A narcissistic person is characterized by having a lack of empathy, a very great sense of grandeur and superiority, and a chronic need for admiration and validation. Dealing with a narcissistic personality in any setting can certainly be exhausting and exasperating. But how does the relationship develop between a child and a narcissistic parent?
The treatment of a narcissistic father towards his children
We all have some narcissism in us. Narcissism is part of being human and is a standard developmental stage for adolescents and young adults. However, when narcissism begins to interfere with a person’s functioning at home and work, it becomes problematic and may even transform into a personality disorder.
Narcissists genuinely believe that they are unique and that they have the right to be treated in a special way, in addition to having a chronic need for admiration and validation, at any cost.
Children don’t offer the kind of continuous positive feedback that narcissists crave, which is why narcissistic parents tend to have two different reactions. On the one hand, some lose interest in their children completely and seek other sources of validation.
Others see their children as a reflection of themselves and become hyper-involved and controlling. In both cases, there is a disconnection; Even if it is the overly involved narcissistic parent, the parent is emotionally distant and lacks warmth.
How the mind of a narcissistic parent works
There isn’t much documentation yet on the impact of being raised by a narcissist on an individual level, and it has been studied even less on a social scale. However, this lack of formal research does not mean that experts on the subject have no theories.
According to them, something that is commonly observed in narcissistic parents is that they use their children as a route to personal progress. A narcissistic parent, he looks good and feels good about himself because of his son’s success. In the same way that a narcissist can show off his partner, the father can show off his son to others, like a trophy.
Narcissistic parents have high expectations of their children – too many expectations. They encourage their children to excel in sports, do well in school, attend prestigious universities, and pursue high-level careers.
Narcissistic parents believe that their children are special and deserve special opportunities and privileges, and they refuse to tolerate anything other than perfection. They see their children as a part of themselves. And when your children fail to meet your expectations, they withdraw their affection and disconnect.
Psychological impact on children
A child is not equipped to handle this disconnect from their primary caregivers. They need parents who are consistent, available, and unconditionally approving of them to form secure bonds.
Being adults, we depend on these ties formed in childhood to dictate how we relate to others, how we view ourselves, and even how we cope with stress. When the formation of that attachment is interrupted, the impacts can last a lifetime.
Narcissistic parents father children with a host of psychological problems. These problems include higher than average rates of depression and anxiety. Also lack of self-regulation, eating disorders, low self-esteem, impaired sense of identity, substance abuse and perfectionism.
Narcissism indirectly affects other parents
On the other hand, the narcissism of other parents seeps into the way the rest of us raise our children. Narcissists’ relentless focus on their children’s achievements creates competition between children and between parents. The blissful “Mommy Wars” are rooted in the narcissistic parenting.
Most of the people who are involved and forced into competitive parenting are not narcissists. Today we live in a competitive culture where success is measured by good grades, colleges attended, wealth, and status rather than someone’s levels of empathy and compassion. We have created a world where it is almost impossible to get ahead unless you are a narcissist.
Even the best-intentioned parents are drawn into this cycle. Most parents who pressure their children to enter prestigious schools, or to earn outstanding grades, only genuinely want to help them advance in a society with limited options and a growing divide between rich and poor.
But this approach can instill narcissistic traits in children unless parents balance competition with empathy and compassion.
Another dangerous aspect of adopting this form of parenting is the way the focus on materialism and status changes the barometer of parenting for all of us. When narcissistic parents buy expensive cell phones for their tweens and throw big, flashy parties for them, their exaggerated displays of affection become desirable to other kids.
Parents don’t want to disappoint their children, so they give in and buy the same things from them. Soon enough, it will be rare to see a preteen without a cell phone, and at that point narcissistic parents will look for even more elaborate ways to show their affection.
Why the increasing presence of narcissists
Modern narcissism has its roots in the dawn of the individualist movement in the 19th century, but technology has taken hold of that growing trend toward individualism and made it a way of life.
Today, consumers expect an online shopping experience tailored to their preferences and a television tailored to their viewing habits. Every aspect of the online world is focused on the individual, and more and more people around the world spend most of their day using electronic devices.
This belief in being special is at the root of narcissism, and it’s where healthy self-esteem and narcissism diverge. When researchers at Princeton University, USA studied the roots of narcissism in children, they found that it was predicted by the overvaluation of children by parents.
Children became narcissistic, at least in part, by internalizing their parents’ inflated ideas about them. And narcissistic parents are known to do just that.
There is no simple formula for predicting who will become a narcissist or how a child will react to being raised by one. Parenting matters, but a child’s genetics and personality traits also play a role.
One thing we can guarantee is that the children of narcissists will be full of doubts and insecurities for the rest of their lives. The question is in what way are they going to manifest.