissistic supply of adoration they need to survive, and as a result, the narcissist has little interest in parenting. It doesn’t serve them.
Many narcissistic parents will begin to rely increasingly on other caregivers to raise their child at this point. They may hire a nanny, or they may require older children to take on parental responsibilities. They may also put the bulk of the responsibility on their spouse.
Part of the problem with a new parent simply walking away from their caregiving responsibilities is that it can be devastating to an infant’s development of a healthy concept of self. It begins with something called mirroring.
Mirroring is when your parents mimic your expressions, vocalizations, behaviors, and moods as an infant. This mimicry helps a developing infant to associate emotions with the expression of those emotions. By doing this, parents validate and approve of their infant’s emotions, and this is key to healthy child development.
For you to develop a healthy sense of self, you need this validation. It also helps you feel secure about what you’re experiencing at this young age. It helps you to learn valuable social skills. Without mirroring, a child won’t learn to relate their emotions to socially-learned expressions.
As adults, they have difficulty expressing their emotions, which strains their adult relationships. What’s worse, many narcissistic parents who have lost interest in their baby mirror negative expressions in response to their infant’s needs. This causes even worse damage.
Some Narcissistic Parents Become Helicopter Parents
If a narcissistic parent doesn’t lose interest in their infant, they may go to the opposite extreme. They may become hyper-vigilant and protective of their child. While this might sound like a better connection than the disinterested option, it still involves emotional disconnection and can cause extensive damage, as you can see here.
The narcissistic parent, in this case, lacks genuine warmth. They are motivated instead by a desire to control their child. Of course, all parents control every aspect of their infant child’s life, but the narcissistic parent continues this pattern even as the child gets older.
The key to developing into a fully-functioning, independent adult is learning at an early age that you can attempt new things. When you do so, you risk failure, but you learn from that failure valuable lessons about persevering.
But narcissistic parents don’t want to let you fail because that reflects badly on them. They began by idealizing their child, setting them up as the perfect child of a perfect person (the narcissist).
In the narcissist’s mind, if they are indeed superior to other people, then their child shouldn’t experience any failures in life. Of course, that’s not realistic, but it’s how the narcissist thinks.
Thus, to prevent the world from seeing their truly flawed nature, the narcissist must carefully control the actions of their perfect child. They must keep them from failing. To do that, they must control every aspect of their life.
In this case, the child basically becomes a prisoner of their narcissistic parent. They are given no freedom, they are told how to think, and they are told what to do in every part of their life. Because of this, they are not able to develop a healthy sense of self or any self-confidence or self-worth. It’s an extremely toxic, overly dependent relationship.
Why Do All Narcissistic Parents Disconnect?
Regardless of whether the narcissistic parent becomes overly controlling or loses interest, both cases involve emotional disconnection. The narcissist who loses interest does so because their infant child has needs they must attend to, but that child can’t give back to them the narcissistic supply they require.
At the other extreme, the overly controlling parent also emotionally disconnects from the needs of their child. They see only that they must protect their own self-image, and they push their children to do everything they tell them to in order to prevent their true self from being exposed.
In neither case is the narcissist a warm, loving parent, and they certainly don’t provide their child with the unconditional love they require to develop into healthy, independent adults. This emotional disconnection is arguably what does the worst damage to a developing child.
It can cause them to have their own problems with identity. They might become narcissists themselves, or they might become people-pleasing codependents. The damage done is often lifelong and prevents the narcissist’s child from forming any kind of healthy adult relationship.
That often suits the narcissist just fine because they want their children to stay around and continue to satisfy and soothe their need to boost their self-esteem. They don’t want their children to leave them behind and live their own lives.
The children of narcissists who buy into this kind of treatment often have difficulties with finding a life partner or forming strong friendships. It’s a sad situation because, without professional help, these children are often doomed to a life serving their selfish, narcissistic parent.
Narcissistic Parents See Their Children as a Route for Self-Advancement
Narcissistic parents often see their children as a route to advance their self-image. If their child does well, they usurp their success as a part of their own identity. In other words, ‘my child did well because of the superior parent I am.’
This parenting style also involves an inordinate amount of control. If the child is to reflect their narcissistic parent’s value as a person, they have to make sure they are a success. Any real help in this regard, however, is beyond the ability of a narcissist.
Instead, the narcissistic parent becomes an overly critical harpy continuously demeaning their child in order to ‘motivate’ them to do better. That’s not a very good motivator for most people. For their own child, it works to continuously undermine their self-esteem.
This happens, in part, because the narcissist sees their child as an extension of their own identity. Since the child is a part of their own self, that child’s success equates to the narcissist’s success.
This puts enormous pressure on the child to do well. In fact, it puts so much pressure on them that it often leads to problems with substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. The child can’t bear to let their parent down, and they may consider it better to die than face that reality.
The narcissistic parent is so cruelly critical that they undermine the child’s ability to succeed. The child has no self-esteem and no strong foundation upon which they can build a successful life. Instead, they flounder and often fail in many areas of life. They continue, however, to seek their narcissistic parent’s approval.
Why Do Narcissistic Parents Withdraw Their Affection?
The love of a narcissist is conditional. It is what the humanist psychologist Carl Rogers referred to as conditional positive regard. If you behave in a way that pleases your narcissistic parent, they shower you with love, but if you don’t, you’re effectively dead to them.
Narcissists don’t have the ability to hold a positive thought about someone with whom they are upset. This is called object constancy, and it’s one thing the narcissist doesn’t have because of their fragile identity mechanism.
Even a narcissist’s child is subjected to the withdrawal of affection that happens as a consequence of bad behavior. My narcissistic mother would do this regularly.
I remember being stunned by just how fast she could go from being a loving mother to being a block of ice. I couldn’t understand how she could withdraw her affection so quickly. It was shocking, and for many years, it was an effective way of controlling my behavior.
I lived in fear of displeasing her because she would just become so cold to me. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t make her happy. In fact, I don’t ever remember a time when my mother told me I had done a good job or that she was proud of me.
Even if she was pleased by what I had done, her praise always came with a caveat. She would say something like, “Well, it took you long enough, but you finally did something right.” That’s not exactly glowing adulation. You can be certain, however, that she expected me to shower her regularly with praise.
Narcissistic Parents See Their Child in Binary Extremes
You’re with me, or you’re against me, you’re good, or you’re evil; it’s black or white. There are no shades of gray. These are examples of the kind of binary thinking that is typical of narcissists.
When you do something that displeases the narcissist, they put you in the category of bad, evil, or enemy, and when that happens, they go on the attack. This is true even for their children.
I was often shocked by the viciousness with which my mother would attack me when she was unhappy with me. She could be so cruel in her devaluation of me. This is due in part to their extreme sense of betrayal.
To a narcissist, you are little more than an extension of their own identity, so when you do something that makes them angry, it’s as if they are being betrayed by themselves. It also represents a threat of exposure.
You might expose their vulnerability and, in doing so, expose their flawed true self. This triggers their extreme narcissistic rage. They can’t see you in any other way than as an enemy who must not just be stopped but destroyed.
That’s why they come after you in an aggressive manner. They may yell, call you names, or berate you with profanity, all to shame and blame you for a perceived wrong. This is true even if you’re their child.
There are no exceptions for the narcissist’s family members. Even those closest to them can be lumped into the category of ‘against me.’
Narcissistic Parents Alternate Between Abandonment and Reliance
Perhaps the worst trait of the narcissistic parent is their inability to be consistent in their temperament. They can go quickly from love-bombing to giving you the icy cold shoulder.
To a child, this is confusing, to say the least. The narcissistic parent alternates rapidly between emotional abandonment of their child to over-reliance on them to perform parental duties. They are distant in one moment and demanding in the next.
The child often becomes a people-pleaser just to try to stabilize their home life. They are trying to keep the peace, but the unfortunate reality is that nothing they do will be enough.
Even if you dedicate your life to doing everything your narcissistic parent tells you to do, it still won’t be enough. It will never be enough because the narcissistic parent is damaged in a way that leaves them constantly trying to fill an internal void.
It’s a void that can’t be filled without years of intense therapy. Counseling can help a narcissist, but only if they’re willing to admit they need help and dedicate themselves to the years of therapy it will take.
Narcissistic Parents Groom Their Children to Please Them
Narcissistic parents also often groom their children to be a kind of replacement spouse. This is known as emotional incest, and it is equally as damaging as physical incest.
Mothers more commonly do this with their sons, as you can see in the video below, and fathers more commonly with their daughters.
It doesn’t necessarily involve sexual abuse, but the idea is that the child can be a second spouse in the sense that they will provide for the emotional needs of the narcissist.
From an early age, therefore, the narcissist begins to groom their child to please them and provide for them. They often put adult responsibilities on children too young to take on those burdens.
As adults, the narcissist expects their child to provide for them financially and to caretake them in their old age. They also want them to act like a spouse by giving them the significant emotional support they require.
It’s much more than any child should be expected to take on at such an early age. But the narcissist starts grooming them early, so they don’t recognize it as abuse.
Do Narcissistic Parents Engage in ‘Mommy Wars?’
Another thing narcissistic parents do is engage in ‘mommy wars’ or ‘daddy wars.’ They encourage their children to compete with other children. They even encourage aggressive competition and may bully their own children to spur them on.
This is part of their superiority complex. They want to show the world that they are superior parents, and to do that, their children must be able to outcompete any other children.
What’s more, this competition isn’t limited to sports or physical activities. Narcissistic parents will put their children in competition with other parents’ children for such things as achieving a certain development stage, academic scores, and even popularity.
One great example of this was the case of the narcissistic mother who hired a hitman to kill the mother of her daughter’s main rival for a spot on the cheerleading squad. Her thinking was the rival would be too distraught to continue trying out for the squad. This narcissistic mother was actually willing to kill someone to see her daughter be victorious over her rival. Now, that’s a mommy war!
Do Narcissists Love Their Children?
The way a narcissist treats their children, you would be forgiven for thinking that they don’t love them. That’s not necessarily something that anyone can answer because it’s difficult to know what someone really has in their heart.
What is clear, however, is that they don’t know how to express love. The way they treat their children is clearly not in line with what most people interpret as an expression of love. It is, in fact, consistent with emotional abuse.
Narcissists are human, however, and as such, they must feel positive feelings for some people. Their children would surely be among the people they feel close to, but unfortunately, their mental disorder prevents them from showing that love because it makes them vulnerable.
They can’t ever let themselves be vulnerable, and they can’t let people get too close because that threatens the exposure of their true self. They don’t want anyone to see what they believe to be is a truly flawed sense of self.
Narcissistic parents are among the most abusive parents a child can have. They do extensive damage to their children, and that damage often cripples their children for the rest of their life. Their emotional abuse leaves scars that act as triggers for manipulation and control. They have no compunction about hurting their children. They only care about getting their narcissistic needs met, and it doesn’t matter to them who they hurt in the process. About the only thing a child of a narcissistic parent can do is try to heal the damage done and stop further abuse.
That has been part of my life’s mission, to help other children of narcissistic parents heal. Toward that end, I have created a 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers. This is a free guide that will help any victim of narcissistic abuse recognize, defuse, and even heal their emotional wounds that act as triggers. If you can heal those wounds, a narcissist will no longer be able to trigger you so that they can more easily manipulate and control you. It’s one step in a journey toward a healthier, happier life.
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