Many children grow up with difficult parents and it’s not uncommon for children to feel misunderstood. However, some parents take things to a whole new level. A narcissistic parent puts their own needs above those of their child, and they tend to view their children as an extension of themselves.
In this blog post, we will dive into the common characteristics of a narcissistic parent, how it affects their children, and what steps can be taken towards healing.
The Narcissistic Parent
Narcissistic parents are often charming and charismatic on the outside, but behind closed doors, they are emotionally abusive and manipulative. This type of parenting inevitably has a lasting impact on their children, following them well into adulthood.
1. It’s always about them
One of the most striking traits of a narcissistic parent is that everything seems to revolve around them. Their needs come first, always. When they interact with you, it’s not about connecting with you as an individual, but about how you reflect on them.
For example, if you do well on a test, or win an award, they might brag about it to their friends, rather than congratulating you and celebrating your success. Or if you are struggling with something, they may dismiss your feelings and tell you to “just get over it”. In their mind, it’s never about you, it’s about maintaining their own sense of superiority and control.
2. Gaslighting and manipulation
Narcissistic parents manipulate the truth to suit their own needs. They might twist your words, deny things they’ve said or done, or make you feel like you’re imagining things. This tactic is known as gaslighting, and it can make you doubt your own sanity and question your own memories.
For example, they might tell you that something they said or did never happened, or that you are overreacting. They might make you feel guilty for being upset, or try to make you believe that you are the problem.
3. Emotional distance
While some narcissistic parents are very controlling, making every decision for their child and micromanaging every aspect of their lives, others may be emotionally detached, appearing uninterested and uninvolved in their child’s life.
For me, this was one of the hardest parts of growing up with a narcissistic parent. I craved my father’s love and attention, but no matter how hard I tried, I could never seem to please him.
4. They use you as a therapist
Narcissistic parents may also use you as a sounding board for their own problems and emotions. They may rely on you for emotional support, rather than the other way around. This can put a lot of pressure on a child, who may not be emotionally equipped to handle their parent’s problems and emotions.
5. They put you down
Narcissistic parents are also likely to belittle or criticize you on a regular basis. This can take many forms, from subtle snubs and put-downs to outright insults and verbal abuse. The goal of this behaviour is to keep you feeling small, inferior, and powerless.
The Impact of a Narcissistic Parent on Their Child
Growing up with a narcissistic parent can have long-lasting effects on a child’s emotional, mental, and social well-being. Children of narcissistic parents may struggle with various issues that can span well into adulthood. Some of these impacts include:
1. Low self-esteem and self-worth
Narcissistic parents are known for belittling and manipulating their children. They may criticize the child’s achievements, make fun of the child’s appearance, or control their social life. These actions can lead to low self-esteem, self-doubt, and a lack of self-worth as the child constantly tries to please their parents, only to be met with disapproval.
2. Difficulty forming healthy relationships
Children of narcissistic parents may struggle to form healthy relationships, both romantic and platonic. They may lack the ability to trust others or struggle to create deep emotional connections because they don’t know how to love or be loved unconditionally.
Some children of narcissistic parents may overcompensate for their lack of attention or affection from their parents by becoming overachievers. They may constantly strive for perfection to prove their worth and earn validation from their parent.
4. Anxiety and Depression
Growing up under a narcissistic parent can cause significant distress and anxiety, leading to depression and other mental health issues. The constant fear of disapproval and criticism, paired with the feeling of being trapped, can take a significant toll on a child’s mental health.
5. Identity Issues
Children raised by narcissistic parents may struggle to develop their sense of self-identity. Narcissistic parents often project their needs and desires onto their children, and as a result, children may feel lost as they struggle to separate their identity from that of their parent.
It’s essential for children of narcissistic parents to recognize the effects of their upbringing, seek therapy, and take steps towards healing. With support and guidance, they can break free from the cycle of abuse and build happy, healthy lives.
How Children of a Narcissistic Parent Can Heal
Healing from the effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent can be a difficult and ongoing process. However, it’s not impossible.
Here are some steps that children of narcissistic parents can take to begin their healing journey:
1. Acknowledge the situation
The first step towards healing is acknowledging and accepting that you grew up with a narcissistic parent. It’s essential to understand that you were a victim of emotional abuse and that it’s not your fault. Acknowledgment of the situation helps you understand your experiences better and gives you a starting point to work from.
2. Set boundaries
Setting boundaries is essential when dealing with a narcissistic parent. It’s okay to protect yourself by setting boundaries that limit your parent’s ability to hurt you. This may involve limiting the amount of time you spend with them or talking to them, as communication can be a trigger for negative experiences.
3. Seek therapy
Therapy can be a powerful tool in healing from the effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent. A licensed therapist can provide guidance, validation, and support throughout the healing process.
There are several types of therapy that can be effective for individuals struggling after experiencing emotional abuse. Here are some of the options:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is one of the most commonly used therapies for emotional abuse survivors. CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and beliefs and replacing them with positive and healthy ones. A CBT therapist can help the individual challenge distorted thinking, cope with intense emotions, and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Psychodynamic Therapy is a long-term therapy that focuses on past experiences and how they have shaped the individual’s current behaviour and emotions. The goal of this therapy is to identify and resolve past trauma and repressed emotions that are causing negative impacts on the individual’s life.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a therapy that helps individuals process past traumatic experiences. EMDR consists of a series of guided eye movements that allow the individual to reprocess traumatic experiences and emotions in a safe environment with the support of a therapist.
Mindfulness-based therapies, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), focuses on accepting the present moment and being mindful of thoughts and emotions without judgment. Practicing meditation and mindfulness can help individuals manage intrusive thoughts and negative emotions, reduce anxiety and stress associated with emotional abuse.
4. Identify and challenge negative self-beliefs
Growing up with a narcissistic parent can often lead to negative self-beliefs. It’s essential to identify these negative beliefs and challenge them by acknowledging and replacing them with positive affirmations.
5. Practice self-care
Self-care is crucial in the healing process. Engage in activities that bring you joy and allow you to relax and unwind. These activities may include meditation, exercise, spending time with loved ones, or engaging in a creative hobby.
Growing up with a narcissistic parent can have long-lasting effects on an individual’s mental, emotional, and social wellbeing. Children of narcissistic parents may struggle with various negative symptoms such as low self-esteem and self-worth, difficulty forming healthy relationships, anxiety and depression, and identity issues, to name a few.
Healing from emotional abuse takes time and requires patience, vulnerability, and support. With therapy, self-care, and a willingness to acknowledge and address negative experiences, children of narcissistic parents can overcome the impact of their upbringing and create fulfilling and satisfying lives.
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