At 12 years old, Tabitha was the polar opposite of her narcissistic parent. Her father was an overt grandiose narcissist who loved to brag about himself. Whenever Tabitha excelled, her father would take the credit but not before pointing out that he had accomplished even more. By contrast, Tabitha was subtle, hated the spotlight, and would go silent in times of trouble. Her demeanor was so different from her narcissistic father, that her mother thought there was no need for concern.
But there was.
Tabitha failed to see anything wrong with her narcissistic father and frequently idolized him, especially over her mother. Despite her mother’s attempts at praise, understanding and empathy, Tabitha continued to favor her dad. Even when he was blatantly wrong, yelling at her and verbally attacking her, Tabitha remained steadfast. The difference was so striking that her mom was sure Tabitha couldn’t be a narcissist. But she could.
Covert narcissism is occasionally seen in children of narcissistic parents. Basically it works like this:
Tabitha idealized her father so much that she got satisfaction out of pleasing him because he was so difficult to please. Tabitha gave her father an unending supply of adoration and admiration, which he craved. Because Tabitha supplied her father’s needs with excessive praise, her father then became possessive and dependent just as an addict is to a drug in an unhealthy manner. Tabitha figuratively became the mirror which her father used to view his inflated ego.
- What can be done? There really is no use in identifying all of the flaws of Tabitha’s father because it will only serve as a point of contention between the Tabitha’s mother and Tabitha, possibly ending in alienation. Instead, Tabitha’s mother didn’t burst her daughter’s bubble about her father. She also didn’t lie by agreeing with Tabitha either. Rather, she listened to Tabitha’s point of view and didn’t take Tabitha’s feelings for granted. This naturally set her mother apart from father because he lacked remorse and empathy.
- What can be said? Tabitha’s mother might not be in the best position to bring clarity to Tabitha’s opinions about her father. More than likely Tabitha’s mother was too emotionally involved to think clearly and present an alternative opinion. In addition, her mother needed to focus on non-manipulative communication with Tabitha, avoiding such pitfalls as guilt tactics or bribery. So Tabitha’s mom found a safe adult person that Tabitha could confide in to discuss any issues related to her father. This person should have a full understanding of narcissism and not be subject to the same idealization as Tabitha.
- Will it get better? Yes, but not without some hurt feelings along the way. Tabitha’s father eventually disappointed Tabitha because his facade could not be maintained for too long (sometimes this doesn’t happen until adulthood). In the meantime, Tabitha’s mother didn’t do anything to destroy her relationship with Tabitha knowing that she will need a strong parental bond because her father is not empathic. Also, Tabitha wanted to spend alone time with her father. This alone time may just be what was needed to bring about clarity for Tabitha when it comes to the difference between her two parents.
- Is there hope? Upon learning about the covert narcissism, Tabitha’s mother wondered if there was hope for Tabitha to get better. There is always hope. Narcissism is not set until the age of 18, so there is plenty of time to teach the value of empathy, kindness, generosity, selflessness, confidence, and humility. These are the anti-narcissism ingredients that can keep Tabitha from becoming like her father.
Narcissism is hard to deal with by itself. Even mature adults struggle with it. Imagine how hard it is for children who do not have the life experience to alert them that something is wrong. At some point in adulthood, these children will confront their non-narcissistic parent about their narcissistic parent.
Be prepared to be honest about the struggle and provide successful strategies for moving forward.