The Pathological Narcissist As Parent
(The Below Is An Excerpt From “When Shame Begets Shame”)
When it comes to their children, because the narcissist lacks empathy, they make a terrible parent (both the male and the female parent). Rather than the child living through the parent, the parent lives through their child.
Their children are little more than objects or possessions to them, to be used and controlled indiscriminately. The child is always in this parent’s shadow, with unreasonable expectations required of them, expectations that are designed to fulfill the narcissist’s selfish needs.
The children are there to serve them as co-narcissistic supply, and they will become extremely jealous at any signs of the child’s growing maturity and independence.
Any independence in the child will be perceived as a threat, so it must be stamped out before it takes hold. They try to create a dependency in their children (i.e. emotional, physical, financial, and sexual, etc.) this helps to keep the child in servitude to them throughout their lives.
The hidden message is telling the child that they would not be able to manage out in the world on their own, so don’t even think about doing that, you are so useless you will get lost in the big world (Infantilisation).
This becomes especially useful in older age when the pathological narcissistic parent finds themselves lonely and abandoned by most of their acquaintances.
These tactics erode the child’s confidence and keep them more pliable for narcissistic control. Of course, the time will come when the adult child will push for independence, and this will be a stormy time for both child and narcissistic parent (regardless of whether it is a father or mother).
For example, I know a boy when in his 20’s insisted on leaving his family home and moving in with his girlfriend. His narcissistic mother instantly felt rejected by her son, so she totally rejected and abandoned him in return.
She refused to speak one word to him if he was with that young woman, and after a year the son returned home and complied with his mother’s wishes. He could no longer take the rejection of his narcissistic mother who completely cut him off.
He ended the relationship with the girlfriend to please his mother and win back her love. He then, in his bid to please her and win her love, he had two tattoos with her name placed on his body.
This thrilled her no end. Later, in his 30’s he did marry, but it was someone his mother approved of, a nice soft woman she could also control.
The child is also likely to experience competitive marginalisation (i.e. this involves constant nit-picking, criticism, being compared unfavourably to other siblings (or other children), unreasonable judgments, etc.). Commonly, this type of parent manipulates their children through guilting, blaming, shaming, reward and punishment (giving love as a reward and withholding love as a punishment), and emotional coercion.
To survive the trauma of this type of parental influence and withstand the harsh environment they find themselves living in, the child will learn to respond predominantly with one or two of four unconscious survival instincts (i.e. Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn). For example, they may decide to fight back against such tyranny (at their peril) or take flight by distancing themselves from that parent. Or they may choose to freeze, and by doing so they will substitute their chastised and invalidated True-self for a grandiose False-self persona.
Or finally, they may fawn, and seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs, and demands of their pathological narcissistic parent.
In this way, to cope with their own narcissistic wounding due to such dysfunctional parenting, the child will either identify with that narcissistic parent, and possibly be conditioned to become a superior narcissist themselves in later life; or they will acquiesce to the narcissistic parent, and be conditioned in adopting the traits of the co-narcissist, where they become consummate caretakers throughout their entire life.
Either way, in effect, the child will find themselves parenting their pathological narcissistic parent in a role reversal dynamic until such time they manage to break free. Sadly, for as long as the child is under their narcissistic parents control they will experience crazy behaviours; they will be made to feel inferior, be criticised, made to feel guilty, humiliated in front of others, ignored, they will be always “walking on eggshells” wondering where the next reaction or mood of the narcissistic parent will lead.
They will be told to “grow up”, but when they try to assert themselves they will be slapped down. All these abusive victimizing behaviours are likely to hinder the adult child’s normal mental, emotional and social growth.
The narcissistic parent cannot respond to their child’s needs, either emotionally or psychologically.
Very often the child can sense that something is very wrong, unfortunately, they are unable to identify what the problem is while they are submerged in the terrible dysfunction.
Although they may feel frustrated with their parent, they may be afraid to show their true emotions for fear that they may lose the little connection they have with that parent. Children placed in this position are likely to react in one of three ways; they may either respond by becoming: –
1.The Conformer or Golden Child: They survive by people pleasing, conforming, being over-responsible, compliant, self-depreciating, and always catering to other’s needs.
2.The Rebel or Scapegoat Child: They survive by retaliating with a siege response, becoming rebellious, defiant, withdrawn, etc.
3.The Runner or Lost Child: Avoids conflict by lying low, doing what they can without becoming a threat or bringing negative attention to their selves.
A child may find themselves being placed in any (or all) of these positions at different times throughout their life, (i.e. being a Lost Child in the early years, until they excel in some way, they may then become the Golden Child who brings more attention for the narcissistic parent).
Whatever way each child adapts, this can have a significant deep-seated effect on the child’s self-esteem, self-concept, self-worth, and life satisfaction, which persists into adulthood.
- Narcissistic Female Intimate Partner Violence Against Men Is No Joke - February 28, 2023
- Narcissists and Positions of Power and Influence - February 6, 2023
- Why Is It So Blooming Hard Leaving a Narcissist? - December 9, 2022
Recently I found myself in another cycle of abuse with my narcissist father who is 88 years old. I am 61.
His abuse is chilling. This time, he threatens to starve me out. He holds my inheritance from my mother’s estate because of his nefarious activities when he settled her estate by filing an outdated will instead of her most recent. Though there is tangible proof of this, it has been very difficult for me to engage the help of the attorney who drew up my mother’s last Will. All he says is that it looks like the affidavit was never filed and he will not give me a clear answer as to what that exactly means. My mother told me many times that her money was going to her daughters when she died. She explicitly said she did not want my father to have it. Why? Because he was having an affair.
That being said, when I recently asked my father to meet with a mediator because he refuses to give me answers that I need so that I can manage my own finances, he emailed me saying:
“Please know that there’s no way that I’m going to spend any money on a mediator. If that’s something that you feel as though you want and have the money to do it’s your call. But know that it won’t be any of my money that you’ll be spending. If you do hire a mediator, and since there’s absolutely nothing in this world that says that I have to spend my money to support you, that’s when my support will stop.”
“Nothing in this world that says that I have to spend my money to support you.” HIS money. That is the sense of entitlement the narcissist deceives himself by. He has admitted to holding this money in the past, but now he uses that as a weapon.
Nothing in this world. Not his daughter. That’s the message. Money comes first. Without money, he is nothing.
I have had serious health issues to work through for many years, largely because I am the victim of his narcissistic abuse.
Over the past few days I have searched tirelessly for help; elder abuse, crisis intervention, domestic violence, hotlines, etc..
There is absolutely NO help whatsoever in our oh-so-politically correct sphere of social justice and identity politics for people who are the victims of narcissistic abuse. None. Zip.
Not one intake worker or social worker I have talked with at any of these agencies has any background training whatsoever in narcissistic abuse, nor do they understand how narcissists manipulate others. I have no safety net, no support group, no recourse. The narcissist wins every single time. Or at least they think they do. The truth is, when it’s all said and done, to paraphrase Soren Kierkegaard, the only one the deceive deceives is himself.
Narcissism is the most hideous, insidious, evil, malignant disease of all human affliction. There is next to no recognition of it in the medical industry. It is impossible to try to explain all of the characteristics of the narcissist, and how they abuse and hurt the lives of others, including their own, to an intake worker or health care professional. Our flimsy legislation does nothing to address this issue which is so prevalent in our culture that by now, it should be obvious to the masses that it is narcissism that is compelling the Satanic evil unleashed in our world. They refuse to humble themselves and they are never wrong. Money is all that matters to them. They thrive on insatiable greed.
Yet there is nothing we can do to help the narcissist; they have to be willing to admit they have a problem. Otherwise, we have to find a way to deal with it, to extricate ourselves.
In my mother’s case, she committed suicide to get away from my father. Ironically, the daughter of his married girlfriend, (who he began an affair with long before my mother died) tried committing suicide FOUR times.
I’m sure there is nothing he would love better than the attention he would get if I died. The narcissist has no conscience. None.
By the grace of God I will get through this. I may have to sell my home. This is something my father has been trying to coerce me to do for a while now. It would be difficult to do that; I love my home and don’t know where I’d go as I could never find anything as nice for what I will be able to sell it for. And, over the years during my healing process, I have been left homeless several times, so this is a frightening prospect, especially at my age.
One of the most disillusioning aspects of surviving the abuse of a narcissist is the spiritual aspect of trying to understand why prayer for deliverance from this evil remains unanswered. What is most frightening is that I truly believe they try to kill their victims and that, if my father knew he could kill me in cold blood and get away with it, he wouldn’t hesitate.
Not always easy to keep the Faith, but we must. That is really all we have.
I am almost 60 years old and my father is 97 yrs old . He has 8 if the 9 traits of the psychopath. I suffer from shame and guilt and I diddnt know from where. I just discovered or realized a few years ago it had to do with my childhood. I am only child but my mom and me had a very secluded and sad life with him. she passed away 24 years ago at 56 years old , completely broken both physically and all other aspects. I went yesterday to visit him, and he still manipulated me to believe in him. On my way home I realized that and felt that something is wrong with me. I wish I could go no contact but the guilt doesn’t let me . Thank you
After years of therapy and self analyzing, I realized that I married my mother in male clothing twice. The first was mentally, emotionally and physically abusive, the second was less overt. I recognized his narcissism around our 15th year. I never named my mother a narcissist until now. I have a vague memory of one therapist saying “narcissist,” but I was in denial. So much now makes sense.
I too “was duped by 2 extreme narcissists”. Mother passed when I was when 47 – now am 69.
Assigned the “scapegoat” role from earliest memory at age 3. As it was though my grief was profound when she passed due to the mourning of what never was. As I aged I sort of knew also that it could not of ever been due to family dynamics & someone just had to play the role I did.
Now finally divorced – separated after 27 yrs. & divorced after 41 yrs. Divorcing a malignant, covert narcissist was a shocking experience as I experienced financial betrayal, character assassination, cruel & sadistic behavior, recruitment of daughters as “flying monkeys” at best or as partners (still not sure).
I’ve come a long way in recovery & healing thanks to Christine & many others that are educating us all. I decided on limited contact on my terms only with former spouse – when I am violated even in the slightest way (diminishing remark) I simply extent time before next contact. So far working – standing firm in power of choice – do no harm or else & mean it!
Even more difficult had to go to just written communication with sibling who was diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia & more. Do not hold her totally responsible for aggressive behavior but it still was very harmful to me so to keep the door open this was the best I could do. Resisted at first with phone harassment but now beginning to work.
I did order the book you mentioned – how long will it take for the masses to understand crimes of power – rape & pedophilia. Why are the masses so dense – crimes of passion? religious taboos against sex? – NOT – its about power over another who is weaker.
Given your mother’s age would asserting strong boundaries aid in recovering? This practice of strengthening boundaries has helped me as I’ve been able to gauge my progress in becoming stronger while not completely breaking ties. I see it as strengthening my “spiritual muscles” but do not think all would agree.
The Best to You … Recover … Heal … Thrive
All of Christine’s works are exceptional; here it is a blessing to see the issue of financial dependence created by narcissistic parents addressed.
Of the many aspects of narcissism, for a parent to cripple a child financially in order to create dependence is the most sinister and evil of all.
For women who are “recovering feminists” who decades ago were made to believe our role as women needed to be redefined and that motherhood was slavery and a career wasn’t, to support herself financially, especially without the advantage of a college degree, unless she was lucky, could be nearly impossible for women whose self esteem was destroyed by the evils of parental narcissism. Yet very little is written about this phenomenon and the reasons why radical feminism has become so damaging to women and the health of family structures because feminism itself is a form of narcissism. This makes for a very long and complicated discussion though many men suffer the same affliction of financial dependency upon a parent because of narcissistic abuse. This deprives the victim of the privilege of a healthy and autonomous life often well into middle age and beyond.
It is absolutely heartbreaking to realize the havoc this evil wreaks with our lives, stunting our ability to be creative and to find the courage to follow are aspirations. It becomes impossible to recover from parental narcissism and realize financial independence; much like having your foot on the brake and the gas at the same time.
There is no easy way out of this chaos caused by inflicted limitation. True peace can be found in accepting our lives exactly as they have unfolded thus far and to realize that exigent poverty, no matter how daunting, can also be a great blessing. And the greatest blessing of all is that our suffering brings us closer to God and the way to restore our soul.
Faith is the greatest gift we are given and with that, God knows all of what we’ve suffered at the hands of ruthless parents far better than we can comprehend. And if we believe wholeheartedly that this suffering brings us closer to Him, it is impossible that our prayer for deliverance not to be answered.
Christine, thank you so much for your dedication and generosity. Your website is a true oasis. May God continue to bless your work and all those who come here for solace.
Hi Judy, I am delighted that you have found a therapist that understands and can validate your suffering, especially as a child. I am working hard at educating therapists, and have actually reached over 1500 in Ireland, travelling all around Ireland so that victims have a better chance at recovery. Wishing you every success on your journey. Christine
I am the child of two malignant narc parents – with different styles. It was so very destructive to be abandoned emotionally by both and physically by my mom. I am 52 and no contact with both for about 2 years now. I am working on my rescuer tendencies and trying to find my true identity in general. It’s been a hellish life. Only recently did I discover a therapist who even partially understands the destructive effects of narc parents. It seems not many therapists are taught about narc parents nor do they truly understand what it is like for the child.
Thank you, Christine!
Well done Cara. This is inspirational for other people to know …. it is never too late to change your own behaviour,
and to look for reciprocity in your relationships instead of giving and giving (pleasing and pleasing).
I don’t believe they will change. Run away as fast as you can and keep learning from Christine!
To Chris, I believe this is true for a period of time. I was once friends with a woman who was a narc and we worked in the same place. I became terrified of her and what she could do to me and make me lose my job. I finally got away from her and that job and I had taken on her traits as a defense. This lasted a few years, as I had no idea what narcissism was. I think a person who is fairly introspective will go back to normal in time.
Now that I’ve been learning about this from Christine and others, I look back and really see what was going on. I had become a people pleaser and now I’m trying to make sure that, while I’m a reasonably easy/courteous/kind person to get a long with, I’m analyzing the situation when I question whether or not I’m people pleasing. If I think it’s only for the purpose of people pleasing, I take steps backwards and don’t do it.
I’ve hit the big 70, but it feels very good to lose my insecurities and feel independent of this. It takes work, but is worth it.
This uTube video be of interest to you Christopher. Teaching Children about Narcissist Without Bashing!!!
As a father who is lucky to get quality time with my child, how can I subtly introduce the idea of “narcissism” to a nine year old girl who is reliant on he CovertNarc mom? Any strategies you can recommend? Thank you!
What if a child doesn’t live with their narcissistic parent but as a teen has seem to have forgotten all the bad behavior and abuse they received. They often act like the narcissistic parent and at times defends them or minimizes their behavior and other times seem aware of the behavior. If the custodial non narcissistic parent provides a more healthy role model, can the child become narcissistic?
A woman told me a Psycholigist told her that someone can become a Narcissist simply by living with a Narcissist (ie living with her NPD boyfriend) as a coping mechanism. A year later, I discovered she did have all the signs/behavior of NPD. Is it true that by living with a partner who has NPD, one can develop NPD as a coping mechanism? I recall Ross Rosenberg stating that if a Co-dependent ever asks themselves or is concerned that they may be a Narcissist, then they are definitely NOT one, as Narcissists never acknowledge that they’re a Narcissist. Is this true?
This information has been very helpful to me. All my childhood I was made to feel as if everything was always my fault. I was to blame for every bad thing that happened or took place. I could not understand why I was being blamed for things that I didn’t even know had happened. My brother was a “saint” and could do no wrong, while I was “the devil”. I ended up marrying a man who turned out to be just like my mother! Always playing emotional games and being abusive. What a nightmare. I ran away from one and right into the arms of another. I had to leave both (at different times in my life) because I felt like my life was literally in physical danger. That’s how great the hatred and hostility was towards me. I was just a shy, quite little person who minded my own business. My entire life has been shattered because of these type of people. Is there any hope that they can change. Is it possible for such people to change their behavior. So many lives are being ruined.
My son’s father was abusive to me, and I finally was able to leave the relationship when my son was a year old. We had a lengthy custody battle thanks to his family’s funding, but fortunately I was awarded primary custody and he was granted visitation (every other weekend & one night a week). He was severely emotionally abusive to me, and continues his attempts which fall on deaf ears due to my rigid parallel parenting guidelines. I am married now to a wonderful man who loves my son (who is now 4 years old) as his own, and is a great role model. My fear is that I am not able to protect my son from his father’s emotional abuse. He consistently attempts to instill in my son that he and his family is the superior family, that my son is just like him, that my family and I are irrelevant, and that his stepdad and step siblings are “bad.”
Are there any resources I can turn to to help my son navigate his father’s abuse in a healthy way? A counselor once told me to always reiterate to my son that he has his own views, experiences, opinions, etc to allow him to mentally recognize he is a separate person from his Dad. I have held this advice dear to my heart, and I hope to find more advice to help my son grow to be a resilient, confident, and mentally strong man. Thank you!
I am 69 years old. My mother is 96. My therapist said she is a malignant narcissist. Despite her age, I had to go no contact one year ago. My former spouse is also very high on the narcissistic spectrum. I recently discovered a book he read a few months after our marriage. The book is Against Our Will: Men, Women And Rape. It is a groundbreaking feminist classic. He used this book to control me. I am having difficulty processing how someone could plan to do such evil at the beginning of a marriage. We were married for 15 years and have 3 children. I was duped by 2 extreme narcissists. Can you offer any help on how to recover?
can extreme over parenting and glorifying a child – by let’s assume a closet narcissist – also lead to such problems as described? thank you.
For ex-partners of narcissists, one of the most important things to do is learn everything you can about case law in the family court system of your state, province, country as it pertains to the safest way to gain full/sole custody of your child/children as soon as possible. If they are still young, you may have to wait but in the meantime, you can still be there for them even on the days they are in the other parent’s custody. Volunteering at their school, making sure phone/email access is part of your court-approved parenting plan, employing validating, affirming messages on a consistent basis. In short, ensuring in whatever way you can safely do so that your child/children has the experience of being unconditionally loved by at least one parent or parental figure. Children are smart. With that experience, they are able to see for themselves that what the narcissist parent is offering them is not love, as much as that parent tries to convince them it is.
Thanks for helping me see I actually had two narcissists as parents..didn’t know that was possible but it makes sense. I wish there had been a trauma therapist to turn to 50 years ago!
Thank you for this article! My older boy is definitely “the rebel and the scapegoat”, while the other is “the golden child” – the dynamics is so obvious and so damaging! However, what I can never do is explain to the outside world is how it all happens – as we all know, the Narcissistic abuse is so insidious and covert. I’ve been through it myself and now I have to watch my older boy going through the same mental torture and I don’t know how to help, how to change this dynamics. I’ve tried to intervene hundreds of time by using different approaches and tactics, but none have worked, because my interventions only trigger more rage in their father. I now try to talk to my older son (he’s 12,5) and explain things at his level in an attempt to counter the effect of the abuse. I don’t badmouth his father – it’s more like psychoanalysis… I’m getting a divorce with this man (after 20 years of being abused and cheated on) but I do want him to re-build/keep father-son relationships with both children but I guess I am being naive and over-optimistic…
Yes indeed they can. But first they usually need to discover the word “narcissist”. Once they are on the research path, they can begin to work out their parent’s disordered personality. This is when they begin to take their own power back, put down better boundaries around this parent, or choose to do “no contact” if necessary. I have worked with many adult children of a narcissistic parent. I have watched them go from surviving to thriving, and reaching a fuller potential.
Can I child of a narcissistic parent ever marry and live a normal life?