Being the child of a narcissistic mother or father is difficult, to say the least. Narcissistic parents expose their children to a lot of emotional, mental, and sometimes also physical abuse. The narcissistic parent uses a lot of mind games to get what he or she wants, to make a child feel guilty or ashamed for things he or she didn’t do, and to take credit for the child’s success.
On top of that, the narcissistic parent wears two masks: the one for the outside world, and the one for at home. For the outside world, the narcissistic parent usually comes across as being friendly, charming, and social. At home, however, the narcissistic parent shows a whole different side of him or herself. For a child, it’s confusing, frustrating, and very painful to see their narcissistic mother or father behave so different in public, because no-one will ever believe that this ‘wonderful person’ is such a horrible parent.
For a child of a narcissistic parent, it’s extremely difficult to understand why their parent behaves the way they do. Their parent doesn’t show love, interest, kindness or devotion to them like any other parent would. Instead, they can be manipulative, selfish, mean, uninterested, uncaring, and sometimes even cruel. But why?
In short: narcissistic people experienced a traumatic childhood and needed to find coping mechanisms to survive. They experienced childhood abuse in several ways: emotional abuse, emotional neglect, sexual abuse, and physical abuse, and often a combination of these. Abusing parents are usually not able to provide the emotional support their children need so desperately, and often there is no space for their emotions either. When a child grows up in such conditions it needs to find ways of coping with their own emotions (sadness, anger, frustration, resentment), needs (affection, love, attention) and desires (to feel appreciated, loved, cared for). The easiest way to get rid of these negative emotions is by ignoring them or by bullying other (weaker) people. Their positive behaviour never gave them affection, love and attention, so they turn to negative behaviour (lying, manipulation, threatening) to achieve this. Their desires will not be met, so they become very sour and jealous of others, unable to give someone else what they so desperately need.
Narcissistic people suffer tremendously from their childhood trauma’s and this pain is too much for them to carry, so they pretend it’s not there or they keep lashing out to other people to ease their own pain. Another coping mechanism is to switch off empathy. When they showed their emotions as children they got rejected, so showing emotions is something they learned not to do. They are afraid someone will take advantage of their vulnerability (something they do all the time).
Narcissistic parents see their children as extensions of themselves. As long as you mean no threat to your narcissistic mother or father, and as long as you can make them proud, they are OK towards you, or continue to ignore you. But the moment you become difficult or don’t meet their expectations, you become an obstacle; a problem they usually don’t like to deal with.
Unfortunately, according to the narcissistic father or mother, their children aren’t authentic individuals who need to explore and develop, who have needs and desires. Instead, their children should do whatever they think is important and whatever makes them feel proud. However, there is an exception:
Golden Child: Sometimes narcissistic parents treat a son or daughter as a golden child. A golden child can’t do anything wrong, is the smartest and the best at everything they do. This is what the narcissistic parent believes and will enforce in their child, and can have its own repercussions over time. The golden child is the extension of the narcissistic parent. According to a narcissist he or she is perfect, so the extension of themselves (the golden child) must be perfect too.
Scapegoat: Sometimes they treat their son or daughter as the scapegoat of the family. Everything the scapegoat does is wrong, not as good as it should be, and they always have to take the blame (even if they aren’t the ones to blame). The scapegoat stands for everything that is not perfect in the family. That child can’t be good at anything, because he or she represents all that is wrong and bad. A narcissist is perfect according to him or herself, so whenever things don’t go that well, it must be because of someone else.
Being the golden child or the scapegoat is more common in families with more than 1 child. Sometimes the narcissist picks a new golden child or a new scapegoat, sometimes the golden child will always be the golden child and the scapegoat the scapegoat.
As mentioned before, narcissistic mothers and fathers behave differently in public compared to the way they behave at home. But why do they do that?
Narcissists come across as being very arrogant and over-confident people, but they are not. They are insecure and need constant admiration and attention.
In public, they come across as social, charming, funny, and friendly, as that is the easiest way to get a confidence boost: friendly and charming people get more attention than bitchy and moody people. In public, it’s easier to brag about your own achievements or that of your golden child. This is exactly what narcissists are looking for. If you don’t admire them, praise them or give them ‘enough’ attention, they will dislike you.
At home, however, they behave completely different. That’s where you see the real narcissist. Home is where they emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically abuse you as a child. They do this because it makes them feel good about themselves, it makes them feel powerful, in control, and superior to you. They need this to feed their ego. If you, as their child, can make them feel good about themselves, you may not experience many problems… but the moment you pose a threat to them, you stand out in something or you don’t behave the way they want you to, they will punish you! And that is what makes it so difficult for a child: you don’t know when you behave the way your narcissistic parent will want you to. As a child, it makes you walk on eggshells all the time. You are afraid of doing just that little thing that will enrage your mother or father. You can feel the tension at home, and from one moment to the other everything changes. They use different ways to punish you: by ignoring you as a child, by threatening you or making you feel guilty (˝because you can’t play the piano well, mummy looks like a fool˝), or by excessive parental control.
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There are several ways for a narcissistic parent to punish and abuse his or her child. Here are a few common ways narcissists use.
Other ways to abuse their children are:
On top of that they also use a lot of mind games to get what they want. To read more about these particular mind games, go to: dealing with a narcissist.
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It’s no surprise that children of narcissists have a huge chance of developing mental health issues themselves. Growing up without unconditional love, without the attention, care, and devotion a child needs, is extremely difficult. Add in the narcissist’s mind games, selfishness and their need for admiration, and you can be certain that their children will develop several big issues. A few of them are:
Dealing with these mental health issues on your own may be very difficult. A few counseling sessions with a therapist can be very helpful in regard to accepting the situation, dealing with childhood trauma, negative self image, underdeveloped identity and anxiety issues. You can contact us for a free of charge first session, however, you can also try to recover on your own:
There are 5 stages of self-recovery children of narcissists need to face. It’s common to bounce back and forth between these stages.
Accepting the fact that your narcissistic parent can’t be there for you like other parents can, is a very difficult step to take in recovery. For every child it’s difficult to realize that your mother or father doesn’t love you unconditionally, shows very little empathy, and only cares about him or herself. A good way to speed up this process is to stop comparing your parents to the parents of your friends, and to understand that your mother or father has a mental disorder. Talk about your childhood with a professional or a good friend, someone who will not judge, someone who can understand you. Talking about your past and about the fact that your mother or father is different speeds up the process.
Denial is a defense mechanism, something you needed as a child to survive and to keep developing yourself. As everybody needs love and empathy, it’s extremely difficult for a child to have parents who are incapable of giving that. Parents are supposed to be ‘perfect’ so there must be a different reason why they are behaving the way they do… Now that you are an adult, it’s time to stop denying and to face your parents’ incapabilities. Remember, you did not do anything wrong. Your parents are the ones who weren’t able to give you what every child needs.
Ever since you are a toddler you have been trying to win your narcissistic parent’s love, but you never succeeded. Every time you try something new to make your mother proud of you, you do things like she wants you to do them, just to avoid conflict. Unfortunately, it’s the hope that kills you; the hope that your mother or father will change and becomes the parent you so desperately longed for. Try to ignore the hope, try to see every positive gesture from your father or mother as a nice surprise.
Children of narcissists usually feel anger when they realize they their emotional needs weren’t met and that this neglect has negatively affected their development. Anger is a very simple and sometimes effective way to deal with frustration and feelings of helplessness. Suppressing anger is counter-productive and can result in acts of rage. If you allow yourself to be angry from time to time, and you have someone to talk to, someone who understands where your feelings are coming from, then you will get better over time.
Sometimes depression kicks in. Children of narcissists can feel sad, empty, and worthless, because they realize that they will never have a normal parent-child relationship, that they will never be loved the way they wanted to be, and that they will have to deal with their parents forever. Although it’s normal to feel depressed from time to time when you are processing all of this, try to do whatever possible to drag yourself out of these feelings. Read: coping with depression to see how you can deal with feelings of depression yourself.
For more information about narcissism, go to: