Growing Up Narcissist: The Narcissistic Parent and Child Abuse
Imagine growing up in an environment where rather than being loved and nurtured, you’re treated like an adversary and an unwanted burden.
Our parents are our first teachers and the messages we receive from them, shape our views and our beliefs about ourselves. If it is demonstrated to us, repeatedly, that we don’t matter, that we are unwanted, we will become adults that believe that we are worthless and damaged, we will have massive trust issues and difficulties in our adult relationships.
To be a Narcissistic parent is to be an abusive parent. Because to a Narcissist you are either a form of Narcissistic Supply, or you are nothing. The typical parent/child bond never forms, as Narcissists do not form normal, healthy attachment bonds to anyone. They will often learn how others behave around children and what is expected of them and they will become adept at mimicking these behaviors, but behind closed doors, it’s the children that bear the brunt of a Narcissist’s rages, as there is no authentic caring and nurturing going on.
Because they are so self-absorbed, everything that surrounds them must beat to their rhythm – it’s all about them, so they are not really inclined to take an active role in the child’s development. According to Sam Vaknin, in Malignant Self-Love, a Narcissist parent goes through 3 stages when their child is born:
Stage One: Children as a threat – a Narcissist will view a new baby as an object that takes away the much needed supply from their spouse, family members and friends. They will resent having to share center stage with their offspring and will either treat the child with disdain and withdraw from everyone, or they will ‘take over’ the child and obtain the much coveted supply through proxy.
Stage Two: Children as sources of Supply – as a child grows up they begin to look up to, watch, admire and idolize their parents and thus become excellent sources of Narcissistic Supply. At a very young age children are not autonomous and so implicitly trust and obey their parents. If the child has some type of skill, that others notice, the Narcissist parent can glean supply as they view the child as an extension of themselves and can thus take credit, or esteem from their child’s accomplishments.
Stage Three: Children as a threat – as a child grows up and becomes more independent, it has more exposure to the outside world and thus, is now able to form its own thoughts and opinions. The child has a better ability to see the Narcissist and their behavior for what it is and can make comparisons with other families. The child begins to resent the treatment they received when they were too young to do anything about it, they question everything and start to pull away, no longer allowing the Narcissist to use or manipulate them. 1
At this point the Narcissist will devalue them, criticize, blame and belittle them at every turn. For once the child is no longer a source of Narcissistic Supply the Narcissist will have no use for them.
While the severity and type may differ slightly, children of emotionally abusive parents will typically experience the following behaviors:
- Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating.
- Calling names and making negative comparisons to others.
- Telling a child he or she is “no good,” “worthless,” ”bad,” or a “mistake.”
- Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying.
- Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving him or her the silent treatment.
- Limited physical contact with the child – no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection.
- Exposing the child to violence, or the abuse of others, whether it be the abuse of a parent, a sibling or even a pet.2
All of these actions are consistent with Narcissistic behavior. This onslaught is bad enough when visited upon an adult, but when you’re dealing with a child, whose emotional development isn’t mature enough to make sense of what’s happening, you end up with adults that are severely, emotionally scarred.
Narcissists are very cunning and will engage in very subtle and sometimes not so subtle behaviors such as: Denying any abuse ever took place- blaming you instead for being so difficult, they will consistently violate your boundaries, they will play favorites with your siblings, they will undermine, demean, criticize you and all of your endeavors, they will try to make you look like the crazy one, they are exceedingly envious, they always have to be the center of attention, they enjoy and feed off of your pain – and they know just what buttons to push to obtain it, they rage and terrorize, they behave in an infantile and petty manner, they are never wrong, and they never show a shred of empathy. 3
Children of Narcissists will grow up to have great difficulties in their adult relationships, because they never learned how to trust, or bond properly with others. They will foster a deep seeded belief that they are broken, damaged and worthless and this will impair their ability to function, not just in relationships, but with education, employment and other social arenas as well.
When children are taught that it’s better for them to suppress their emotions, keep silent and not to rock the boat, this manifests in adulthood as individuals who have difficulty expressing their emotions in a healthy way. They learned to bottle up their anger and resentment and when they become adults, this could lead to severe anger issues and suppressed rage that can be uncontrollable and erupt at any time. They become paranoid and believe that the world is a cruel, hostile place, where no one can be trusted and that they have to look out for number one. Many children of Narcissist become substance abusers to cope with the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and anger.
Highly sensitive children, experiencing Narcissistic abuse, will grow up with massive insecurities and a severe lack of self-esteem. They become adults that are clingy, anxious, dependent and fearful. They have no idea how to protect, or care for themselves, as they never learned boundaries and what is acceptable behavior and what is not, so very often they will be victimized again and again throughout their lives. Females will often become promiscuous early on, looking for and clinging to, any type of affection from men, which opens them up for all types of abuse.
Typically when you see a Narcissist, you will find a Narcissistic parent, but not all children of Narcissists will develop the impairment.We know that victims of abuse tend to repeat the abuse, either as abusers themselves, or as victims, looking to recreate what was visited upon them as children.
This is why it is so important to remove the child away from the abusive parent as early as possible. Unfortunately, the courts are not adequately equipped to deal with personality disorders and would likely see a claim of NPD as mudslinging, in an emotionally charged custody hearing. And since Narcissists are true chameleons, they can alter their look and behavior to whatever works best for them. A Narcissist won’t have any real interest in gaining custody, for them it’s all about winning and proving to you, once and for all, that they are superior and can do whatever they please, without consequence.
The best thing a non-NPD parent can do is communicate with their children. Let them know that they haven’t done anything wrong and seek a qualified professional that has experience dealing with victims of child abuse. Support them, encourage them and show them proper love and affection, but most importantly, take the necessary steps to remove the abuse from your life and theirs.
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