The key issue with narcissistic parents is that, despite the focus seeming to be on their child, there is actually very little regard for the child in their parenting style. How do narcissistic parents damage their children? Often by disregarding boundaries, manipulating their children by withholding affection and neglecting to meet their children’s needs because their needs come first. Because image is so important to Narcissists, they may demand perfection from their children.
A Relationship of Neglect
From a child’s perspective, being raised by a Narcissist can be damaging because they are unlikely to get their needs met by a parent who is aloof or unsympathetic. A child needs to feel protected and loved and a parent with NPD is likely to be too preoccupied with their interests and needs to give their child the love and attention they need to thrive. Sadly, Narcissistic parents don’t have children because they want to nurture and guide their offspring through life; they have children so that they have an automatic, built-in relationship in which they have power, one in which the Narcissist can establish and enforce the rules as and when required. Power play and control are the defining features of such a destructive relationship. The child of the Narcissist realizes early on that he exists to provide a reflection for the parent and to serve the parent – not the other way around, resulting in unrealistic expectations, and a sense of failure on part of the child.
Unrealistic Expectations resulting in a Sense of Failure
Another problem with being a child of a Narcissist is that it often takes years of frustration and anguish to figure out that something is amiss with the parent. Till that point, these children are little more than puppets, trying to please the impossible-to-please narcissistic parent. It takes years to realize that the type of parenting they’ve been receiving is unethical as well as emotionally abusive. Such children often face tremendous anxiety from a young age as they must continually push aside their own personality in order to appease the parent and provide the mirror image the parent so desperately needs. If these children fail to comply with the Narcissist’s wishes or try to set their own goals, they are subject to harsh punishments, avoided or neglected or indefinite stretches of time– hours, days or even weeks depending on the perceived transgression in the eyes of the Narcissistic parent.
Confusion and Disillusionment in Children
Young children often find the Narcissistic parent unpredictable and confusing. Because young kids can’t make accurate sense of the Narcissist’s manipulations and mind games, they internalize intense shame which leads to anger that the child turns on himself. Expressions such as ‘I keep failing my Dad’ or ‘I am not good enough for this’ are common, exemplifying a lack of self worth. The overall quality and strength of the bond between the narcissistic parent and young child is poor and weak. Deep down, the child doesn’t feel consistently loved, and the primary message given by a Narcissistic parent is: You’re only as good as I say you are, and you’ll be loved only if you’re fully compliant with my wishes.
Growing up to be Damaged Individuals
A Narcissistic parent-child bond is often so distorted and damaging, that the child often grows up and gravitates towards destructive, unstable, highly dramatic relationships – especially with romantic partners. Because they didn’t grow up with the belief that they were intrinsically alright, they tend to be drawn towards stormy relationships later on. These adults cannot adapt with someone who loves them consistently, and the experience would be so unfamiliar that it would cause major anxiety in them. Accordingly, these individuals tend to seek out partners who are emotionally unavailable, critical or withholding – just like their Narcissistic parent was in the past. In short, the only kind of relationship the adult child of a Narcissist really fits in with is one with a highly skewed dynamic: The child of the narcissist must cater to and keep their partner happy, even when that involves squashing her own needs and feelings.
Some characteristics of Narcissistic Parents: