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 to force their children to treat themselves as though they are their parents’ 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 molding and manipulating the child to satisfy the parents’ expectations.
Having a narcissistic parent
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. In a narcissistic parenting relationship, the child is rarely loved just for being herself or himself.
Being the child of a narcissistic mother or father is difficult, to say the least. Narcissistic parents expose their children to a lot of emotional, mental, and sometimes also physical abuse. The narcissistic parent uses a lot of mind games to get what he or she wants, to make a child feel guilty or ashamed for things he or she didn’t do, and to take credit for the child’s success.
On top of that, the narcissistic parent wears two masks: the one for the outside world, and the one for at home. For the outside world, the narcissistic parent usually comes across as being friendly, charming, and social. At home, however, the narcissistic parent shows a whole different side of him or herself. For a child, it’s confusing, frustrating, and very painful to see their narcissistic mother or father behave so different in public, because no-one will ever believe that this ‘wonderful person’ is such a horrible parent.
How do narcissistic parents see their children?
Narcissistic parents see their children as extensions of themselves. As long as you mean no threat to your narcissistic mother or father, and if you can make them proud, they are OK towards you, or continue to ignore you. But the moment you become difficult or don’t meet their expectations, you become an obstacle; a problem they usually don’t like to deal with.
Unfortunately, according to the narcissistic father or mother, their children aren’t authentic individuals who need to explore and develop, who have needs and desires. Instead, their children should do whatever they think is important and whatever makes them feel proud.
How to deal with narcissistic parents?
People that endure the hardships of narcissistic parents often require some type of assistance, sometimes even therapy. That is, those victims that actually realize it. Tragically, some of these individuals never fully comprehend the inherent damage suffered as a result of the abuse.
For those that did “recover” – or, at least feel better – how did they manage to do so? As is the case with most (all) types of psychological trauma, there is no one framework for recovery. This is especially true when the suffering originates from parental figures. This said, some guidance does exist that may help a person to deal with the situation.
One particular type of therapy that has gained widespread approval from professionals is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT for short. The bases of DBT is formed from Buddhist meditation practices and techniques. Professionals are quick to point out that DBT – as is the case with nearly all therapies based off Buddhism – is secular; that is, non-religious. Further, one does not have to be well-versed with meditation to benefit from DBT.
There are three specific practices that form the basis of DBT. :
Acceptance, Dialectical, and Mindfulness. We’ll touch on each one.
Applied in the context of DBT, acceptance is the realization that past events cannot be changed. DBT states that human beings tend to prolong unnecessary pain and suffering by reliving the past.
Acceptance in no way implies approving of, forgiving, or overlooking the situation. Instead, acceptance teaches that, which the past will not change, the future can– and for the better. With this in-mind, the victim can more forward and enjoy a happy and prosperous life.
One definition of dialectical is “concerned with or acting through opposing forces.” DBT instills the belief that victims can improve while acknowledging and discussing the trauma experienced; in this case, emotional and psychological abuse.
The main purpose behind this technique is teaching an individual to cope. More specifically, to cope in a safe and productive manner.
The practice of mindfulness is perhaps the most ubiquitous in all of Buddhism, and in all practices derived from Buddhist tenets. The University of California at Berkeley provides an excellent and comprehensive explanation of mindfulness:
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment…we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them – without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think of feel in a given moment.
Perhaps most importantly:
When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
As Dr. Meyers so eloquently states, being a child of narcissists is a tragic situation that often has life-changing consequences. The very real trauma formed from years of parental abuse most often requires recognition and subsequent treatment.