“If my son doesn’t grow up to be a professional baseball player, I’ll shoot ‘em!”
― Anonymous narcissist father
“Aren’t you beautiful? Aren’t you beautiful? You’re going to be just as pretty as mommy!”
― Anonymous narcissist mother
“My father’s favorite responses to my views were: ‘but…,’ ‘actually…,’ and ‘there’s more to it than this…’ He always has to feel like he knows better.”
A narcissistic parent can be defined as someone who lives through, is possessive of, and/or engages in marginalizing competition with the offspring. Typically, the narcissisticparent perceives the independence of a child (including adult children) as a threat, and coerces the offspring to exist in the parent’s shadow, with unreasonable expectations. In a narcissistic parenting relationship, the child is rarely loved just for being herself or himself.
Numerous studies have been conducted on the subject of narcissistic parenting and its impact on offspring.(1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6) It’s important to distinguish certain parent-centric tendencies from chronic narcissistic parenting. Many parents want to show off their children, have high expectations, may be firm at times (such as when a child is behaving destructively), and desire their offspring to make them proud. None of these traits alone constitute pathological narcissism. What distinguishes the narcissistic parent is a pervasive tendency to deny the offspring, even as an adult, a sense of independent self-hood. The offspring exists merely to serve the selfish needs and machinations of the parent(s).
How do you know when a parent may be narcissistic? The following are ten telltale signs, with references to my book (click on title): “How to Successfully Handle Narcissists”. While some parents may exhibit a few of the following traits at one time or another, which might not be a major issue, a pathologically narcissistic parent tends to dwell habitually in several of the following personas, while remaining largely unaware of (or unconcerned with) how these behaviors affect one’s offspring.*
1. Uses/Lives Through One’s Child
Most parents want their children to succeed. Some narcissistic parents, however, set expectations not for the benefit of the child, but for the fulfillment of their own selfish needs and dreams. Instead of raising a child whose own thoughts, emotions, and goals are nurtured and valued, the offspring becomes a mere extension of the parent’s personal wishes, with the child’s individuality diminished.
“My mom used to love dolling me up in cute dresses, even though I was a tomboy by nature. I think she felt that when I received compliments for my appearance, she looked good in reflection. It boosted her self-worth.”
“You have opportunities I’ve never had…After you become a doctor you can do as you please. Until then you do as I say!”
― Father to son in “Dead Poets Society”
Some narcissistic parents are threatened by their offspring’s potential, promise, and success, as they challenge the parent’s self-esteem. Consequently, a narcissistic mother or father might make a concerted effort to put the child down, so the parent remains superior. Examples of this type of competitive marginalization includes nit-picking, unreasonable judgment and criticisms, unfavorable comparisons, invalidation of positive attitudes and emotions, and rejection of success and accomplishments.
The common themes through these put downs are: “There’s always something wrong with you,” and “You’ll never be good enough.” By lowering the offspring’s confidence, the narcissistic parent gets to boost her or his own insecure self-worth.
“I pleaded with my mother on the phone for the lab fee of my college science class. She finally agreed to pay, but only after saying that it was a waste of money on me.”
3. Grandiosity & Superiority
Many narcissistic parents have a falsely inflated self-image, with a conceited sense about who they are and what they do. Often, individuals around the narcissist are not treated as human beings, but merely tools (objects) to be used for personal gain. Some children of narcissistic parents are objectified in the same manner, while others are taught to possess the same, forged superiority complex: “We’re better than they are.” This sense of grandiose entitlement, however, is almost exclusively based on superficial, egotistical, and material trappings, attained at the expense of one’s humanity, conscientiousness, and relatedness. One becomes more “superior” by being less human.