The narcissistic parent frequently demonstrate the following characteristics :
– possessive of child
– controlling (often by using emotional blackmail)
– has no empathy (though pretend to have empathy)
– uses the technique of ‘gaslighting’ i.e. (they deny your reality e.g. by constantly telling you that your experience of your childhood was not as you claim / believe / perceived it to be) to the extent that you may even begin to question own sanity)
– blow sall criticism way out of proportion / exceptionally thin skinned
– can be sadistic / relish psychologically crushing the child with devastating verbal abuse / enjoy being cruel to the child and the feeling of power / omnipotence this may provide
– makes frequent use of ‘triangulation’ e.g encroaches upon the child’s friendships to use to his/her (i.e. the narcissistic parent’s) advantage, including turning them against the child if necessary)
– lacks capacity to love in any meaningful way the child (though may ‘act loving’)
– cares deeply about what others think so will present image of ‘perfect mother / father’ to the outside world
– withdraws of any pretence of ‘love’ / approval as soon child fails to please (especially by giving the child the ‘silent treatment’) or outright punishment)
– uses of emotional blackmail (especially by instilling feelings of guilt)
– posseses a conscious or unconscious belief that child exists solely to fulfil his/her (i.e. the narcissistic parent’s) needs
– creates an atmosphere in which the child is constantly anxious / fearful / hypervigilant
– only wants the child to succeed in a way which benefits him/her (i.e. the narcissistic parent), NOT on his/her (i.e the child’s) own terms
– wants to keep the child dependent and needy so may derive satisfaction from him/her (i.e. the child) being emotionally upset as this puts the child in a weak position, makes him/her (i.e. the child) easier to manipulate and provides the narcissistic parent with the opportunity to display false concern. S/he (i.e. the narcissistic parent) is motivated NOT by the desire to alleviate the child’s suffering, but by the wholly egocentric wish to demonstrate what a ‘good parent’ s/he is – as such, s/he may toy with the child’s emotions, alternating between ensuring s/he (i.e. the child) becomes emotionally upset and then acting as his/her ’emotional rescuer.’
– does not respect the child’s personal boundaries / right to privacy / may insist the child divulges highly sensitive information only to use this information against them at a later date
– becomes jealous and resentful if the child tries to become independent and successful (in a way which does not benefit the parent)
The harmful emotional impact such parents may have on their children can be profound ; as an adult, the former abused child may suffer from a whole multitude of serious problems, including :
– invasive thoughts of emotional abuse
– anxious attachment (constantly fearful people don’t like us or will suddenly ‘turn on’ us as we believe we are, in our very essence, in some indefinable but undeniable way despicable and others will surely ‘sense’ this, too – ‘it’s simply a matter of time,’ we tell ourselves)
– equation of intimate relationships with making oneself unsafe and vulnerable ; this may cause us to become self-protectively aggressive
– slowed down emotional development / arrested emotional development
– depression (frequently due to repressed anger which can, in turn, lead to physical illness)
– desperation to achieve high goals (in frantic attempt to bolster profoundly undermined self-esteem).
– self-blame and a perpetual feeling of being ‘a bad person’ (connected to the narcissistic parent’s focus on the child’s ‘faults’ / ‘failings’ and ‘failure’ to meet his/her (i.e. the narcissistic parent’s) impossibly demanding needs)
– emotionally enmeshed relationship with the narcissistic parent and consequent profound uncertainty as to own identity and personal boundaries caused by the parent’s view of the child as an extension of him/herself (i.e. of the narcissistic parent’s self).
Psychotherapists frequently stress the importance of drawing clear boundaries with narcissistic parents, limiting contact with them or cutting off contact altogether (with the support , ideally, of a therapist who has expertise in this area). They also frequently advise that truly narcissistic parents have a mental illness which will make it extremely difficult for us to change them and that, therefore, our energies should be focused on our own recovery.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).