The Narcissistic Parent
As drastic as it may seem, many children who have survived their dysfunctional rearing by a narcissistic parent find it necessary to eventually discontinue all contact with them. Why would somebody take such a radical step simply because a parent suffers from a personality disorder? While not always the case, this is often the only option left on the table after many years of navigating the intricate web of interaction with a parent possessing a personality steeped in narcissism.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders among a cluster of other personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. Symptoms of NPD frequently overlap with these other disorders to a great degree. While there are many indicators of NPD, some are more common than others. Individuals with NPD often exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:
* They are extremely self-centered and seek a continuous stream of attention.
* They over-exaggerate and aggrandize their own talents, skills, and abilities.
* They obsessively fantasize about being rich, famous, beautiful, or powerful.
* They tend to be very arrogant and obnoxious.
* They believe that their needs should come before the needs of others.
* They have an extreme lack of empathy for others.
Interwoven throughout the above symptoms is the distinguishing marker that differentiates NPD from other personality disorders, which is the grandiose sense of superiority that demands undeserved respect, excessive praise, and favorable treatment from other people.
When a Narcissist Becomes a Parent
Coupling these extreme personality traits with parenthood often has disastrous results. From the narcissist’s subconscious point of view, children are a rich source for feeding their ravenous egos. Based on this premise, the parent/child relationship is far from unconditional. The narcissist/child relationship is based in large part upon the performance of the child.
In normal family settings, children are able to receive love from their parents based on strong familial bonds and can become adequately secure in the fact that they are cared for. However, this dynamic is not played out with a narcissist parent. In order for a child to receive the emotionally necessary strokes of love that they need, the child of a narcissist must stand in total agreement with the parent at all times. If the child wants affection, they are required to live up to the parent’s lofty expectations. An afflicted mother or father will require that their actions and attitudes be dutifully mirrored by their children, as well. The narcissist is severely lacking in empathy, so guilt and shame are ruthlessly administered when the child falls short in any of these areas. In essence, when things don’t go their way, the emotionally immature narcissist personality plays an oblivious game of “I won’t be your friend anymore!” Most of the time, this causes major problems for the child falling victim to such exploits.
Though many narcissist parents gain a certain amount of insight into their disorder through counseling, the nature of the disorder is to think that all fault lies with other people. Consequently, many sufferers never seek long-term help, so they perpetuate harmful, toxic relationships and continue to wonder what’s wrong with the rest of the world.
Donaldson-Pressman, Stephanie, and Robert M. Pressman. The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994.