Growing Up With Narcissistic Parenting
Consider a lady who appears to be the perfect parent in public but rages and screams at her children and husband when they displease her... or a parent who purposefully confuses their children by telling them something didn't happen when it clearly did, discrediting their experience and teaching them they can't trust themselves...
Both of these parents exhibit narcissistic parenting styles.
Narcissism, like many other personality qualities, is generally distributed among the population, which means that the majority of people lie somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, with only a few reaching the extremes.
According to Psychology Today, pathological narcissism, in the form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), affects only 1% of the population.
What are the signs of narcissism?
Someone suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) will most likely;
- Have an overly inflated feeling of self-importance
- Possessing a sense of entitlement and necessitating continual and overwhelming adoration
- Expect to be recognised as superior, even if you don't have the achievements to back it up.
- Exaggerate their accomplishments and abilities
- Be concerned with fantasies of success, power, beauty, genius, or having the ideal relationship.
- Monopolise discussions
- Belittle or look down on individuals they consider inferior.
- Expect personalised service and complete adherence to their expectations.
- Use others to their advantage to acquire what they want.
- Have an inability or reluctance to recognise other people's needs and feelings
- Be envious of others while also believing that others are envious of them
- Be arrogant or haughty in their demeanour, coming across as pompous, boastful, or pretentious.
- Insist on the best of everything, such as the nicest car or office.
Anything that is viewed as a critique or disrupts the picture that they have constructed of themselves is difficult for narcissists to handle.
When this occurs, individuals may become furious, criticise others, struggle to regulate their emotions, and suffer latent feelings of shame, vulnerability, and humiliation.
Being Raised By A Narcissistic Parent
Growing up with a narcissistic parent instils the attitude that "I am not good enough."
In general, narcissistic parenting styles are overly attached to their children. Their children are viewed as an extension of themselves and serve as a source of self-esteem for the parent; "look at how perfect my children are, didn't I do a terrific job!" The youngsters are used to attract the attention of others.
Children learn to fit into the moulds that their parents build for them, which can cause anxiety in the youngster who continuously suppresses their own individuality in order to satisfy the parent.
In order for their life to be secure, the child of a narcissistic parent must follow the parent's agenda. Asserting one's own feelings or opinions may result in problems with the parent, such as rage, tears, or punishment.
This teaches the youngster that their feelings and thoughts are unimportant, invalid, and insignificant, and they will often suppress their own sentiments in order to keep the peace at home.
Narcissists aren't always vicious. They are frequently kind, but this goodwill nearly always comes with strings attached. The youngster will frequently realise that their parent's kindness causes them to feel obligated to their parent. The sentiment “If I do something for you, you owe me” always comes with acts of compassion, whether overt or hidden. Love and kindness are conditional.
At the best of times, a narcissist's behaviour might be tough to manage; nevertheless, for a youngster, it can be exceedingly unpredictable and unnerving. Because young children cannot simply leave their home, they cultivate hope by sacrificing their own self-esteem and condemning themselves.
The youngster internalises the assumption that they are the problem: "If I were better at this or that, my parents would love me more." The parent's own idea that they are the perfect parent only serves to reinforce this belief, since they assume that any resistance or negativity from the child is the child's fault.
Growing up with a narcissistic parent is challenging since the youngster typically does not realise anything is wrong. We only know what we are exposed to as children because of our families. Years later, the child, who is often already an adult, may try to make sense of their childhood. This realisation is frequently facilitated by a friend or spouse who recognises the narcissist's unique or strange parenting.
Characteristics of Adult Children of Narcissistic Parenting
1. Uncertainty and Guilt
Adult offspring of narcissistic parents are afraid of hurting others by doing what is good for them. They have been "taught" to prioritise their parents' needs, making it difficult for them to prioritise their own needs without seeming selfish. For years, this hesitation and guilt can be crippling.
Gaslighting is a type of psychological manipulation in which a person or group sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, causing them to doubt their own memory, perception, or judgement.
Growing up with a narcissistic parent can leave an adult child feeling as if they have nothing to give, even if the opposite is true. Growing up, their talents and skills may have been minimised, disregarded, or co-opted by a narcissistic parent who felt threatened by their child's abilities.
Even if the now-adult achieves success, they may believe they do not deserve it, which can lead to imposter syndrome.
3) Loyalty and love
Even after growing up amid lies, manipulation, and abuse, adult offspring of narcissists may find it difficult to separate themselves from caring for and loving their narcissistic parent. They will most likely feel guilty for attempting to distance themselves or set boundaries, and they may even fall into relationships with narcissistic people. A love based on manipulations and conditions is something they are familiar with, however an unconditional love may be extremely frightening to them.
4) Fortitude and Resilience
Adult children of narcissistic parents frequently demonstrate a strong capacity for compassion and love for others, as well as the ability to develop loving relationships and learn to love and care for themselves. Growing up with a narcissistic parent is not impossible to overcome, as will be explained later in this essay.
5) Persistent Self-blame
Whether the parent is outwardly abusive to the child or not, they are nearly always emotionally tone deaf and too absorbed with themselves and their own issues to hear their child's misery. As previously noted, in order to protect the family connection, the child (even if they are now an adult) avoids criticising their parent and instead places all of the blame on themselves; "If I was better at...", "If I wasn't such a difficult child...", and so on.
This can continue throughout adulthood, with the adult child accepting responsibility for situations that aren't necessarily their fault. In many cases, they become the scapegoat solely to keep the peace.
Essentially, narcissistic parents can erupt in rage or burst into tears without warning, forcing their children to take up as little space as possible to avoid triggering one of these emotional outbursts. It can feel like they're walking on eggshells, doing everything they can to keep their parent from having a tantrum.
7) Uncertain Attachment
Adult offspring of narcissists are more prone to grow insecurely tied to their parent, never experiencing the safe base required to feel comfortable exploring their surroundings.
A parent's neglect, manipulation, or emotional absence can leave their child wondering how safe they would feel in the hands of others. As a result, some adults become extremely autonomous, not believing that anybody else can be relied on. However, it might cause some to cling to their relationships for love and expect their significant other's undivided attention at all times.
8) Parentified Offspring
Children raised by a narcissistic parent will have built their entire life and personality on their parent's happiness, and will subsequently grow up to build their lives around the happiness of others, with many of them working in the helping professions.
How Can You Move Forward?
There are numerous ways to move ahead and heal from being raised by a narcissistic parent. I would advise you not to try to do this alone; whether you engage a therapy partnership or go through your recovery with a partner is entirely up to you. Working through this healing process with another family member could result in complications, so approach with caution.
Here are some important steps you may take to start the healing process:
1) Recognize it. The first step, as with anything, is awareness. We can't move on unless we figure out what's causing us pain. If you're reading this, you probably suspect that one of your parents has narcissistic traits or has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
2) Research. Learn about NPD and the effects it can have on the family system. Investigate the internet, read textbooks, and speak with therapists who are familiar with narcissism.
3) Talk about your experiences. This task can be challenging, so I strongly advise you to get assistance. Recall and write down your personal experiences from infancy or adulthood that correspond to each indication and symptom of NPD.
The narrative for each of these memories must be rewritten with a new dialogue of "My parent is a narcissist and is treating me this way as a result." There is no guilt in this new conversation, not for you or your parent. This is a technique for re-framing your experiences in light of fresh facts and removing responsibility from yourself.
4) Determine. It is quite likely that some abusive, traumatic, and inattentive behaviour on the part of the narcissistic parent emerges during the preceding step. Regardless of how terrible it is, you will most likely be able to spot emotional abuse and neglect (guilt-tripping, manipulating), as well as psychological abuse (gaslighting or the silent treatment). You may also come across cases of physical abuse and financial abuse (neglect or excessive gift-giving). Working with these experiences with a therapist can be highly beneficial.
5) Allow yourself to be sad. This sort of healing may include a significant amount of mourning. You are grieving both for the childhood you did not have and for the destroyed image of your parent. As previously stated, as children, we only know what we know. As a result, as you get older and realise that other children had completely different childhoods than your own, you may feel jealous, cheated, and upset that you didn't get to experience this.
You may have grown up protecting or idolising your parents, only to discover that they have harmed you in some way. This can be quite destabilising, and we may need to grieve for the image we used to have of our parent.
6) Go over developmental milestones. You most certainly missed some critical developmental milestones as a child, and now is the time to start experiencing and learning about them. Now is the time to investigate your own identity, to experiment with your sexuality, dating, and deciding what you want to study and what you truly want to accomplish with your life. You will very certainly have to learn to ask for what you need (you can start small, for example, by asking for directions), to identify your suppressed emotions, and to set healthy limits.
7) Recognize. Finally, it is critical to recognise and accept that your narcissistic parent will not change. It is quite improbable that the parent will change their behaviours, no matter how much you want to confront them or how much you do face them.
Confronting a narcissistic parent can produce significant family conflict because, as previously said, a narcissist will feel immense humiliation and vulnerability that their immaculate image is being penetrated. As a result, they may become highly defensive and hostile.
It is equally critical to recognise, and perhaps even forgive, your other parent. If one of your parents is a narcissist, the other is most certainly an enabler.
Enablers effectively normalise and sustain the narcissist's abusive behaviour by agreeing with and/or justifying it. Enablers can also help the narcissist accomplish their dirty work by approving and continuing their abuse. Enablers become complicit in the abuse by failing to name it and protect their children from it, even if they are themselves victims of it.