Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents Part I
Growing up with a narcissistic or self-absorbed parent is an emotionally damaging experience. The wounding does not end with childhood. In fact, the unwanted and negative consequences of having been raised by a narcissistic parent are far reaching and impact such children even when they reach adulthood. In my practice, there is a special place for the adult children of dysfunctional parents, including narcissistic parents.
Having worked with many adults wanting to eliminate the effects of their dysfunctional childhood, I am writing this two part series article on the effects of parental narcissism on a child’s personality and how to mitigate such ongoing damaging effects as adults. This is the first part that highlights the narcissistic features in a parent and the impact of a self-absorbed parent on a growing child’s persona.
The Narcissistic Parent
Parents or caregivers that are self-absorbed overemphasize focus on themselves in every situation and all of their actions are motivated by their own needs.
Here are a few common attitudes & behaviors of a self-absorbed parent:
Sense of entitlement-
The parent feels entitled to preferential treatment and others including children are an extension of her/himself. They exist only to meet the parent’s needs. The narcissistic parent is also quite adept at manipulating and exploiting their children and others to his/her own benefit.
The parent holds unreasonable expectations for success, wealth & performance and is unable to accept losses or defeat. He/she is also envious of other’s accomplishments because of the belief that no one but her/him is deserving of such recognition or success.
Parent is unable to empathize with the impact of her/his demeaning & devaluing behavior but demands empathy from others.
Parent often expresses feelings of being minimized or abandoned and uses put downs for self in order to get others to disagree with the self-deprecating opinions.
Hunger for attention-
Such self-absorbed parents often make loud gestures, dress in a way to attract attention including excessive make-up or too much perfume/cologne.
A narcissistic parent exaggerates her/his accomplishments and demands public approval and flattery.
Deficit in feelings-
Unable to feel genuine emotions except anger and fear. The parent is able to use the right words but there is no meaning attached.
Parent often behaves like a king or a queen on a pedestal, talking down to people, devaluing others and asserting her/his superiority, for example in relation to people working in the service industry.
A self-absorbed parent is unable to form healthy or meaningful relationships with their children and when left alone, feels overly anxious.
Intolerance for a child’s independent self-
A narcissistic parent is unable to tolerate their child developing into an independent and separate individual with his/her own beliefs, values and needs.
Demanding that the child take care of the parent’s emotional needs instead of the other way around. Placing conditions on love and nurturance and forcing the child to fulfill certain demands, needs or wishes of the parent in order to receive acceptance and some form of love in return.
The Wounded Adult-Child
Parental messages have a powerful influence on us because they conveyed how much we were loved, valued, accepted and wanted by our primary attachment figures. A self-absorbed parent does not allow for their child’s self to become fully developed and an underdeveloped self is one of the injuries of an adult child of a narcissistic parent.
Injuries of an Adult Child of Narcissistic Parents
Need for approval-
Seeking other’s approval becomes a survival mechanism because it signals acceptance and protects against abandonment. Because children of narcissistic parents do not receive enough praise, approval & acceptance, they lack the confidence to believe that they are lovable and acceptable. They spend their lives meeting the needs & wants of others, in the eluding hope that by doing so they will be accepted and loved.
Need to be perfect-
Constant criticism, unreasonable expectations, exaggerated disappointments in response to a child’s failure to be perfect, lack of empathy and conditional acceptance based on what a child does are all ways in which self-absorbed parents instill a need to be perfect in their child. The child carries this belief into adulthood and imposes it upon others, relationships and experiences.
Assuming responsibility for others all the time, believing that other people are incapable of taking care of themselves and feeling guilty or ashamed when others are struggling are all signs of an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. The rational realization that you are physically and emotionally incapable of meeting every one’s needs results in the irrational feelings of guilt and shame.
My needs don’t matter-
Parental failure in accepting the child for who they are coupled with lack of empathy can reinforce the belief that the needs of the child are secondary to the needs of others. Such adult children will go out of their way to seek attention by being self-sacrificing and will go to great lengths to not to be perceived as selfish by avoiding engaging in self-care.
Feelings of inferiority-
Lack of unconditional parental acceptance and love gives birth to the long lasting feelings of being less than others. In an attempt to hide their self-perceived flaws, adult children of self-absorbed parents hide their true self and live in fear of others finding out their real self. Because they feel worthless, they are more likely to pursue and stay in unhealthy relationships that are demeaning & devaluing.
Lack of acceptance of self-
The unrealistic belief that a child is not perfect or good unless they are superior to others is instilled early on due to narcissistic parenting. Such children go through their entire lives without ever accepting themselves for who they are as a whole. They are unable to face their flaws and weaknesses and any hint of criticism from others validates their negative beliefs about self and re-injures them.
Such feelings are very common when a child grows up in an environment where the parent is emotionally distant, cold and critical. The emotional needs of the child are not met which produces the belief of helplessness. Adult children have a hard time letting go off control on things they cannot control and focusing on things they can control.
In the next article, I will focus on strategies for adult children of narcissistic parents to mitigate the residual effects of their upbringing on their adult relationships.
Written by: Nagma V. Clark, Ph.D., L.P.C.C. specializing in sex therapy, couples therapy & marriage counseling, premarital counseling, individual relationship therapy & LGBTQQI couples counseling at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. in the East Bay, in Dublin & Oakland.
If you were raised by a self-absorbed or narcissistic parent and would like to know how it impacts you today, individual counseling & therapy at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. in the East Bay can help.
Call 925-400-3541 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free 15 minute phone consult or fill out the contact form and you will be contacted within 12-24 hours.