This week, we move onto the next part of our series on narcissism, living with a narcissist, in particular, a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) parent. (You can catch up on last weeks narcissism blog here!)
One might ask, why would someone with NPD want to have children when they focus on themselves? Clinical psychologist Seth Meyers (2014) suggests, “so that they have an automatic, built-in relationship in which they have power, one in which the narcissist can write the rules”. The child is brought into the world to meet the needs of the parent, and not the other way around.
Children can experience one of two types of parenting from someone with NPD (Band Back Together Project, n.d.):
Engulfing parents: These are parents who lack boundaries. Their child is an extension of themselves, which during their younger years is okay, but as they become a young adult, becomes inappropriate as they try to gain independence. They want to overshare with their child, asking them inappropriate questions and going through their social media accounts.
Ignoring parents: These parents put up walls, showing no interest in their child. Common signs of an ignoring parent are when a child does not receive help at home with hygiene rituals such as bathing and teeth cleaning, feeding and doing their homework.
As a child, living with an NPD parent can be very unpredictable. They learn early in life that their behaviour is viewed as a reflection of their parent – achievements are praised by the parent as their ability to pass on good genetics to their offspring; punishment is served for their downfalls by withholding affection or neglecting the child.
What the child learns from this relationship is that perfection is paramount to avoid any unpleasant feelings between them and their parent. They find they constantly compare themselves to others, particularly when they are not meeting the parent’s demands. When there are multiple children in the family, the children play different roles in accordance to what suits the parent. These roles can change as frequently as on a daily basis, depending on the parent. They include:
The Golden Child: The Golden Child can do no wrong by the parent. They are the walking advertisement for why the parent chose to have children. Every achievement, no matter big or small, is made into a big deal by the parent. There is only enough love for this child.
The Scapegoated Child: The Scapegoat Child is the one who gets blamed for everything. Regardless of their achievements, they will never amount to anything in the parents eyes when compared to the golden child. In fact, they can often be high achievers to those that aren’t in the family dynamic. On the odd occasion that they receive praise, it usually revolving around the parent’s abilities, for example, “Caroline has her mother’s intelligence” or “Ian gets his sporting talents from me”.
Lost Child: The Lost Child floats through life unnoticed by the NPD parent. They are not useful to the parent compared to the Golden Child or Scapegoat Child and therefore lack attention. Their needs and interests are neglected by the parent as they focus on the other children. They often seek support from other systems, such as school, and have minimal expectations from people in later life.
NDP parents often suffer from low self-esteem; therefore, try to compensate for this by living through their children. They may use their children as a way to meet goals that they didn’t achieve at a younger age. Alternatively, children of NPD parents may find that their relationship is based on competition. The parent is happy to overshare the child’s achievements, so long as the child doesn’t outshine them.
From the child’s viewpoint, the parent has not established themselves as a protector in the relationship and is not meeting their emotional needs. They have been too preoccupied with themselves to provide the support and love that the child requires as they grow. This in turn means that they go searching for that support elsewhere, at times investing in other volatile relationships.
Long term, this can create attachment issues when the child moves into adulthood, in particular, seeking a life partner and having their own children. They fear repeating patterns they have learnt from the NPD parent, with an aim to break the cycle of repeated behaviour and parenting. Next week, we will look into how they deal with a NPD parent.
Band Back Together Project. (n.d.). Adult children of narcissistic parents resources. Retrieved from http://www.bandbacktogether.com/adult-children-of-Narcissistic-parents-resources/
Meyers, S. (2014). Narcissistic parents’ psychological effect on their children. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/insight-is-2020/201405/narcissistic-parents-psychological-effect-their-children