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.

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Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.
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