Paul reluctantly began therapy after a poor review at work. His office did a 360 approach which involved getting input from other team members, clients, and superiors prior to the formal evaluation. The process revealed that Paul lacked effective communication skills, procrastinated unnecessarily, didn’t cooperate well in group settings, and seemed either anxious or angry on a regular basis.
His boss recommended therapy to work through his issues. While Paul knew that he was different, he did not perceive himself as dysfunctional as the review outlined. Nonetheless, he began the process to satisfy his boss. During the initial session, a history of Paul’s life was taken. He identified his parents as being perfect, demanding, controlling, and arrogant.
It didn’t take too long to understand that Paul grew up in a narcissistic household with unreasonable expectations, excessive demands, an emotional detachment, and a preoccupation with wealth, success, and power. Unbeknownst to him was the impact that these characteristics still had on his life and behaviors long after he moved out of his parents home.
Here is how each of the characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder results in trauma for their children:
- An exaggerated sense of self-importance. When a parent exaggerates their level of importance in front of their children, they, unfortunately, set them up for failure. Children naturally value their parent because they provide the necessities of life. But when a parent overstates their significance, the child believes they can never live up to the expectation and therefore doesn’t even try.
- Expecting to be recognized as superior. Sadly, this characteristic demands recognition from individuals outside and inside the household. Even though a child might see the flaws in their parent, they are expected to maintain the façade and treat the parent as perfect. This two-faced behavior generates large amounts of performance and social anxiety.
- Exaggerated achievements and talents. Children believe what their narcissistic parents say about their achievements, even when they are untrue. It is not until the child becomes a teen that some of the achievements are revealed as false. This causes the teenager to see their parent as untrustworthy. The narcissistic parent often rejects the teen as a result. So at the very time in a teen’s life when they need support, their parent has abandoned them.
- Fantasizes about success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. The imaginary world a narcissist creates, where they are in control of all they want or need, is impossible for a child to penetrate. Children fail during childhood, it is natural and normal. But for the narcissistic parent, this is unacceptable at any age. This causes isolation in the child and drives a wedge between the parent and child.
- Requires constant admiration. The child is expected to admire their parent especially during social functions and family gatherings so others can hear just how wonderful they are. Sometimes, a parent will even purchase a special gift just before an event so that it is talked about and the narcissist then gets even more attention. But for the child, this is demoralizing as they are never the center of attention and always have to pay homage to their parent.
- Has a sense of entitlement. Because of their feelings of superiority, narcissistic parents also feel entitled to whatever they want. Children learn more from what is modeled than what is said, so they too feel entitled to their desires. This can result in addictive or excessive behaviors. Since the narcissistic parent rarely identifies any consequences resulting from their entitlement, the children don’t either.
- Unquestioning compliance with expectations. “Do as I say,” or “Because I said so,” are common narcissistic parenting phrases. This expectations of automatic compliance don’t teach a child the necessary critical thinking skills that will help them later in life. Rather, it stuns their growth and causes them to be dependent on either their parent or another person.
- Takes advantage of others. The child who grows up watching their parent exploit others, lack a strong moral compass. As a result, their value system is ever shifting to the demands of others instead of a true set of standards. Or, if they are disgusted with their parent’s behavior, they may go to the opposite extreme of becoming legalistic.
- Lacks empathy. This is possibly the most damaging aspect of having a narcissistic parent as all children need to feel empathy especially from someone who says they love them. A lack of empathy translates into a lack of concern or kindness. This forces the child to build walls around their heart to protect themselves from their parent’s harshness. Unfortunately, these barriers only grow with additional heartbreak.
- Struggles with feelings of envy. A narcissistic parent is constantly on the prowl for the next competition, battle, or achievement. Anyone who outshines them is shunned as the parent desperately tries to find a way to outdo them. Many children develop a severe aversion to any form of competition as a result, seeing all of this as a way of judging others. This negative reaction limits their ability to live up their potential.
- Behaves arrogantly. The arrogance of a narcissist parent is embarrassing to a child. Most children hide at the first sign of their parent’s boisterous comments or over-dramatization of or at an event. Instead of learning to confront and overcome their embarrassment, the child hides and escapes. This is a very difficult pattern to undo as an adult. Once Paul identified the dysfunction behaviors that he learned from his narcissistic parents, he was able to overcome them. His last 360 review resulted in promotion as he becomes a well-liked and valuable team member of his company.