I remember when I was very young, perhaps 4 or 5 years old, my mother would shame me in public for anything i did that she considered a transgression, by threatening to take down my trousers and spank me. This would have been in the 1970s when attitudes towards child maltreatment were more laissez-faire than they are today (surely today someone would intervene?). I have no recollection of whether or not she ever followed through on this threat. If she did, I have no recollection of it, though it is not beyond the realms of possibility that if it did happen I have, as an unconscious defense mechanism, repressed the memory preventing it from permeating and encroaching upon my consciousness and psychologically overwhelming me.
You see, my mother needed absolute control and power over me due to a deep-rooted sense of her own inadequacy that caused her to overcompensate. She also had a narcissistic need to (ironically) be publically perceived to be a ‘good’ mother. Indeed, her friends would comment on how exceptionally well behaved and compliant i was as a young child (providing my mother with a dose of narcissistic supply), little knowing that this was due to the profound sense of fear my mother had instilled into me of what would happen if I did not behave, at all times, in complete compliance with her exacting standards.
But let’s consider, in more general terms, why it is not uncommon for narcissistic parents to publically humiliate their children. Why, exactly, do they behave so cruelly?
Being not ‘merely’ shamed, but PUBLICLY shamed can have particularly psychologically devastating effects. This gives the narcissist a great sense of power and control and can have the effect of ‘breaking’ the victim, particularly if it is repeated and ongoing. In some cases, if the parent is a sadistic narcissist, s/he may derive actual pleasure from treating their child in such a manner. In my own case, by the time I got to puberty and finally started to stand up for myself in a desperate attempt to protect myself from my mothers terrorizing behavior, she would loudly announce to my brother that ‘the little bastard’s back’ in a systematic campaign to destroy any remaining sense of self-worth I was still precariously hanging on to.
The culmination of this disturbing (in the clinical sense of the word) episode in my young life was that I was forced to go and live with my father and his new wife (both of whom didn’t want me either) at the age of thirteen.
Needless, to say, my mother needed to explain my exit from her household in a way that did not reflect badly on her (she was so deluded that she regarded herself as a potential candidate for the ‘Mother Of The Year Award’) and claimed that she only treated me like she did because I drove her to it) so told all her friends and acquaintances that I had gone to live with my father because I was a ‘snob’ and he lived in a ‘bigger house.’ Further public shaming.
Other reasons why narcissistic parents may shame their children (both publicly and privately) include the following.
- To make the child think his/her parent’s abusive behaviour is his/her own fault
- As a way of externalizing their own feelings of shame
- As a way of projecting their own feelings about themselves
Children who are frequently shamed by their parents can grow up to have severely distorted core beliefs and self-hatred which, in the absence of effective therapy, may last for an entire lifetime. Other psychiatric conditions they may develop include anxiety, perfectionism, impaired academic performance and underachievement, depression, withdrawal and avoidant behavior, alcoholism, drug addiction, outbursts of extreme rage and anger, identity problems, dissociation.
Latest Research Suggests That Narcissistic Behaviour Fuelled By A Deep Sense Of Insecurity
According to recent research conducted by Kowalchyk et al. (2021), involving 120 male participants and 180 female participants provides further evidence that the main driving force behind narcissistic behaviour is the narcissist’s pervasive sense of inadequacy and insecurity rather than by a genuinely felt grandiose sense of self and their self-aggrandizing behaviour is actually a compensatory defence mechanism motivated by a need to conceal internal feelings of worthlessness.
More specifically, and amongst other findings, it was found that the NEED FOR SOCIAL VALIDATION was positively correlated with PERFORMATIVE SELF-EVALUATION (a characteristic of ‘vulnerable narcissists – a ‘vulnerable narcissist tends to worry excessively over how others see him/her, is exceptionally thin-skinned and easily hurt, and find both failure and trauma hard to cope with).
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).