The behavior of narcissistic parents has serious implications for the future of their children, says a psychologist
- Parents with narcissistic disorder overcompensate for their lack of self-esteem with behavior that most of us interpret as self-absorption.
- The more narcissists devalue others, the better off they are themselves and the better they feel about themselves, says psychologist Udo Rauchfleisch.
- For children with a narcissistic parent this can have fatal consequences.
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Each of us is unique. We all have our own needs, our desires, goals and dreams.
But not all of us can live them out.
Namely, those who have a parent with severe narcissistic personality disorder must do what the parent wants them to do. Instead of developing and becoming a strong personality, the child does what is asked of him or her – hoping to get a little love or at least recognition from mom or dad.
This can have serious consequences, explains Udo Rauchfleisch, psychologist and author of the guidebook "Narcissists are also just people," in an interview with Business Insider.
The more narcissists devalue others, the better they feel about themselves
"The term ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ is common, but it’s a very unfortunate choice," says Udo Rauchfleisch. Many associate this term with self-absorption, arrogance and cocky appearance – but basically it is a self-esteem disorder.
People with narcissistic disorder are completely insecure inside, feel inferior – and overcompensate for this lack of self-esteem with behavior that most of us interpret as self-indulgence. "This self-doubt also quickly leads to devaluing others," Rauchfleisch said. "The more they devalue someone, the better off they are themselves and the better they feel about themselves." For children with a narcissistic parent, this is fatal.
When the child serves only as a trophy
A strongly narcissistic parent does not perceive his own child as an independent being with his own needs. Instead, it serves only one purpose: to boost the parent’s self-esteem.
If the narcissistic parent has more than one child, it may happen that only one of them is the chosen child – quasi the prince or princess. "This then has the advantage that it seems to be the highly beloved child. But it has the disadvantage that it is exactly the one that has to meet all the expectations and appease the self-doubt," the psychologist said. The other children, on the other hand, are lucky: although they are overshadowed by their sibling, they have the advantage that they are not under this pressure to meet high parental expectations and have to give up on themselves in the process. "However, it may also be that all children must serve equally for the self-affirmation of a parent."
If a severely narcissistically disturbed parent, for example, promotes the musical abilities of his or her child – regardless of whether the child has any desire to do so – according to Rauchfleisch, this only happens because the mother or father wants to adorn himself or herself with the child’s success, almost like a trophy. "The narcissistic parent is not interested in the admiration that the environment shows the child. What interests them is that it makes them look like great parents themselves."
Because we must not forget: Deep down, narcissistic parents are plagued by self-doubt – including doubts about whether they are a good mother or father. "That’s why they have to have external confirmation over and over again: ‘No, you’re great parents after all.’ And that’s why the manipulation of the children," Rauchfleisch explains. "The fatal thing about this is that it teaches children very early on that they have to meet parental expectations in order to at least still get some kind of attention and acceptance."
Children of narcissists learn to bend in order to be accepted by others
In this context, psychoanalyst Winniecott speaks of the "true and false self". His theory: people either develop in terms of their own true personality – or they develop a "false self," that is, they build up an attitude that does not represent their own inner self, but in which they bend to be accepted by others.
"This has a serious impact on the children," says Rauchfleisch. "Depending on the parents’ level of dysfunction, severe injuries remain." These injuries can last a lifetime. The idea that one is not loved at all for oneself and must always look to meet others’ expectations runs like a thread through the later course of their lives – at work, with friends, and in romantic relationships.
According to Rauchfleisch, how well or poorly a child copes depends on two factors. One of them is the personality of the child. "Of course there are children who are more stable and resistant in their personality."At the same time, life circumstances play a role – especially whether the child has a person in the environment who is appreciative and with whom the child feels that he or she is accepted and loved. This can be, for example, the second parent, who is healthy and stable, and can even deal reasonably well with the narcissistic disorder of the other parent. It can be grandparents or a teacher. "This has an influence on the further development of the child that should not be underestimated."
Escaping narcissistic parents: Does only the contact break off help?
Confiding in other people can be difficult for children of narcissistically disturbed parents. "The problem is that people with narcissistic personality disorder can appear very charming," Rauchfleisch explains. They need this outward, positive facade because it protects their fragile self-worth. If the child talks to other people about how much he or she is suffering, the answer may well be: "That can’t be, she is such a great mother or he is such a great father"."
So sufferers can’t always rely on outside help. It is therefore all the more important for them to try to shape their environment on their own initiative. Some children of a narcissistic parent move out of the home as soon as they can afford it. But to do so, they need a certain assertiveness that cannot be taken for granted in this toxic parent-child relationship.
According to Rauchfleisch, it is also important not to refer to the experiences in childhood for the rest of one’s life, even if they were really bad. "At the latest in adulthood, you should think about how to deal with your hurts. It comes down to taking it into your own hands now and working on it by going to therapy," advises Rauchfleisch.
Breaking off contact is indeed often sensible. " Some narcissistic personalities then shake up a bit. When there is at least a shred of love from a parent for a child, the child’s distancing can really shake things up and create a willingness to seek therapy."