Ideally, a child is given the freedom to explore and express their individuality so they can develop into a confident and well-balanced adult. This nurturing environment prioritizes the needs of the child over the parent without overindulgence. But this is not the case when one parent is a narcissist.
Most children are unaware of their dysfunctional narcissistic parent as they fully accept the parent’s false perception of reality. However, when critical thinking kicks in around age twelve combined with the increased influence of peer relationships, things begin to change. Healthy parenting views this process as a natural progression of becoming an adult while narcissistic parenting views the transformation as threatening.
As a result, the narcissistic parent will either withdraw completely or they attempt to control the teen through degradation or humiliation. But this is just the start. When the teen becomes an adult, the years of narcissistic parenting reveal far more devastating consequences. Using the symptoms of a narcissist as the starting point, here are the results of dysfunctional parenting:
- Grandiosity breeds criticalness. A narcissistic parent (NP) magnifies their accomplishments to the point the child believes they are super-human. The child desperately tries to live up to the image of the NP. However, when they come close, the NP raises the bar again to keep it just out of reach of the child. Internally, the child becomes overly critical of their actions, believing they need to be perfect. When they can’t reach perfectionism, they shut down entirely and engage in self-harming behaviors.
- Idealism breeds despair. NPs create their own fantasy world where they are all powerful, successful, brilliant, or beautiful. Children of narcissists are expected to be physical extensions of the NP. So if the child is intelligent, the NP takes the credit. When the child achieves a reward, it is as if the NP got it instead. Since no success is solely at the hands of the child, they lose hope that their accomplishments matter. This generates feelings of despair and despondency.
- Superiority breeds inferiority. For an NP, being average is as bad as below average. Since narcissists believe they are superior and can only associate with other superior people, their children by extension must also be exceptional. This pressure is overwhelming to a child who may realize they are not extraordinary in everything they do. As a result, this unrealistic expectation set by the NP generates feelings of inferior in the child. “I can never be good enough,” is a common thought of the child.
- Attention-seeking breeds anxiety. A narcissist needs daily feeding of attention, affection, affirmation or admiration. When the child is small, they learn that the quickest way to get their needs met is to fill these needs of the NP first. This is behavioral conditioning at its finest. However, anxiety in the child manifests as they constantly try to anticipate and meet the needs of the NP to prevent an emotion explosion or backlash.
- Entitlement breeds shame. By nature of being a parent, the NP expects the child to go along with whatever the NP wants. The wants or desires of the child is constantly overshadowed or belittled by the NP. This generates feelings of shame in the child as they begin to invalidate their own likes and dislikes in favor of the NP. Consequently, the child becomes a shell believing their uniqueness and individuality is shameful.
- Selfishness breeds mistrust. In the pursuit of self-preservation, the NP will justify taking advantage of others, including their own children. The child’s self-centered behaviors are met with swift and severe punishment despite the NP’s consistent modeling of the same. The NP abuses their parental role by diverting attention from the NP’s selfishness and instead highlights the deficiencies of the child. This propagates mistrust in the child as they ascertain the NP to be an unsafe and untrustworthy person.
- Indifference breeds over responsibility. Even when the child is excitedly talking about a new adventure, the NP will tune them out or divert the conversation to make it about the NP. Worse yet, when the child is in pain, either emotional or physical, there is no empathy or understanding. Sadly, the child doesn’t see this as a problem of the NP; rather the child assumes the responsibility that somehow they were in the wrong. The result is an internal nagging of needing to take responsibility for the flaws or faults of others.
- Materialism breeds dissatisfaction. Narcissists use material possessions as a way of elevating themselves over others and controlling behavior. For instance, an NP will use gifting as a way of demanding performance from the child. If the child does what is expected, they get elaborate and expensive gifts. But if the child does not live up to expectations, they might not get a gift at all. The use of material objects in this manner steels the joy of item as the child is in constant fear that the gift will be revoked for lack of performance.
- Arrogance breeds inauthenticity. While the NP puts on a show of snootiness to everyone outside of the home, those inside, especially children, see the deep-rooted insecurity that lies beneath the façade. However, if the child dares to expose the insecurity, they are swiftly gaslighted as the NP makes the child look crazy. This teaches the child never to reveal their own uncertainties resulting in a lack of genuineness.
Fortunately, these childhood patterns can be reversed through an understanding of narcissism, awareness of false truths, and more accurate perception of reality. Counseling is extremely beneficial in exposing and eradicating the lies of narcissistic parenting.