The child and the narcissist seem like polar opposites. The narcissistic parent is typically insensitive and uncaring towards the needs of others. By contrast, their child seems overly compassionate, caring, and highly attuned (almost to the point of compulsion) to needs of others. The child fails to see anything wrong with their narcissistic parent and believes the parent to be near perfect. Gratitude and praise flow off the child’s lips which is a welcome change from the demoralizing comments emanating from the narcissistic parent. The difference is striking so the child can’t be narcissistic, right? Wrong.
There is a budding type of narcissism known as the inverted narcissist and is occasionally seen in children of narcissistic parents. Basically it works like this. The child idealizes the narcissistic parent to the point that he or she gets satisfaction out of pleasing the parent who is difficult to please. The child gives the narcissistic parent an unending supply of adoration and admiration which the parent in turn craves. Because the child supplies the narcissist’s needs with excessive praise, the parent then becomes possessive and dependent as an addict is to a drug in an unhealthy manner. The child figuratively becomes the mirror which the narcissistic parent uses to view their inflated ego.
What can be done? There really is no use in identifying all of the flaws of the narcissistic parent because it will only serve as a point of contention between the non-narcissistic parent and the child possibly ending in alienation. Instead, don’t burst the child’s bubble about the narcissistic parent but don’t lie by agreeing with the child either. Rather listen to the child’s point of view and don’t take advantage of the child’s giving nature. This will naturally set the non-narcissistic parent apart from the narcissistic parent.
What can be said? The non-narcissistic parent might not be in the best position to bring clarity to the child’s opinions about the narcissistic parent. More than likely the non-narcissistic parent will be too emotionally involved to think clearly and present an alternative opinion. In addition, they need to focus on non-manipulative communication with the child avoiding such pitfalls as guilt tactics or bribery. So find a safe adult person that the child can confide in to discuss any issues related to the narcissistic parent. This person should have a full understanding of narcissism and not be subject to the same idealization as the child.
Will it get better? Yes but not without some hurt feelings along the way. Eventually the narcissistic parent will disappoint the child because the facade cannot be maintained for too long; however it may not happen until adulthood. In the meantime, don’t do anything to destroy the relationship with the child. The child will need a strong parental bond because the narcissist is not empathic. Also, the child may want to spend alone time with the narcissistic parent. This alone time may just be what is needed to bring about clarity for your child in the difference between the two parents.
Narcissism is hard to deal with by itself. Even mature adults struggle with it. Imagine how hard it is for the child who does not have the life experience to tell them something is wrong. At some point in adulthood the child will confront the non-narcissistic parent about the narcissistic parent. Be prepared to be honest about the struggle and provide successful strategies going forward.