A narcissistic parent is a parent affected by narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder. Typically narcissistic parents are exclusively and possessively close to their children and may be especially envious of, and threatened by, their child's growing independence. The result may be what has been termed a pattern of narcissistic attachment, with the child considered to exist solely to fulfill the parent's wishes and needs. Commonly parents attempt force their children to treat them as though they are their puppets, or else be subject to punishments such as emotional abuse. Relative to developmental psychology, narcissistic parenting will adversely affect children in the areas of reasoning, emotional, ethical, and societal behaviors and attitudes as they mature. Within the realm of narcissistic parenting, personal boundaries are often disregarded with the goal of moulding and manipulating the child to satisfy the parents’ expectations.
Narcissistic people with low self esteem feel the need to control how others regard them, fearing they will be blamed or rejected and personal inadequacies exposed. They are self-absorbed, some to the point of grandiosity; and being preoccupied with protecting their self image, they tend to be inflexible, and lack the empathy necessary for child raising.
The term “narcissism,” as used in Sigmund Freud’s clinical study, noted behavioral observations such as self-aggrandizement, self-esteem, vulnerability, fear of losing the affection of people and of failure, reliance on defense mechanisms, perfectionism and interpersonal conflict.
Narcissism tends to play out inter-generationally, with narcissistic parents producing either narcissistic or codependent children in turn. Whereas a self-confident parent – the good-enough parent – can allow a child its autonomous development, the narcissistic parent may instead use the child as a means to promote their own image. The father concerned with self-enhancement – with being mirrored and admired by a son – may leave the latter feeling a puppet to his father's emotional/intellectual demands.
To maintain their self-esteem, and protect their vulnerable true selves, narcissists need to control others' behavior – particularly that of their children seen as extensions of themselves. Thus narcissistic parents may speak of carrying the torch, maintaining the family image, or making mother or father proud and may reproach their children for exhibiting weakness, being too dramatic, or not meeting the standard of what is expected. As a result, children of narcissists learn to play their part and to perform their special skill, especially in public or for others; but typically do not have many memories of having felt loved or appreciated for being themselves, rather associating their experience of love and appreciation with conforming to the demands of the narcissistic parent.
Destructive narcissistic parents have a pattern of consistently being the focus of attention, exaggerating, seeking compliments and putting their children down. Punishment in the form of blame, criticism or emotional blackmail, and attempts to induce guilt, may be used to ensure compliance with the parents' wishes and their need for narcissistic supply.
Children of narcissists
Children of a resistant, more stubborn temperamental parent defend against being supportive of others in the house. They observe how the selfish parents get their needs met by others. They learn how manipulation and using guilt gets the parent what he or she wants. They develop a false self and use aggression and intimidation to get their way. Some of the most common issues in narcissistic parenting are due to the lack of appropriate, responsible nurturing which ultimately contributes to a child’s feeling of emptiness, insecurity in loving relationships, imaginary fears, mistrust of others, identity conflict and inability to develop a unique existence from that of the parent.
The sensitive, guilt-ridden children in the family learn to meet the parent’s needs for gratification and try to get love by accommodating the whims and wishes of the parent. The child’s normal feelings are ignored, denied and eventually repressed in attempts to gain the parent’s “love”. Guilt and shame keep the child locked into this developmental arrest. Their aggressive impulses and rage become split off and are not integrated with normal development. These children develop a false self as a defense mechanism and become codependent in relationships. The child's unconscious denial of their true self perpetuates a cycle of self-hatred, fearing any reminder of their authentic self.
Narcissistic parenting often leads to children being either victimized or bullying themselves, hypersexual in nature (media driven), having a poor or overly inflated body image, tendency to use and/or abuse drugs or alcohol, body modification such as piercings or tattoos, or acting out (in a potentially harmful manner) for attention.
- Sons and Lovers is considered to have explored a narcissistic mother.
- The Metamorphosis is considered to cover a narcissistic father.
- Sylvia Plath's difficulties have been associated with a need to please a narcissistic father through public display.
- The novel Loverboy by the author Victoria Redel is written from the perspective of a mother exhibiting characteristics of extreme narcissistic parenting.
- Stephen E. Levich, Clone Being (2004) p. 31 and p.89-91
- David Stafford & Liz Hodgkinson, Codependency (London 1995) p. 41
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- Banschick M.D., M. (2013, March 13). The Narcissistic Father. Retrieved April 29, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/201303/the-narcissistic-father.
- Rappoport, Alan, Ph. D.Co-Narcissism: How We Adapt to Narcissism. The Therapist, 2005.
- Raskin, Robert, and Howard. Terry. (1988). A Principal-Components Analysis of the Narcissistic Personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54 (5), PP 890-902
- Simon Crompton, All about Me: Loving a Narcissist (London 2007) p. 119
- Salman Akhtar, Good Feeling (London 2009) p. 86
- Heinz Kohut, How Does Analysis Cure? (London 1984) p. 183
- Joseph Glenmullen, Prozac Backlash (New York 2000) p. 278 and p. 266
- Boyd, R. How Early Childhood Oedipal Narcissistic Development Affects Later Adult Intimacy and Relationships 2011
- Simon Crompton, All about Me: Loving a Narcissist (London 2007) p. 120
- Lynne Namka, Ed.D. Selfishness and narcissism in Family Relationships.
- McBride, K. (2008). The Empty Mirror. Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. p. 18.
- Pinsky, Drew, S M. Young, and Jill Stern. The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America. New York: Harper, 2009
- R. Feinberg, Narcissus in Treatment (2013) p. 7-8
- S. Kavaler-Adler, The Klein-Winnicott Dialectic (2013) p. 211
- Redel, Victoria (2001). Loverboy : a novel (1st Harvest ed.). San Diego: Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-600724-5.
- Gardner, F 'To Enliven Her Was My Living':Thoughts On Compliance And Sacrifice As Consequences Of Malignant Identification With A Narcissistic Parent British Journal of Psychotherapy Volume 21 Issue 1, Pages 49 – 62 (2006)
- Brown, Nina W. Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-up's Guide to Getting over Narcissistic Parents (2008)
- Campbell, Lady Colin Daughter of Narcissus: A Family's Struggle to Survive Their Mother's Narcissistic Personality Disorder (2009)
- Donaldson-Pressman, S & Pressman, RM The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment (1997)
- Golomb, Elan Trapped in the Mirror Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self (1995)
- Hotchkiss, Sandy & Masterson, James F. Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism (2003) – see Chapter 9 – The Narcissistic Parent
- McBride, Karyl Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers (2009)
- Miller A The Drama of the Gifted Child, How Narcissistic Parents Form and Deform the Emotional Lives of their Talented Children, Basic Books, Inc (1981)
- Payson, Eleanor The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family (2002) – see Chapter 5
- Pinsky, Drew The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America (2009) - see Chapter 8
- Twenge, Jean M & Campbell, W. Keith The Narcissism Edidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009) - see Chapter 5
- Malkin C 8 Common Effects Of Narcissistic Parenting Huffington Post 27 Oct 2016
- Hall JL The Narcissist Parent’s Psychological Warfare: Parentifying, Idealizing, and Scapegoating Huffington Post 09 May 2017