There is an old story dating approximately 4,000 years ago about how God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac on an altar. Abraham and his wife Sarah waited decades for their only son together and since the human sacrifice was prohibited, this request seemed unusual. The story talks of the faith that Abraham had as he placed his son on the altar only to find that God had given him a lamb in replacement. With great relief, the lamb was sacrificed instead.
However, this story is very different when the altar is narcissism. In this case (and for the purposes of this article), it is the adult narcissistic child (ANC) who sacrifices their parent. Occasionally there are others who come along the way as a substitute sacrifice, but mostly it is the parent who is continually chastised by their ANC. It is as if the narcissist remembers every punishment they received as a child and in retaliation, enacts similar acts.
Once narcissistic personally disorder becomes evident, there is a painful realization that things have forever shifted. There is no compromise, no grace, and likely no forgiveness. Instead, there is isolation, demands, and manipulation. So what can a parent in this situation do? Here are a few suggestions:
- Live in the present. One of the biggest temptations is to look backward and wonder, “what if,” or “if only”. Second to that is to look too far ahead and try to predict the action of the ANC. Neither of these is productive. Narcissism is part biology, environment, and choice, so as circumstances change, so can the shape of the narcissist. Living in the present requires a bit of disciple but it is worth it. Even when the ANC has chosen the silent treatment, that is likely to be modified when they find they need a different response.
• Avoid over or under complimenting. As a general rule, parents like to praise their children. Normally narcissists love to admired but when the ANC receives compliments from their parent, it seems belittling to them. Rather, extend applause for only the things which the ANC brings to light. For instance, if shown a letter of recommendation, praise them for that. Just be careful not to take any credit for their accomplishments.
• Love or respect. A wise counselor once told me that when it comes to narcissists, the choice is to have either their love or respect, but not both. However, knowing which is more significant, is an individual decision. To earn their love means the parent watches their ANC’s mistakes and does not highlight them. Winning their respect means the parent achieves something the narcissist values.
• Patience is a virtue. Nagging the ANC does not work. It only frustrates them and causes unnecessary friction. In time, most ANC’s return to the nest especially when life has failed to glorify them and they need the unconditional support of their parent. Waiting them out with open arms is difficult and likely one of the toughest tasks of parenting yet. There is no guaranteed reward at the end, but it is worth the effort.
• Don’t expect remorse. Part of the definition of narcissistic personality disorder is the inability to demonstrate any real form of remorse, sorrow, or forgiveness. This is especially true when it comes to the relationship between the parent and the ANC. The ANC will not admit to wrongdoing, flawed thinking, an error in judgment, or poor decision. To expect such awareness is to not recognize the limitations of the disorder.
• Be careful of significant others. When the ANC finds a mate, it is essential that the parent show happiness for them regardless of the quality of the decision. Any indication of disapproval will be met with swift isolation that could last for years. At all costs, this should be avoided.
The parenting of an ANC stopped the moment the narcissism began. Regardless of how young the adult may be, the goal now is to develop a relationship born of mutual consideration. Getting some help from a trained professional in narcissism can be very beneficial as they have the ability to see outside the relationship to guide the best relational course.