Possible Effects Of Narcissistic Parents :
I have already posted many articles on this site on the subject of narcissism (see NARCISSISM ARTICLES in the main menu or in CATEGORIES in the right hand sidebar) and in this article I want to look at the many ways that having been brought up by a narcissist may have negatively impacted our childhood experience and adversely affected our psychological development. These possible effects are as follows:
1) SENSE OF BEING INTRINSICALLY BAD: If our narcissistic parents did not love us we are likely to feel that there is something INTRINSICALLY BAD about us and that the profound essence of who we are is somehow repellent to others no matter what our superficial behaviour. In my own case, I certainly felt this; if people were nice to me I assumed it was due to pity or politeness. Because, as children, we are genetically programmed to believe and learn from parents, we feel our narcissistic parents’ constant negative appraisal of us must be correct, and, as a result, we carry around with us a deep sense of personal shame.
2) PERFECTIONISM: if our narcissistic parents were constantly highly critical of us when we were children we may have believed that if only we could stop making the ‘mistakes’ that seemed to displease the NP we could finally win his/her approval (a vain hope, sadly, as nothing would ever have been enough for the NP).
We may, therefore, have developed an obsession with ‘getting everything right’ or perfectionism; this is often likely represent a subconscious drive to finally win love from our NP.
This can lead to high levels of anxiety, so we need to realise that our NP’s expectations of us were not only utterly unreasonable but also completely unobtainable.
Only then can we get off the treadmill, accept we are human and inevitably prone to making human errors just like everyone else.
3) LOW SELF-ESTEEM: if, pretty much from birth, we were treated as unimportant and not mattering very much, shown little interest oraffection and not listened to, it is easy to see that we are likely to become adults with serious self-esteem problems.
Linked to this, we are likely to have low confidence and difficulties with asserting ourselves.
4) PROBLEMS WITH OUR RELATIONSHIPS: many people who are abused by their parents are, as Sigmund Freud pointed out, likely to have an unconscious drive to repeat similar abusive experiences as adults, perhaps by always forming relationships with abusive partners.
Freud referred to this as a REPETITION COMPULSION and it is based on the theory we are unconsciously driven to keep repeating our abusive experiences so that we can, eventually, ‘master’ them.
5) ADDICTIONS : we are more likely to develop addictions than the average person to help numb the intensity of our emotional pain, or, to use a technical term, to dissociate.
6) PERPETUAL, UNFULFILLED HOPE: we may constantly hope that we will finally be able to resolve our problems with our narcissistic parents but find that a permanent rapproachment remains stubbornly elusive.
7) PROBLEMS WITH TRUST : if we found we were unable to rely upon our narcissistic parents, it is probable we will generalize these feelings of distrust onto other people we interact with in our adult lives.
8) PRONENESS TO SELF-HARM : physically self-harming (such as self-burning, self-cutting etc) detracts our attention from unbearable psychological pain and also floods the brain with endorphins (these are chemicals produced in the brain which have a soothing effect upon us; we use self-harm to induce this as it is probable, due to our childhoods, we have never learned more helpful self-soothing techniques).
9) PRONENESS TO SELF-NEGLECT – if we have learned from our NP to believe we are worthless, we may stop bothering to look after ourselves (it sounds disgusting, but when my illness was at its worse I went three months without properly washing or changing my clothes – my socks became all but welded to my feet).
10) PRONE TO UNDERACHIEVEMENT: we may, unconsciously, be driven to underachieve as, deep down, our narcissistic parent has made us feel we are not worthy of success. Indeed, if we had success in childhood, our NP may have resented this, as it detracted attention from him/herself.
11)PRONE TO OVERACHIEVEMENT: alternatively, we may be strongly driven to overachieve due to an unconscious overwhelming need to finally win our narcissistic parents’ approval and love. Such individuals may become obsessive workaholics.
12) EXISTENTIAL LONELINESS : rejection by our narcissistic parents can lead to a deep sense of painful, existential loneliness in our adulthood.
13) SOCIAL ANXIETY : due to the fact we feel intrinsically unlikeable, we are likely, as adults, to find it difficult to interact confidently with others.
Unfortunately, believing this can become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy – our lack of confidence and subsequent awkwardness may be sensed by others and make them feel uncomfortable, leading them to withdraw from us.
We are then likely to (falsely) interpret this as evidence we are intrinsically unlikeable.
14) DISLIKE CELEBRATIONS : our narcissistic parents may have resented our celebrations when we were young as it would detract attention from him/her.
I remember, due, apparently, to a minor argument with her the night before, my single mother completely ignored me on my 13th birthday, not even acknowledging me when I got up in the morning and went downstairs to the room in which she was sitting.
However, she made as much out of her own birthdays as possible, excitedly talking about what presents I might like to buy her days, even weeks, in advance.
Such experiences can lead to us being uncertain how to deal with celebrations that centre on us as adults. In my own case, for example, I did not attend any of the three graduation celebrations I was entitled to attend to receive my degrees/diplomas.
15) PRONENESS TO QUESTION OUR OWN PERCEPTION OF REALITY: this is a particularly devastating effect of having an narcissistic parents.
The narcissistic parent, with his/her pathological need to protect his/her self-image, will deny and invalidate our perception of our own childhoods using every available tactic – evasiveness, dissembling, outright denial, minimization etc.
Research suggests that such invalidation of our adverse childhood experiences is especially psychologically harmful and can prove a significant obstacle to recovery.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).