What Is The Typical Behavior Of The Narcissistic Parent?
The psychologist Brown, an expert in this area, highlights for us the kinds of characteristics narcissistic parents frequently has; these are :
1) A need to constantly be the center of attention
2) A need for constant and unconditional admiration from others
3) A need to be treated at all times with special consideration / as having a special entitlement
5) Lacks empathy
6) Has shallow emotions
7) Sees her children as an extension of herself
8) Exploits others
9) Emotionally abusive towards others
Let’s look at each of these nine areas in turn :
1) A need to constantly be the center of attention –
Narcissistic parents may try to achieve this by being boastful, sulking, having tantrums, complaining (often about trivialities), frequently teasing others
2) A need for constant and unconditional admiration from others –
Narcissistic parents display great vanity, seek status (eg try to form relationships with people of high social standing), make excessive demands to be shown gratitude, be desperate to gain compliments and approval, overspend to impress others, gloat, neglect family, to seek status/limelight for herself.
3) Expects at all times to be treated with special consideration / has a deep sense of own entitlement –
Narcissistic parents may feel what she has to say is far more important than what anyone else has to say, get angry if they believe they have somehow been overlooked, expect to receive better service than the ‘run-of-the-mill’ person, have excessive expectations of others to do things and say things to make them feel special (and become annoyed and angry if they do not), expect always to be deferred to by others, be inconsiderate of others, be contemptuous and disdainful of others, demand unwavering obedience, frequently issue ‘orders’, and always regard her own needs of taking priority over the needs of others
4) Grandiosity –
She may have a highly inflated opinion of herself, have false pretensions, exaggerate achievements, and constantly try to impress others (however, beneath this their lies a sense of deep inadequacy).
She may react very badly to even a hint of criticism, see others as inferior, be very arrogant, find it very hard to laugh at herself.
In relation to her grandiosity, the narcissistic mother may feel threatened by, and jealous of, her daughter’s achievements. Indeed, a study carried out by Ryff et al.was conducted to investigate how mothers responded to their adult children’s successes and found that when their adult daughters were successful their mothers’ sense of psychological well-being was reduced. Furthermore, a study by Steinberg found that a mother’s insecurities relating to her mid-life crisis can be exacerbated by her daughter’s achievements and successes. Other research suggests that jealousy is especially likely to arise when a daughter is successful in an area of life that is particularly important to her (i.e. the mother). For example, the mother who believes she is a great beauty may be jealous that, whilst her beauty fades, her daughter’s increases or the mother who sees herself as highly intelligent may resent her daughter gaining a first-class degree as she (i.e. the mother) was never afforded the opportunity to attend university.
5) Lacks empathy –
Narcissistic parents may be extremely insensitive to the feelings of others, be very bad at listening to others, blame others for their own negative feelings, change the subject when others are talking about things that have great emotional significance for them, belittle/criticize the feelings of others (eg by telling the person they are being ridiculously oversensitive), regard her own feelings as being of far greater importance than the feelings of others.
6) Has shallow emotions –
Because they has shallow emotions, they may fake feelings such as pretending to be concerned when another person is upset but then give themselves away shortly afterward by saying something obviously insensitive, changing the subject back to themselves or generally displaying a complete lack of proper understanding.
They may also take no pleasure in the happiness of others (eg if they are pleased because they have made a particular achievement, such as getting a good degree) and may resent and be jealous of such happiness
Whilst she experiences mainly shallow emotions, there are two notable exceptions to this which are ANGER and FEAR.
7) Sees their children as an extension of themselves :
Children treated by narcissistic parents as an extension of themselves will tend to fail two extremely important developmental tasks – the tasks of INDIVIDUATION and SEPARATION. As a result, they may have A VERY POOR SENSE OF THEIR OWN IDENTITY AND OF WHO THEY REALLY ARE (click here to read my article on this). They can fail to differentiate between where their ‘self starts’ and where their ‘self ends’; in other words, they only have a vague notion of which aspects of themselves are under their own control and which are not.
A narcissistic parent who views their child as an extension of themselves does not fully regard the child as an individual who is separate from them. As such, they will tend to :
– not respect the child’s boundaries
– interfere inappropriately in the detail of the child’s life
– act in an overbearing and over-controlling manner towards the child
– become angry with, and resent, the child if s/he rebels against such behavior
– become offended if the child’s opinion on particular matters is at odds with her own
– deny the child appropriate choice in decisions affecting his/her own life
– expect the child to be compliant, at all times, with her own wishes and needs
– expect the child to neglect his/her own needs in order to help her to satisfy her own
8) Exploits others –
They may see others existing solely as objects to help them fulfill their own needs. They may, too, sever all connections with ‘friends’ when they cease to be of use. Further characteristics may include :
– being ruthless in getting what they want
– lying and dishonesty/distortion of the truth to serve their own interests /prone to exaggeration
– manipulation of others
– making frequent use of emotional blackmail
– frequently expects favors and becoming angry if they are not granted, but rarely returns such favors
– avoid feeling shame and guilt by rationalizing (justifying to herself) the things that she says and does; any expression of shame and guilt is likely to be faked
9) Emotionally abusive towards others –
They may be very adept at verbally hurting others (knowing their sensitive points/weak spots/emotional triggers). They are also likely to expect the person they are abusing to simply accept such abuse uncomplainingly even though they would never tolerate it were the boot on the other foot, so to speak. Also, they may :
– make frequent upsetting, hurtful, degrading, and disparaging remarks to others
– unfairly and aggressively blame others
– makes others feel constantly defensive when in her company
– belittle, or show minimal interest in the attainments and achievements of others
– become verbally aggressive to others when they have done nothing to deserve such treatment
– displace (take out) their own disappointment in life, frustrations, regrets, etc on others
– project their own, unconscious, negative image of themselves onto others
10) Narcissistic Rage –
The term ‘narcissistic rage’ was first coined by the psychologist Heinz Kohut in 1972. Kohut believed that it results from ‘narcissistic injury’. ‘Narcissistic injury’ can be defined as ‘A PERCEIVED THREAT TO (the narcissist’s) SELF-WORTH’.
Whilst, on the surface, a narcissist acts as if s/he is highly superior to others and has a greatly inflated, grandiose sense of self-worth, just beneath this superficial facade lies an extremely fragile, weak, and vulnerable ego which the narcissist is desperate to protect from further damage.
It is because their ego, in reality, is so fragile and vulnerable, which the narcissist is desperate to protect at almost any cost, that even the slightest threat to their tenuous grip on their self-esteem, such as a very minor criticism, can trigger an outburst of extreme and disproportionate rage directed at the person who dared make the criticism.
In this way, extreme aggression becomes the narcissist’s form of defense.
This self-protective narcissistic rage can take on two forms :
1) Explosive rage
2) Passive-aggressive rage
Explosive rage: this type of rage is self-explanatory. My own mother would hysterically yell that she felt she ‘could knife’ me / felt ‘murderous towards’ me / felt ‘evil towards’ me / rued the day I was born / would throw me out of the house (this last one a threat that she carried out when I was thirteen years old.
Passive-aggressive rage: this type involves the narcissist becoming petulant, childishly sulky and, often’ giving the object of her wrath ‘the silent treatment (click here to read my article about what ‘ the silent treatment’ entails).
The rage that the narcissist expresses can be extremely vindictive and is often employed as a way of seeking revenge on the person who ( often inadvertently) upset them. The narcissist may well want the person punished and psychologically hurt ( or, indeed, physically hurt, as some narcissists will use physical as well as verbal violence in their inexorable pursuit of vengeance).
Narcissistic rage is a defense mechanism employed by the narcissist in a desperate attempt to preserve their extremely precarious and tenuous sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. They have an overwhelming need to maintain their false, superficial, grandiose view of themselves used to keep their deeper feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness at bay.
Possible Effects Of Narcissistic Parents :
Outlined below are the main, possible ways in which the narcissist may have negatively impacted our childhood experience and adversely affected our psychological development?
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 behavior. 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 to represent a subconscious drive to finally win love from our NP.
This can lead to high levels of anxiety, so we need to realize 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 or affection, 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 rapprochement 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 unlikable.
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 center 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 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.
16) FEELING OF BEING TREATED LIKE AN ACCESSORY OF THE PARENT RATHER THAN AS AN INDIVIDUAL WITH OWN HOPES, NEEDS, AND FEARS ETC.
17) FEELING AS IF THEY ARE VALUED MORE FOR WHAT THEY DO THAN WHO THEY ARE (i.e. what they do directly for the parent or what they achieve that reflects well on the parent / allows the parent to bathe in reflected glory.
18) FEELING INTRINSICALLY UNLOVABLE AND INADEQUATE
19) FEELING UNCERTAIN ABOUT OWN IDENTITY
20) FEELING EMOTIONALLY EMPTY
21) FEELING THAT THEY HAVE BEEN EXPLOITED AND MANIPULATED BY THE NARCISSISTIC PARENT
22) FEELING DISTRUSTFUL OF OTHERS
24) INABILITY TO MAKE HEALTHY EMOTIONAL CONNECTIONS WITH OTHERS LEADING TO SIGNIFICANT RELATIONSHIP DIFFICULTIES
25) DIFFICULTY INDIVIDUATING FROM THE NARCISSISTIC PARENT DUE TO AN ENMESHED RELATIONSHIP
26) LACK OF SELF BELIEF
30) STRONG NEED FOR EXTERNAL VALIDATION DUE TO INABILITY TO GENERATE FEELINGS OF VALIDATION INTERNALLY
WHAT ARE THE PHYSICAL BRAIN DIFFERENCES IN THOSE SUFFERING FROM NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER?
A study conducted by Schulze et al. examined 34 individuals, 17 of whom had an official diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder; these 17 individuals had also, through testing, been found to be deficient in feelings of empathy (a major symptom of narcissistic personality disorder – see list of symptoms above).
Using a brain-scanning technique known as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) it was found that the 17 individuals who had been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder had differences in the structure of a region of the brain called the cerebral cortex compared to the individuals in the control group (i.e. the individuals in the study who had NOT been diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder).
WHAT WERE THE SPECIFIC BRAIN DIFFERENCES FOUND BY THE STUDY?
Specifically, the MRI scan revealed that those who had been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder had cerebral cortices (plural of cortex) that were thinner in the region responsible for producing feelings of compassion for others (known as the insular region) than the cerebral cortices of those in the control group.
This finding emphasizes the fact that those with narcissistic personality disorder require treatment rather than moral judgment.
OTHER ARTICLES ON NARCISSISM AND NARCISSISTIC PARENTS :
- Controlling Parent: Their Effects On Children
- The Manipulative Parent
- How Narcissistic Mothers Can Invalidate Us
- Are You A Narcissist?
- Characteristics Of Narcissistic Mothers
- Effects of Narcissistic Parents Who ‘Parentify’ Their Child
- Enabling Fathers And Narcissistic Mothers
- Healthy Narcissism Versus Unhealthy Narcissism (Kohut’s Theory).
- How Narcissistic Parents Weaken Our Sense Of A Personal Boundary.
- Is Your Mother Narcissistic?
- Narcissism: The Roles Of Nature, Nurture And Culture
- Narcissistic Mother Checklist (And Useful Links)
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Its Link To Childhood Trauma
- Sadistic-Narcissistic Parents And Their Effects
- Structural Abnormalities in the Brains of Narcissists
- The Narcissistic Defence And Why It’s Self-Defeating
- Characteristics Of Narcissistic Parents
- The Self-Contradictory Behaviour of The Narcissistic Parent
- Types Of Narcissist: Extraverted, Introverted / Covert, And Communal
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).