A ‘parentified’ child is a term that psychologists use to refer to a situation between the child and the parent in which a role-reversal has occurred resulting in the child having to care for the parent (emotionally and/or physically) rather than the other way around.
I have already written articles about narcissistic parents (eg click here) but I will briefly repeat the ways in which they often interact with their children.
Ways in which the narcissistic parent may interact with their children :
The diagram below gives an indication of the narcissistic parent’s typical behaviour patterns :
1- they may show limited or no empathy with their children’s feelings
2- they may be emotionally abusive towards their children (my mother, for example, would refer to me as ‘poof’, ‘scabby’, and tell me she wished I’d never been born, and that she felt ‘evil towards’ me, or ‘murderous towards’ me. She also constantly threatened to throw me out of the house and did exactly that when I was thirteen)
3- they may treat their children as an extension of themselves, rather than as a unique individual with his/her own hopes, dreams, needs, desires etc
4- they may constantly seek/demand admiration from their children
5- they may perpetually expect to be treated as the ‘centre of the child’s universe’, rather than the other way around
6- they may constantly demand that the child pays them attention (this may involve dramatic gestures – when I was about ten and alone with my mother, she threatened to take an overdose of her tranquillizers and commit suicide, for example, making it necessary for me to phone for help ; she never took the overdose, however)
7- they may constantly behave in a grandiose manner
8- they may display only shallow emotions (eg the child may sense any love and affection s/he is occasionally shown is extremely tenuous, fragile, conditional and transient)
9- they may generally exploit their child (again, to use a personal example, from about the time I was eleven, I operated as my mother’s personal counsellor – indeed, she used to refer to me as her ‘little psychiatrist’).
What Is The Parentified Child Deprived Of?
The parentified child tends to be deprived of :
– being treated with empathy
– being treated as a unique individual with own needs, desires, ideas etc
– being unconditionally treated with positive regard
– having his/her needs treated as a priority
– having his/her faults accepted
– being treated with patience
Essentially, then, the parent is emotionally unavailable to the child. The emphasis is on the child meeting the needs of the parent (eg the parent’s need for attention, admiration and emotional nourishment).
Effects Upon The Child :
When the child who was brought up by a narcissistic parent becomes an adult, s/he may find that his/her own functioning has been adversely affected by his/her narcissistic parent’s influence. For example, s/he may :
– feel lonely and isolated from others
– have low self-confidence/self-esteem
– have problems with his/her relationships with others (including family, friends and work colleagues)
– have low empathy with feelings of others
– be highly self-critical
– have a sense of being a deeply flawed human being
– have a low stress-tolerance threshold
– often feel overwhelmed by, and unable to cope with, the demands of other people
– have an inability to form satisfying and fulfilling intimate relationships
– feel they are always operating on a different emotional level compared with others
– react badly to criticism – eg feel far more angry and hurt because of it than would be more objectively warranted
In my next post, I will look in greater depth at how a narcissistic parent typically behaves with his/her children.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)