Narcissism, this is a difficult disorder. The person is very self absorbed. Self obsessed. Selfish. A strong sense of superiority. Uniqueness, requiring praise, entitlement. Will feel no regret taking advantage of others for their own gain. Arrogant. When criticized will rebel. Empathy is not one of their tools, lying perhaps will be. Self esteem is actually quite low. Someone with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is very unlikely to seek help as they do not feel there is anything amiss with them.
Why bring this up?
What about the child of a Narcissistic Parent? Or Parents as they often attract one another.
Many, higher than normal percentages, of people in therapy are likely to have a narcissistic parent. Often these patients will suffer with a personality disorder.
Narcissistic Parents should be a misnomer, as a narcissistic person is unlikely to want children, they are more self absorbed, caring for a child with their own needs is not really in their makeup as they want to be cared for.
But alas this is not the case. Some will wish children, so they have the feeling of power over others that they often crave. Now this is not always the case, it is unfair to group people in general statements.
Children of a Narcissistic parent will often suffer abuse, not always physical, but emotional which can be just as traumatic. Anxiety will emerge as they try to please. Their self image deteriorates as they find themselves often just unable to live up to expectations. Their self worth deteriorates. Relationships for the child as they move to adulthood, are often difficult, they were molded in a maladapted fashion. When love is offered, they may not understand it and distance themselves. It becomes complicated. This applies to many relationships, business, friendship and love. The child is more self protective, as they were hurt so often, but also eager to please. An anxiety inducing scenario.
The parent will be fickle with praise, love or kindness, this uncertainty can be beyond confusing for the child. They know how to use guilt beyond comprehension. When there are more children there can be strong divisions between them created by the parent, one child may be the perfect child, the other the root of all evil, the scapegoat for all the bad that happens. This can often create a narcissistic child and one with a very low self esteem as they try to do as well as their perfect sibling and bear the brunt of being the source of all the bad that happens.
The parent may push their child to excel, as the child is a part of their self worth, the may live vicariously through the achievements of the child. They allow their ego to inflate with the success of the child. Then they may turn the success around on the child, “I did this for you, you couldn’t do this without me.”
Children learn by example, traits of the parent will often be transferred to the child. The parent may raise a bully as they themselves are bullies, they push their child to be the same. A Narcissist parent will often wish their child to mirror them.
Because they are accustomed to being with the Narcissist parent, serving their needs, later in life they feel selfish in nature if they do or think of doing anything for themselves.
Because of this exposure during the formative years, the child will often view all others as being Narcissistic. Therapists included in this belief, so trust, a very important part of the relationship between patient and therapist, is difficult. Often the patient will expose what they believe the therapist wishes to see to meet their needs rather than their own.
Questions about the relationship between the patient and their parent/s is important to discover early in therapy. The patient may not know about, or understand NPD, so they may not make the connections with a parent. A lot of what torments them, may be rooted in a parent with NPD.
It is beneficial for the therapist to be up-front, explain narcissism, how this may have shaped the patient, not to be assertive with the patient, but to put the patients needs first, and show empathy, something the patient has not experienced much of.
In therapy the patient often wishes to know, why they developed their ailment. What would be the cause. They don’t view their parent as being someone with NPD, in most cases. They may view everyone as being/acting that way. They may try to please everyone and also be more self protective to avoid the abuse/hurt they are accustomed to. So when starting therapy, the revelation that their parent may have NPD, is not so apparent as they may view that behaviour as “normal”. Others will not likely see the parent as having NSP as they present a very likable front. This confuses the child all the more.
The dilemma continues for the child as they enter into adulthood as the parent will continue to wish to control. They always have the hope that the parent will change, their view of them will change, they will show the stability, love and empathy they have craved. Tis unlikely to happen though, it is just as unlikely the parent will ever seek help.
To have a healthy relationship, one that does not continue to drive the child to the couch, is to establish boundaries. This is boundaries not just with the ongoing relationship with the parent, if there is one, but with their thoughts and memories involving the parent. Raising the patients self schema is a slow process, this will help the patient to stand up to the parent, in actuality or just in their thoughts, both is of equal importance. Remember there is a strong fear of abandonment in most cases, this being brought on by the parent threatening to leave them, replace them. Raising their self worth empowers them.
This unhealthy relationship will continue until the boundaries are set. Again, both in actual relationships with the parent and in the patients thoughts/memories. Drawing boundaries in the mind, limiting how the actions of the past control now is an important part of the healing process. Letting go of how they continue to shape the patient and control the patients actions and beliefs. To stop looking at their perceived faults, that in all likely hood do not exist but were ingrained into their being by the parent. The patient needs to learn to accept kindness. That everything is and was not their fault. They are not on the planet to serve.
The therapist needs to validate them. To accept the parent is not likely to change, but they can.
Learning and understanding the traits of NPD is important for the patient, so they can understand how these traits effected them, how they were manipulated, how their self was shaped so they can begin to reverse this process, to reshape their view. If they are to continue their relationship with the parent, understanding and learning to recognize the parents manipulation attempts or distorted reactions. To establish boundaries to resist them, not to suffer quietly but to stand up to the parent. To empower them with the skills to do this.
Anger is a strong part of the makeup of a child from a narcissistic parent. Learning to cope and control this anger is a large part toward healing. Repressed memories often exist, the patient needs to feel free to not try to recover them, surprisingly enough, those memories will often surface when the patient is actually able to deal with them. They are repressed by the mind to protect, for the same reason they may be released when the patient is ready. Repressed memories are difficult as I have previously discussed, they are often fragments and wisps. Some may be very clear though and surprising when they surface.
The patient has spent so much time trying to please the parent that they may not know themselves. They may not make attempts to do things they enjoy, to pamper themselves, to do things for themselves. Develop hobbies, volunteer with something they enjoy, to learn to have fun.
Anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia are common attributes. Learning to cope with these will also be a part of healing process.
Understanding why or how things happened, how you were shaped or misshaped is often the route to recovery. To learn to cope and adjust.