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Characteristics of a Narcissistic Parent

This blog looks at the characteristics of a narcissistic parent. As I said in my previous blog, our parents are the foundation of our first attachment to the world. As infants, we learn by their example how to bond with others. We derive our initial sense of our self-worth from how they care for us, nurture us, protect and shield us from harm.

Inability to validate a child’s feelings

One of the most common characteristics of a narcissistic father or mother is the inability to be mindful of the child’s own thoughts and feelings, and validate them as real and important. In some situations, a narcissistic parent may choose to focus primarily on her or his self-absorbing interests, which to the narcissist are more fulfilling than child-rearing. These activities may provide the narcissist the stimulation, validation, and self-importance she or he craves. This could be around their career, their social life or their interests and hobbies. The child is left either to the other parent, or on his or her own.

Having rigid and unrealistic expectations

Certain narcissistic parents are highly rigid when it comes to the expected behaviours of their children. They regulate their offspring on minor details, and can become upset when there is any deviation. Many narcissistic parents are touchy and easily triggered into irritation or anger. One reason for the parent’s inflexibility and touchiness is the desire to control the child. The narcissist responds negatively and disproportionally when she or he sees that the offspring will not always be pulled by the strings.

A source of fear for the child

What is particularly sad, is that a narcissistic parent not only fails to protect his or her child early on from the terrors of the outside world, but they actually become the source of the child’s terror. Rather than affection, the child may be exposed to unhealthy boundaries, erratic shifts in emotions, love which is conditional and sometimes rage. Narcissistic parenting distorts our self-perception. Instead of being given the building blocks of a healthy self-esteem, we may develop our own nagging inner critic and a persistent sense of anxiety where safety and security should be.

Shaming the child

A narcissistic parent may shame his or her children for not accomplishing enough academically, socially, professionally and personally. This may include their choice of career, partner, friends, lifestyle, the way they look, how they dress, speak, their personality or their preference. This shaming may stem from feeling that their own sense of control and power is threatened. The result can be that the child develops a sense of never being good enough, no matter what they achieve. This can stay with them into their adult life.

Damaging comparisons with other children

Like any narcissist, the narcissistic parent may engage in “triangulation” – manufacturing triangles among their children or destructively comparing their children to their peers, teaching them that they fall short in terms of looks, personality, behaviour, and accomplishments. They might unfairly pit two siblings against one another, asking, “Why can’t you be more like your sister or your brother?” One child might become the “golden child” who can do no wrong while the other becomes a scapegoat. Once again this form of devaluation can leave a painful imprint as it causes the child to compare him or herself to others as a way to evaluate their self-worth.

Difference between the public self and the private self

The narcissistic parent may micromanage and exert an excessive level of control over the way their children act and look to the public. Even though they may treat them with contempt behind closed doors, in public they may show the children off as if they were prized possessions.

Poor boundaries

Some narcissistic parents become so enmeshed with their children that they make the children responsible for fulfilling their own emotional needs. They may violate the children’s basic needs for privacy and autonomy, demanding to know every facet of their lives. They might enter their rooms without knocking, read their private letters or diaries, and interrogate them about their friends or romantic partners.

An emotional roller coaster

The narcissistic parent tends to live their life on a psychological rollercoaster. From the sudden outbursts of rage when a child “fails” to obey demands to the abrupt love-bombing which occurs when they need something from the children, there is little consistency in the household. Children walk on eggshells every day, fearful of encountering their parent’s rage and punishment. While they have no qualms about using their own emotional outbursts to control and manipulate the children, when the children express their emotions, they are completely invalidated. Sadly, some parents will deliberately provoke their children and can be sadistically pleased when their put-downs and insults have staying power.

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!

See also: Dealing with a Narcissist, What is a Narcissistic Parent?